Sharing our Expertise
Engineering Change for Better Lives
From Space to Africa
Boeing Volunteer's Engineering Skills Bring Life-Giving Water to Rural Hospital
Engineering Can Be a Truly Universal Endeavor
The same skills that Boeing's Shah Selbe uses to maneuver satellites in space also helped him deliver clean water to a health clinic in southeast Africa. Selbe serves as co-lead for a volunteer project in the African nation of Malawi, working out of El Segundo, Calif., on water issues that have touched the lives of people halfway across the globe.
"The results of our first year of partnership with The Boeing Company have been astounding," said Dr. Bernard Amadei, Founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA. "Grants from Boeing have made a direct impact on communities throughout Africa and South America and the support we've seen in our local chapters from Boeing employees is commendable. We cannot begin to imagine what incredible things EWB-USA and The Boeing Company can achieve by continuing our work together, but the possibilities are very exciting."
The success of the effort, coordinated through Engineers Without Border-USA (EWB-USA), led Boeing to honor the propulsion systems engineer with the 2009 Boeing Exceptional Volunteer Service Award.
Selbe joined EWB's Malawi Project team to help resolve crucial water treatment and transport issues for the Malamulo Hospital Campus. EWB-USA focuses on engineering and environmental solutions to improve the health of vulnerable populations and provide needed access to clean water, sanitation and renewable energy sources. The hospital is home to the country's leading HIV/AIDS prevention program but its water system was inadequate and inconsistent, and many of the potential sources of water are contaminated.
The goal of the five-year project is to bring inexpensive clean water to the entire hospital campus — starting by identifying water sources, repairing piping and constructing a complete rainwater catchment system. "As a liquid propulsion subsystem engineer working on how communications satellites move around once they're in geosynchronous orbit, I deal with technical issues regarding liquids and pressure changes," Selbe said. "So what I did on this project, including drafting of the technical documentation, is similar to what I do at work."
For the project to be a success, it also required Selbe to develop and employ some unexpected skills, ranging from training and communication to negotiation to project and resource management. "We even helped them create a multi-year plan so they can project their water needs, and how to meet them, well into the future," Selbe said.
"I really enjoy what I do at Boeing — making satellites move in space is pretty cool," Selbe said. "But this EWB project was rewarding in a whole different way. We're working to make sure that the Malamulo hospital can continue its work for people living with HIV/AIDS, and also to deliver a reliable source of clean drinking water for children who go to school on the campus. How cool is that?"
Selbe's volunteer work may also touch lives in other parts of the globe. He hopes that the rainwater catchment system he designed for a rural area in Malawi will soon be adapted for use in other EWB-USA projects in Tanzania and South America.
Boeing is a principal partner with EWB-USA supporting projects around the world that utilize the talents of students, professors, professionals and local community members to implement simple, sustainable engineering solutions for communities that need them most. The partnership also provides opportunities for Boeing employees to engage in skills-based volunteerism, lending their professional skills (both engineering and non-engineering) and talents to improve communities worldwide.
"Boeing’s strength is its people, who are among the brightest in the world and who continually challenge themselves to find pioneering solutions to complex aerospace problems. So it is a natural step to work with EWB-USA to help solve critical community problems and create a better world," said John Tracy, senior vice president of Engineering, Operations & Technology and an EWB-USA executive sponsor.