06 April 2018

SAIChE-IChemE Gauteng Member’s group, EWB-SA evening February 2018


To kick off the year’s proceedings we started off on a high note by showcasing the exciting organisation that is Engineers Without Borders SA (EWB-SA), giving our members a chance to find out more about this organisation.

Dr David Ming started off the evenings talks with telling us about what EWB-SA is and what it aims to address in South African society.

David , the director of EWB-SA  introduced us to what it is and what it means to South Africa. The EWB-SA group aims to facilitate the transfer of engineering skillsets and convert this into far reaching benefits for local communities using a project based approach to implement and install and educate those areas in need of these critical skills.

Hundreds of projects have been started around the country, each with their own set of unique challenges to understand and get around. The group started in 2008 at the University of Cape Town. There are now nine student chapters and counting and a member base of over 1500, established in the space of eight years. These chapters are mainly based at universities and technikons. While getting projects off the ground and running, a key focus of the group is the educational value and the approach to unlocking this. Human centered design and rapid prototyping are commonly used methods for unlocking potential of members and their teams in order to achieve project objectives at a fast pace. EWB-SA  student members get exposure to valuable project management sessions being a part of the group equipping them with the tools to get ahead.

 EWB-SA  allows its members the chance to go back into their communities and use their knowledge to build and educate those who the projects may involve or affect. While the emphasis is on building infrastructure in these communities, another valuable output from these projects is the research papers written on the outcomes.

As an engineering professional currently working in industry, a way of contributing to EWB-SA is by joining the technical advisory board at your local university chapter.

With the changing scenery from one suburb to another we tend to forget about the challenges that face a large majority of our population and often focus on the problems that we face in urban areas. He carried on to explain that having an understanding of the complexities involved with the everyday lives of South Africans and the nature thereof are at the very heart of getting ahead of these projects.

One of the projects completed by EWB-SA’s university chapter EWB-NMMU, included the Green day Care center in Port Elizabeth featured in ArchDaily (See link) for its innovative approach to using green materials (such as used bottles) for building blocks.

Dr Baraka Celestin Sempuga went into more detail by taking us through and shedding some light on the various projects being done by EWB-Unisa. Some of the key projects include bio digesters supplying energy to supplement/supply power to homes. Additionally, soap making using extraction techniques to extract the smell of essential oils was a partnership done with local a community who could sell/buy their products made.

While biogas is not new technology there are always challenges to overcome. The main one being -overcoming the social perceptions related to the use of manure or sewage for an everyday activity such as powering the home and various household related activities.

We heard the story of Joseph who installed bio digesters on his farm that had been running for three or four years. This he uses to cook, heat up water and watch tv. He is also able to use the manure for his farming as the processing of the manure helps to break down and release nutrients into the soils which are a benefit over using fresher manure.

With the emphasis on conversion and gas projects there has been a strong representation of chemical engineers . However there are many opportunities available for all other engineering disciplines to get more involved.

So how can you help ?

If you are a professional engineer … professional engineers can contribute on a technical level by joining one of the technical advisory boards in Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KZN. Members can also help volunteer their time on an organisational level by contributing their time to help run EWB-SA who are always looking for people to help with social media, administrate and training programmes like the HCD course and project management, and host events.

If you are a university student … The easiest way for university students to get involved is by contacting one of the university chapters closest to them. Otherwise, they can always contact EWB-SA directly.

If you are a company in the engineering industry ... Companies interested in working with EWB SA can contact their CEO (Jason Huang - and cc and see how best to work together. They are constantly looking to expand their presence and it's not always about money.

See their website for more information:


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IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).