The trip is several days away. There are still a million things to do. Pack my bags. Finalize water testing details. Reorganize the schedule of tasks to accommodate a trip to the surveying store. The list goes on. As one of two project managers for the Dominican Republic Team of Princeton’s Engineers Without Borders, I’ve discovered organizing a development project (in this case the preliminary assessment and design phase) is anything but trivial. This summer I’ve easily spent 20 hours a week working on this project – procuring water testing materials, interviewing translators, learning about ground surveying, and nailing down a million logistical details necessary to make sure our trip goes seamlessly, or as seamless as you can get when working with as many unknowns as we have. As a new project team, this task is especially difficult. Starting from square one, we have had to forge the in-country connections and identify the resources that will make our project possible, a process that has stretched my Spanish skills to the limit (making my ability to copy and paste entire emails into Google Translate perhaps more relevant at times).
But while I’m pouring over contingency plans, running through our daily itinerary, and firing off last minute emails to the team about packing necessities, sometimes I wonder why exactly I’m doing this. I’ve led this team for the past one and half years and have had a good amount of time to reflect not just on our project but on development work as a whole. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that one shouldn’t take for granted that non-profit work has a positive impact. In fact, sometimes even organizations with the best of intentions go awry due to cultural misunderstandings, technical missteps, and other errors which result from a failure among NGOs to gain a thorough enough understanding of a community and its issues to form an effective partnership that will eradicate the challenges they face. But my firm belief is that sustainable development remains possible and that, at least in certain cases, aid can be the solution. It is certainly our hope that our partnership with El Cajuil (see my next blog post for more details on the community) helps them achieve a higher standard of living.
In the next few weeks, our team will be publishing a number of blog posts that directly explore the technical and social aspects of our project, speaking to themes of sustainable development, the ethics of aid, surmounting cultural and language barriers, and much, much more. Follow us here on our blog and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ewbprincetondr/) to learn more about our adventures.
- Corinne Lowe