19/03/2013 - 23:23

You too can be pro bono: engineers

19/03/2013 - 23:23

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You too can be pro bono: engineers
IN THE FIELD: Tim McMinn (left) and Garrett Bray will head off to Tanzania soon for some pro bono bridge building. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij

THREE Perth-based engineers are going back to basics to deliver infrastructure solutions for farming communities in Africa.

Engineering may not be an industry with which the notion of pro bono work has a natural fit, but Tim McMinn, Garrett Bray and Benny Man from civil and structural engineering consultancy BG&E are hoping to change that.

The three young engineers will be travelling to Tanzania this month to oversee the construction of four bridges they designed for the farming communities in the towns of Mambo and Tema.

In 2011 these bridges were severely damaged by flooding and can no longer be used for the transport of goods and produce in and out of the villages.

They said it was an opportunity to deliver a product and service to people in need, but also to establish pro bono work as an achievable goal for the sector.

“A lot of engineers get into engineering because they like the idea of being able to build something, create something,” Mr Bray said.

“But you don’t really get the opportunity to display corporate citizenship”.

The men said while their work often involved the designing of bridges, they were the sort of bridges you would expect to drive across in metropolitan Perth, not in an isolated African village.

“We’ve had to think about a whole range of problems that we don’t normally even consider in our day-to-day jobs, which is probably the most interesting part of the project,” Mr McMinn told WA Business News.

The lack of technology available on site means the design of the bridges needs to be simple, while ensuring they are capable of withstanding future flooding.

The engineers opted to use reinforced concrete, but this presents further challenges as all the construction will be undertaken by hand.

No single piece of equipment or construction component can be heavier than 30 men can lift, and water to mix the concrete will be carried in buckets to and from the site.

The community will be directly involved with the construction of the bridge, comprising much of the labour.

While there are experienced builders and tradesmen throughout the villages, none of them has ever worked with reinforced concrete, Mr McMinn said.

The project came about after BG&E employee Antony Rieck returned from a holiday to the Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge in 2011.

Mr Rieck developed a strong relationship with the local community and witnessed firsthand the need for the bridges to be repaired.

Meanwhile, Mr McMinn and Mr Bray were drawing up a corporate social responsibility policy in order to get BG&E more involved in charitable projects.

When Mr Rieck revealed the need in Tanzania for their skills, it seemed only logical for the rebuilding of the bridges to be taken on under the new policy.

The engineers will be in Tanzania for five weeks, during which time they hope to have the most critical bridges constructed and will leave the remainder of the work to be completed independently by the community.

They are keen to see how the locals will go with future projects on their own.

“It could develop into a longer lasting relationship with them because it sounds like there are a lot of projects in the area that they could use assistance on,” Mr McMinn said.

The engineers are excited by the prospect of undertaking additional pro bono initiatives and hope they can also do valuable work at home, as well as abroad.

 

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