Engineers Without Borders-New York: Excursion to Rwanda

By Elizabeth Bell
EWB NY project team and children

EWB NY project team and children

The Engineers Without Borders New York Professional Chapter (EWB-NY) recently embarked on a six-week endeavor to Rubaya, Rwanda. Their mission? Construct a twelve-by-twelve-meter facility that will store one season’s maize harvest, or 30 metric tons.

This undertaking is for the members of Goodneighbors, an organization of 70 farmers who sell their maize harvest to a cooperative at a set price in return for discounted fertilizer and seed. The goal of the cooperative is to hold this maize and sell it to commercial buyers during the off-season for a higher price. The profits would then be used to buy more of the harvest from farmers the next season. Ultimately, Goodneighbors wants to produce flour for sale to corporations around Africa.

Over the six-week period, six members of the organization made the trip to the Northern Region of Rwanda. Our own Patrick Brennan, Vice President of EWB-NY, led the charge as one of the first two members to make the journey.

EWB-NY Patrick Brennan rebar

The initial duo was responsible for the procurement of materials, oversight of the foundation structures and the start of the concrete installation for the reinforced columns. Without any time to get acclimated, they jumped right to work.

The team enlisted students from the ULK Polytechnic Institute, who aided in connecting EWB-NY with local community members. “We were blown away by how outgoing they were from the moment we met them through the end of the project,” says Patrick. “It paid off having them as our main line of communication.”

EWB-NY interns

They began by leveling the site, digging the footing trenches, excavating the column footings and cutting rebar. By day three, the efforts of the interns and community laborers had shaved off two days from the schedule. Once the footing cages were leveled and aligned, the footings were poured.

Next up, they assembled the rebar cages for the columns. With the form work and reinforcement cages complete, it was time to plumb the columns and pour the concrete. But to do so, they had to use a bit of ingenuity to create a makeshift scaffold out of tree trunks. This process was one they would utilize and improve upon throughout the project.

EWB-NY tree trunk scaffolds

But the trip wasn’t all work! Between construction projects, the pair met with Goodneighbors members to discuss goals, exchange gifts and share a beverage or two.

So, after two weeks, some minor weather hiccups and a lot of problem solving, they accomplished their goals and were ready to pass the baton to the next pair of engineers.

EWB-NY site scaffolding

To read about the remaining journey and see the completed facility, click here. For more details about Patrick’s two weeks in Rwanda, check out our Instagram.

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