Engineer without Borders: one graduate's journey into Africa

Engineer Laura Clough is spending six months in Kenya helping develop micro-energy businesses; find out about her hopes in this introduction to her regular blog

When I was young and people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would tell them things like an astronaut, a zoologist or a hairdresser. Never once did I tell people I wanted to be an engineer. But from my questioning of ‘why’ and fascination with the world around me I find myself telling people just that.

Now 25, I am about to embark on my next engineering adventure, to Kenya for six months, to complete a placement with Engineers without Borders (EWB-UK).

After finishing school with A levels in physics, chemistry and mathematics I wasn’t quite sure what to do, with vague ideas of going to university.

I wanted a break from studying and applied for a work placement through the Year in Industry scheme and got offered a job with a defence and technology company in Malvern.

During this year I applied to university for a range of courses involving physics, computer science and applied mathematics. I decided on mathematical sciences at the University of Birmingham and during the open day there was told of the option of combining this with mechanical engineering.

Four years later I graduated with an MSci in Mathematical Engineering, eager to step on to the career ladder. I had secured myself a job with Areva T&D (now Alstom Grid) on their two-year graduate development programme back in my hometown of Stafford.

The scheme, which consists of four, six-month placements within the different business units, allowed me to get a good understanding of the company while expanding my technical and commercial knowledge on a variety of projects.

Towards the end of the scheme I decided that I would like to try something different and was keen to do some travelling before too many commitments came along. At the same time I still wanted to gain more engineering experience and career development opportunities.

I had heard of Engineers without Borders from university and looked, on their website, at their volunteering opportunities abroad. I decided to apply to their placements programme, choosing placements focusing on the energy sector.

I was invited for an interview and was offered my first choice placement, working for six months with GVEP International on their Developing Energy Enterprises Programme (DEEP) in East Africa.

GVEP International is an international non-profit organisation seeking to reduce poverty through accelerated access to modern energy services. Starting at the beginning of September, the placement will support the Developing Energy Enterprises Programme (DEEP) which aims to increase the availability of sustainable, affordable and appropriate energy services in rural and peri-urban areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by developing a sustainable and widespread industry of micro and small energy enterprises.

During the placement I will be involved in visiting project sites and writing up case studies to help improve the visibility of the project, as well as conducting research and involvement in training programmes.

I am looking forward to this placement, as professionally, it will give me exposure to a variety of new technologies and experience of business development and finance through work with the entrepreneurs involved.

Personally, it will also give me the experience of living and working with people from different cultures and backgrounds as well as the opportunity to explore the beautiful and diverse environment of Kenya.

In a country where only 14 per cent of the population has access to the grid, I hope to be able to gain an insight into how engineering can contribute to development in East Africa, whilst extending my knowledge and experiences to carry me on to my next engineering adventure.

For more information please visit: Engineers without Borders.

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