Engineering Student’s Tanzanian Humanitarian Project Gains Momentum

Soon after spring semester ended, civil engineering student, Eric White boarded a plane for East Africa. His mission was to learn Kiswahili, the native language, and work with a humanitarian organization to aid the people of Tanzania. White worked through A&T’s Office of International Programs (OIP), and the Knowledge Exchange Institute (KEI), which offers a wide array of programs for students interested in integrating courses, internships and cultural interaction.

After a three-week Kiswahili language course in the city of Dar es Salaam, White traveled to Mahenge Town, a remote area of south central Tanzania where he began an assignment with Caritas. Caritas is a global confederation of Catholic organizations that provide humanitarian emergency assistance in developing countries. Despite its abundance of lakes, safe water is in short supply in Tanzania. The water resource project supported by Caritas, involved constructing a gravity water supply system that will be more sustainable long term during the hot and dry climate. Ultimately, the improved system will provide safe water access for children and families. 

While working in Tanzania, White said he discovered that as little as ten percent of the aid donated to governmental agencies actually reaches Tanzanian villages, while about 90% of non-governmental organization funding is distributed. “It made me think, I could create my own NGO to work in the villages performing the same kind of work,” said White.

Before leaving Tanzania, White shared his vision of creating his own NGO with village leaders to help deliver assistance and resources to poverty stricken communities. White was considering graduate school upon completing his undergraduate degree in December. Since his trip to Tanzania, he explains the experience has changed his educational trajectory. Instead, White plans to raise money and return to Tanzania next summer, to live and provide humanitarian aid under a registered NGO he is working to establish. 

“Studying abroad in Tanzania was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life; not only did I get to direct my own study at my pace and in my area of interest, but I also forged memorable friendships. Having the support of my Dean, Dr. Robin Coger and Dr. Stephanie Luster-Teasley’s Engage 2B Engineers Program was huge.  Without their sponsorship, I probably would not have gone abroad,” he said.

White has spent time in Costa Rica where he learned to speak, read and write Spanish.  As a student, he also traveled to Rio de Janeiro and Juiz de Fora, Brazil for six months in 2010. In the summer of 2012, White participated in a research internship in South Korea sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).