By Sahil Veeramoney
Last Wednesday around 9:15 AM, my Engineering Design classmates and I, teacher Bevin D., and additional chaperones Ed. C, and Kati. S., left OES for the Mercy Corps Global Headquarters.
Dubbed as the Action Center, the HQ is located just off Burnside St. and adjacent to the Skidmore Fountain. However, it was not all smooth sailing from OES to our destination. As group of frankly ingenious engineers, we were tasked with our fast challenge as we piled onto the bus and realized that Ed C. and three other of my classmates were left without a seat. Luckily, we problem-solved rapidly and efficiently by calling for a larger bus. As we traveled towards the Action Center, the group was in good spirits; most of my classmates were feeling optimistic for an outside lunch due to our delayed departure. Although, fellow senior Bryan C. was more focused on convincing Emerson L. that he predicted the bus would be insufficient in size for all of us. “I said it was too small as were coming down the hill,” Bryan emphatically exclaimed. Emerson responded by shaking his head in an exasperated manner. Jokes aside, we reached the Action Center about twenty-five minutes later and were greeted by the resident coordinator. Personally, I was very excited as I had no idea what we were going to be doing.
To start, we began learning what Mercy Corps as an organization are striving to achieve. Bottom line, we learned that Mercy Corps hopes to end poverty in communities around the world. However as the day progressed, my fellow engineers and I figured out just how hard that was. After our initial brainstorming, we all had the opportunity of exploring the Action Center and its setup. It was a very educating experience, rich with hands-on activities and eye-opening statistics. It is a privilege to have the global headquarters of such a facility to be located right here in Oregon and I sincerely encourage all OES’ians to visit at some point during your high-school career.
After the absorbing some of the information the Action Center had to offer, my classmates and I gathered around Mercy Corps’ interactive world globe to hone in on one topic and begin to learn the responsibilities of engineers in remediating certain situations. More specifically, we focused on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a nation riddled with one of the most tragic histories in the world. Albeit, a truly beautiful place. At first, we began hypothesizing certain hardships the country may endure based on geographical location. These predictions ranged from lack of water resources to faulty border relations as a result of neighboring a whopping nine different countries. We then started brainstorming potential solutions to such problems.
Finally, we concluded our visit with a role-playing simulation. Our group was divided into different groups including national staff, government officials, and internally displaced persons (IDP). Each group was tasked with accomplishing respective objects and assigned certain responsibilities which required collaboration with other teams. For example, the national staff committee was required to accompany the foreign staff everywhere the latter went in hopes to simulate potential security issues. With a severe time constraint, and tasked with seemingly insurmountable assignments, us brilliant innovators were unfortunately struggling. The atmosphere was one of chaos and occasional discord. Finally, time was called and all members of the group gathered around the projector to conclude our workshop. Everyone was asked if they were able to complete their respective task but more importantly we were asked if each group was aware of the other groups tasks. This was when everything became clear to me. To be honest, I was a bit confused as to how the workshop connected to engineering until this point but I felt as I had an epiphany in this moment. I processed the question, desperately searching for answer, but I had none. After the whole simulation, I still was not aware of the goals of the other groups. I was so focused on the orders I was assigned, I did not bother to think to explain to the group I was helping as to why I was doing what I was doing.
This was the final take-away. When organizations like Mercy Corps travel to these impoverished communities, many times they arrive with a project in mind. Answers, based on anticipated problems. Similar as to when the whole class was assuming the DRC’s problems. An engineer who fulfills all his or her responsibilities, is an engineer who takes into account the actual needs of the community. Asks the question, “what do you need?” In addition, the struggles of implementing relief efforts in certain communities came to fruition. “The role playing activity…was particularly impactful; it highlighted the challenges of instituting change and evoked feelings of frustration and helplessness that are small compared to actual IDPs,” stated teacher Bevin D. Overall, I, and my other classmates, really enjoyed the visit to the Mercy Corps Action Center especially in understanding how to use the principles of engineering in the pursuit of poverty-free communities (even though the effort to eat lunch outside was unsuccessful).
Huge thanks to Bevin D., Ed. C., and Kati S. for chaperoning our trip and enabling this experience.