It’s one thing to know you want to do something, and entirely another to know how to do it. By my sophomore year of college, I was convinced that access to safe infrastructure was a fundamental right, and that working for global equity meant increasing access and opportunity through essential infrastructure improvements. I knew I wanted to use my engineering degree in the field of international development, but I had no direction. The field seemed impenetrable to me, having grown up not even knowing what international development was, or that you could do it as an engineer. The career center at my university admitted they really didn’t have any resources for engineers in international development. The few veterans in the field that I was able to meet told me I’d probably have to join the Peace Corps – something I didn’t want to do, because they have no opportunities for engineers outside of teaching math or science.
I was part of EIA for three years as a student, and it was the highlight and driving purpose of my college career. Actually, I started out college as a chemical engineer, but switched to civil engineering my freshman year expressly for the purpose of making it into Notre Dame’s EIA student chapter. EIA fit perfectly into place with my desire to work in community-focused international development, even if I didn’t have a name for it at the time. I would’ve considered working post-graduation with EIA, but I figured it wouldn’t be possible, that there wouldn’t be opportunities or that life would take me a different direction. My senior spring, I was still struggling to find a meaningful post-grad opportunity, and was on the verge of accepting a job in transportation engineering that I was less than thrilled with. Then EIA put out a call for Bridge Corps Fellows to work in Bolivia or Eswatini, and I thought, this is it.
There are more and more students in today’s universities looking for opportunities to be globally-minded engineers and work for equitable infrastructure. There are precious few jobs for them, though, and those that exist seem impossible to get for students with little guidance or connections in the field. I’ve learned through my own experience that EIA is not just building bridges, that EIA is not just driving community development (though it does those things exceptionally well), but that it is increasing awareness and creating opportunity for young, globally-minded engineers. That is no small thing in a world facing unprecedented challenges in sustainable and resilient infrastructure in the face of challenges such as rising populations and global warming. To be able to contribute to that mission, to shape the future of this organization, to build my experience and knowledge in this field — goes beyond what I had dared to hope for my early career. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to grow alongside our world-class team, our committed and talented local staff, and the energetic, dedicated students that make up the heart of our organization.
Truth be told, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after I had finished high school. Coming from a place where career guidance was never brought to my attention, I was another brick in the wall. Enrollment in college was considered the gateway to being well off and attaining status by people in my community. Still, it wasn’t until my cousin, who was enrolled at a local engineering college, suggested that I study engineering that an interest awakened in me for the world of engineering. Following my instinct, I enrolled in Civil Engineering and I developed profound interest in what I was learning. Funny enough, even throughout college, I had not developed a clear picture of what I would do after I graduated. Despite this uncertainty, part of me had always dreamt about transforming the world through grassroots community development. Here I was armed with engineering knowledge but unknowing of how to use it, at least not in Eswatini engineering companies, which did not appeal to me in finding meaningful work. I was looking to connect the dots and find a job that appealed to me and my dreams. I tried to ignite my passion and started doing architecture where I was designing residential houses and making ends meet, but still had no sense of fulfillment.
A year later, I found myself working with EIA university students as an interpreter and site liaison volunteer, building a footbridge in Eswatini, an experience that reaffirmed my desire to impact less privileged communities. Not only was the program changing rural lives for the better, it used engineering to do this. That was when I vowed to align myself with EIA and build more bridges. As someone who was looking to broaden his engineering spectrum, EIA presented me with the opportunity to forge relationships, exchange culture, and grow in the field of engineering. I first joined EIA as part of the mason team, acting as a site foreman and liaison with the students and community, while learning about the bridge design. With dedication and hard work, the Eswatini Bridge Program Manager worked with me and saw to it that our in-country partner organization (Micro Projects) took me on board as a Civil Engineering Technical Officer working under the EIA Department. I have now gone through full technical designs and have led the design and construction of the Eswatini empowerment build. This is the very platform that has enabled me today to sustain myself, work with students, and learn to use online organizational platforms. I love building bridges.
The tremendous reaction and continued support from local communities and government is unparalleled, and it has been a pleasure to be caught up in that. Being up close and personal with top brass government officials whenever students are in the country remains a dream to many and has become my reality. There is no doubt that with EIA’s presence in the country, more lives will be impacted, and one can only hope that more frontiers will be reached for the betterment of the world.
If you ask us, we’re long overdue for some festivity! To “get the party started” we’re kicking off the summer celebrating the power of bridges.
In 2019, 136 students and their mentors built 8 new pedestrian bridges – 5 in Bolivia and 3 in eSwatini. These “spans of hope” now provide over 3,000 people with safe, year-round access to healthcare, education, and markets.
The work of connecting communities continues and you’re invited to be a part of it.
Throughout the month of June we’ll be sharing the stories behind the EIA Bridge Program and the dedicated people who bring it to life. Add in a little music, some STEM, and bit of inspiration and its a celebration you won’t want to miss.
How does your water use measure up against the struggling communities EIA works to help?
Go to bit.ly/EIAh2o to find out.
Take a quick four-minute survey to see how your water usage measures against the families in EIA communities struggling with water poverty. Next, make a pledge to reduce your impact on the global water crisis and share your results and new commitment with your family and friends on social media with a challenge for them to do the same. With awareness, we can make an impact!
You’ll be amazed to see how much water you use, and even more amazed to realize how many people around the globe struggle for a fraction of the clean, safe water we often take for granted.