Using my civil engineering skills 'Hand-in-Hand with African Women'

Siobhán Mullan demonstrates how the opportunity to use our civil engineering professional skills can appear unexpectedly.

Mama Dinah and hydrologist looking for best borehole locations. Image credit: Hand-in-Hand with African Women
Mama Dinah and hydrologist looking for best borehole locations. Image credit: Hand-in-Hand with African Women

We will all remember 2020, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 2020 is also the year a group of women in Canada, the United States and Europe established Hand-in-Hand (Main de la Main) with African Women as a charitable organisation.

I became aware of Hand-in-Hand, through a close friend in the United States, who shared details of her involvement with the charity in her Christmas 2020 greetings. At this point the idea that I could contribute in some way began to grow.

As a chartered civil engineer, I am committed to my personal CPD, and have over the years completed further study. In 2015, I completed a part-time masters in renewable energy and energy management, initially to increase my knowledge of the energy sector where I worked. 

My master's research dissertation 'The application of hybrid micro-generation technologies for rural villages in developing countries to satisfy energy and water demands' gave me the opportunity to look at this area of energy and water supply in more detail and on a global scale.

Three communities in Africa, based across Kenya and Togo, had previously developed links with the Hand-in-Hand founder Lucille Mandin, through Lucille’s involvement in other projects in Africa, which had been recognised by the United Nations in Canada in 2018.

Men in Mama Charity's community raising the new land ownership sign. Image credit: Hand-in-Hand with African Women

When I read the initial information on Hand-in-Hand's work in Africa, I was intrigued to find out if I could become involved. In early 2021, I joined the weekly Hand-in-Hand leadership Zoom call to see if there was a need for civil engineering input on any of the current projects.

Six months into 2021, I am an active member of the Hand-in-Hand leadership team. I have had the opportunity to meet with the three African women community leaders: Mama Charity in Togo, and Mama Dinah and Sister Agnes in Kenya.

Community projects

Supported by the initial launch of Hand-in-Hand fundraising events, and a larger International Women’s Day fundraiser event, three projects have now commenced on site, or are about to start, across the three African communities:

  • a hatchery project in western Kenya;
  • lands have been purchased in Togo for future agricultural cultivation; and
  • a water well will be dug for water supply, in the coming months.

I have been able to use my civil engineering knowledge to discuss the projects with the women, and their teams of suppliers and engineers, in Africa.

In Kenya, a hydrologist is going on site in the Maasai Mara region to establish the location of new ground water boreholes; the boreholes are intended to serve the wider community in the Maasai Mara. I am awaiting the results of the hydrologist report to see how a water supply network can be developed for the community.

Construction has begun on the chicken shed project for Sister Agnes’ community in western Kenya.  The project will rear chickens to provide food and a source of income. Image credit: Hand-in-Hand with African Women

These projects will each impact a wide community, providing water and reducing the time required for water collection, a role undertaken mostly by the women of the community.

Future projects will include solar power for the groundwater borehole pumping and milk chillers, and supply chains being established for the produce from the pastural and agricultural activities of the three communities. All these projects present many interesting civil engineering design opportunities.

Lands in Togo have been purchased for future agricultural use, to produce crops that will be sold and to train children from the orphanage in agricultural practices, giving them valuable hands-on learning and skills. Image credit: Hand-in-Hand with African Women

Two-way learning

I really appreciate the insight I have gained into the three communities, and how much I have learned from my conversations, over the past six months, with the women across the world who are working on this project.

The learning is definitely two-way: we can learn a lot from the African community spirit. Each of the three communities is sharing knowledge and skills within the wider community, always innovating, and bringing real engineering skills to their every activity.

Take the opportunity when it arises

For civil engineers, the opportunity to use our engineering knowledge and skills can appear in any part of our lives outside the nine-to-five working day. I would encourage others to look for these opportunities and take them. These projects remind me of the opportunity we have as civil engineers to 'Shape the World using the knowledge and experience of civil engineers to help find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems'.

My involvement in Hand-in-Hand has given me a renewed appreciation of this specific civil engineering activity. The three projects will continue to develop over the coming months and years. If you are interested in supporting these, or just want to keep updated on them, please sign up for our newsletter over on the website – www.HandinHand.Space

Siobhán Mullan, an ICE member in Northern Ireland, is one of ICE Past President David Orr’s Future Leaders and member of the ICE Education and Inspiration Advisory Group.

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