Humanitarian Design in Nepal

By Georgie Clarnette, Master of Engineering (Biomedical with Business)

In the July semester break I was lucky enough to travel to Nepal for two weeks on a Design Summit with Engineers without Borders.

Georgie and fellow students in NepalGeorgie with her classmates in Nepal. Image: supplied.

I arrived in Kathmandu and met with 50 students from Australia and New Zealand, ready for a very full few weeks learning about Nepal, the culture and the role of humanitarian engineering.

In Kathmandu, we took lessons learning the Nepali language, immersed ourselves in the culture, took workshops in human-centred design and ate a whole lot of momos – a delicious Nepalese dumpling. Next, we headed off in smaller groups to a local Nepalese village, which was the highlight of the trip. I stayed with a local family, and although we couldn’t speak the same language, I learnt so much living in their home, helping around their farm, collecting water from a well and seeing their children’s school. There was limited electricity, reception and water, so it was definitely a challenge, but it was incredibly rewarding. The village, called Phoolbari, which is Nepalese for ‘full of flowers’, was high in the mountains and we had an incredible view of the Himalayas.

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Georgie's view in NepalThe view from Phoolbari, Nepal. Image: supplied.

Throughout our time in the village we focused on the Discovery and Empathy phases of human-centred design. We interviewed the locals in Phoolbari using a strength-based approach to understand what life is like in their village. The community stay was an eye-opening experience - I learnt so much about myself and the human-centred design process.

Our last few days were spent in Bhaktapur, where in small teams we looked at potential solutions for problems we had uncovered in the village. I loved seeing how transferable my engineering skills were, as studying biomedical engineering I wasn’t sure I would be able to offer much to my team, but it was great to see so many skills translate to the problems we were trying to solve in Nepal, such as dealing with having limited information and ambiguity.

Our team presented a simple idea to filter rain water, which could help with collecting safe water in the village. The Engineers without Borders summit was an incredible experience, and I’ve returned encouraged and inspired to learn more about humanitarian engineering, and what other cool experiences I can put my skills towards.

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