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16 June 2005

Mott MacDonald engineer to carry out voluntary work in Ecuador and El Salvador sharing engineering expertise with local communities

Lily Ryan-Collins, a structural engineer at Mott MacDonald, is travelling to South America on 27 June to work as a volunteer on two projects aimed at improving the quality of life of people in rural communities in Ecuador and El Salvador. In Ecuador, Lily will be working on a smoke-free wood-burning stove project for the charity Engineers Without Borders UK, a non-profit organisation that promotes human development through access to technology. At the end of October she will move to El Salvador to work for six weeks on an earthquake-resistant housing project run by REDES (The Foundation for the Reconstruction and Development of El Salvador), a Salvadorian non-governmental organisation (NGO) established in 1989 to work with refugees and displaced people in the aftermath of the civil war.

As project coordinator for the efficient, smoke-free wood-burning stove project, Lily will be working alongside three other Engineers Without Borders volunteers from the UK in partnership with the Ecuadorian NGO Pastoral Social, which has many years experience working with rural Ecuadorian communities. They aim to introduce the stoves into rural communities who traditionally use open fires for cooking, a method that results in high levels of smoke inhalation and is fuel inefficient. World Bank data shows that smoke inhalation kills two million people in developing countries each year (mostly women and children), while inefficient fuel use results in unnecessary deforestation or high expenditure in areas where firewood must be purchased.

The smoke free stove that Lily will be helping to build is based on a traditional design named ‘Lorena’ and is constructed from adobe: a mixture of sand clay and straw which has been used as a building material in Latin America for centuries. The stove has a sheet steel chimney that serves the double function of removing smoke from the home and heating the room. The project will last three months and has three stages: research, development, and outreach. The most significant stage will be the outreach programme that will include education regarding the health and efficiency advantages of using a Lorena stove. Volunteers will work to sustain the impact of the project by promoting the establishment of a small stove-construction enterprise to continue the work in the future.

In El Salvador, Lily will work with REDES on an on-going scheme to develop earthquake-resistant housing using bamboo frames and other locally available materials. A devastating earthquake in 2001 destroyed thousands of houses in El Salvador and many people rebuilt their homes using flimsy materials such as corrugated iron sheets. This has left them highly vulnerable in the likely case of another earthquake. The work will be a combination of building demonstration houses and running an outreach programme to educate people about construction techniques and the need for earthquake-resistant housing.

Commenting on her forthcoming trip Lily said, “I think it will be a very valuable experience in terms of my engineering knowledge. As project coordinator for the Ecuador project I will gain experience of managing a small project in a challenging environment, while the earthquake-resistant housing project will give me experience of seismic design using unfamiliar materials. Most importantly I look forward to using the engineering skills I have gained during the last three years at Mott MacDonald to enable people in these developing communities to gain access to engineering knowledge that can improve their quality of life.”

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