Friday, 03 March 2017

Engineering for Peace

Bridget ShopHello, my name is Bridget. I’m an engineering undergraduate student at University of St. Thomas and have the great fortune of being an engineering intern at Compatible Technology International (CTI) for this spring and summer term. CTI works with primarily women farmers who are experiencing poverty to increase their efficiency, decrease the drudgery, and collaboratively create pathways out of hunger through technology. The internship is for credit in my program "Peace Engineering," but more so it is an opportunity to be involved in the field of engineering I’ve always wanted to do. I believe engineering can change the world – not just by creating cool gadgets, but by meaningfully changing lives as CTI does.

We are taught in engineering how to look at the big picture and account for all effects on a system. Often this is constrained to physical products (bridges, cars, computers, etc), but engineers have the potential to see the whole system: the social system. Seeing the contextual social, economic, and environmental factors allows for more sustainable and personal design. More importantly it allows for humble and respectful service of designing with those economically disadvantaged. This is what I view my purpose in studying engineering to be, service. Service to respect and respond to the dignity of all persons. Service that works together with farmers to design what is best for them through collaboration. Service that aims at greater justice and empowerment for women which will result in a more peaceful world. I’m excited to work with CTI because I have seen how they use engineering design, data, and theory to touch lives and empower communities.

Now I know that we can’t give all the credit to engineering. The work CTI does requires gender specialists, financial supporters, manufacturing partners, and more! But I hope to share with you the engineering side of the story here on my blog. How we design for the worker and the community. How we improve for sustainability during a day’s work. And other reflections of technical work impacting life in very human ways: medically, socially, economically, etc. Engineering doesn’t have to be cold, anti-social, and analytical as is often the stereotype in media and society. Engineering can be personal and contemplative to bring life, justice, and peace.

While at CTI, I look forward to being involved in a number of diverse tasks. I will be a resource for the engineering team for computer drafting of designs in Solidworks. I will do research for best practices and existing designs for new challenges as well as assist in the fabrication of prototypes. Right now, I am analyzing data for the crank handle tools for my first project. But no matter what I’m working on, I always want to keep it in the context that the work will serve others, and I hope you will join me.

You can find the latest updates from Bridget here. 

bridgetthumbBridget is an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in the Peace Engineering program, and an engineering intern at Compatible Technology. She has a life-long passion for service, social justice and fighting poverty and hunger. When she found another passion in engineering, creativity and design, she became inspired to combine them. Now, she is grateful of the opportunities at UST and CTI to develop the social and technical skills to pursue her passions.
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After I had the privilege of interning with CTI last summer, I spent the 2015 fall semester studying international development in Senegal—where CTI's work has a profound impact. I saw this firsthand when I lived in Tattaguine, a small village 100 km southeast of Senegal's capital, Dakar.

In Tattaguine, the day's work began before sunrise, preparing livestock for pasture and breakfast for the family. Later, the women would begin preparation for the family's lunch and dinner—pounding several stalks of millet using the traditional mortar and pestle. The women would occasionally pause to sift through the grains. After meals, they cracked bowl after bowl of the family's peanut crop by hand.

Millet and peanuts are just two of the many crops grown by smallholding farmers in the region. Many families have their own small farms where they grow sorghum, beans, maize, and sometimes peppers and watermelons. My host family, the Ngom's, do the same: they rely on their crops for food and sell what is left.

Despite growing their own food, the Ngom's remain food insecure. This means that the family of 15 lacks nutritious choices, sometimes going without a meal. I spent my summer internship with CTI researching this phenomenon. At its core, hunger is often an economic problem where supply and demand interact—or in this case, fail to act—to provide enough nutritious food to all people. The supply side argument holds that production fails to meet the food needs of populations. The demand side argument claims the opposite: the failure to get enough food comes from high prices or inaccessibility at the market and a lack of income.

This has real consequences. To provide even an insufficient amount of food for her family, my host mother spent her entire afternoon preparing couscous for dinner. My host sisters would help out as well, sometimes needing to put off their homework to pound the millet. To have enough money for food, clothing, and other expenses, my host sisters' husbands worked miles away from home. They are only able to visit once per month at most.

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A related phenomenon is the mechanization of agriculture, which is any process by which food production and processing is done with the help of machines. Mechanization lessens workloads, boosts productivity, and permits faster, higher-quality, and larger-scale production and processing. More food is produced and kept out of harm's way, which increases supply. Sales from this increased supply, and improved capacity to sell throughout the year, increase incomes to bolster the demand side. Further, spillover effects of mechanization include decreasing rates of fertility and child labor, increasing market integration, employment, and resources and power for women.

This is what CTI does in Senegal. They are tackling hunger, one thresher at a time. Obstacles persist due to the remoteness of some communities, lack of education and knowledge, and the issue of financing so many machines (for CTI) and buying them (for some farmers), but the CTI model escapes some common pitfalls. For one thing, its manual machines are cheaper for farmers than other larger, bulkier options and forgo the use of expensive and unsustainable fossil fuels.

CTI hopes to extend its work with extension agencies like SAPPAT, my host organization in Tattaguine, to further the impact of its program in Senegal and eliminate hunger among Senegalese families. I am privileged first to have worked for two incredible organizations on two continents and second to connect both my experiences and the organizations' work in such tangible ways. Much work remains, but progress is surely being made, from the offices of St. Paul to the millet fields of the Sahel.

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Noah Nieting studies economics, African studies, and international development at Macalester College where he also runs the student-led international development group. He can be contacted at nnieting@macalester.edu.

 

 

 

Published in West Africa