Engineering Design, affectionately dubbed EngDes, went on a field trip! Four weeks ago (I know Kara, I’m sorry), our class piled into an OES bus, maneuvered through US 26 mid-morning traffic, and blocked half of Ankeny Street as we unloaded in front of the Mercy Corps headquarters. The Action Center looks like one of those interactive museums: trash hanging artfully from the ceiling, rubble sitting encased in plexiglass boxes, a whole wall filled with clipboards. A lot of us got hung up by a circular table that we could spin around to reveal information about “secure, productive, and just communities.”
We meandered through the exhibit for a bit, until a very friendly, very Portlandly, woman herded us into a corner to talk. So here are all the answers to the questions you’ve been silently, oh so silently, asking:
What is Mercy Corps?
- A global, non-profit, secular organization
- 40% of their work if for relief (short-term)
- food, water, shelter, medical care, education
- 60% for development (long-term)
How do they get money?
- Grants (sometimes from the government)*
- Corporations (including Starbucks and Coca Cola)
*Mercy Corps needs to be careful where they get their money from because of third-party interests. For example, if they get a grant from the U.S. government to work in Iraq, the U.S. is going to have expectations for what they do. Plus, their help may not be very welcome in said country.
In addition to learning all this fun information, our field trip was a blast ‘cause we got to participate in a game! We were players in a Mercy Corps field project simulation.
Masking tape paths snaked around the Action Center in inconvenient loops and turns. Benches blocked the path and water jugs (actually filled with water) were located in a corner. A makeshift post office and bank were set-up on old wooden benches, and the “government” was, ironically, stationed around a pile of encased rubble. The whole simulation was set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). I was an expatriate working to bring portable wood burning stoves to displaced women and children.
In the DRC, there’s this huge problem with the firewood gathering process. As one might expect, people need fire to survive. Since the majority of people must to go into the forest to gather firewood, there’s a wood shortage. This forces the gathers, women and children, to venture further and further from their villages everyday. Going into the forest is very dangerous because it’s easy to get kidnapped or killed. Thus, Mercy Corps is working to provide women and children with portable stoves that consume less fuel to reduce their need to gather firewood.
Anyways, I was trying to get these stoves to the “displaced persons (DPs).” The task seems simple enough, just take the stove to the village and teach people how it works. But, as you probably know, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. First, my fellow expatriates and I had to be accompanied by a translator whenever we “travelled.” Due to the “path conditions” we’d have to walk around the entire room to get to a our destination half that distance away. We were periodically interrupted by the “government” to sign forms and receive packages for various branches of Mercy Corps. Most of the DPs were off building a road when we visited their camp bearing stoves.
You get the picture– we had to overcome some obstacles to accomplish our goal. And we did it. In fact, the entire class finished all the tasks presented. The Mercy Corps facilitator was actually surprised we completed everything. I found this statement kind of surprising. I didn’t understand why our particular group was able to “get through more of the activities than any other group.” Looking back though, I think we were so successful because, yes, we were all capable of completing the tasks, but we were also all interested in doing our part for the group. Everyone wanted to work, and as a team.
Understanding all the little pieces that comprise a good project, and a good team, are essential to Mercy Corps’ success. EngDes got a taste of “real world” problem solving during our visit, which we are trying to incorporate into our engineering projects (maybe not so much the pumpkin launching challenge). So stay tuned!