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Daring Engineering in Dar

The Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) was launched in 2014 by Cambridge students who believed that students are able to make a positive impact on the world even before they have got their degrees.

The CDI focuses its efforts on four key projects in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania; Education, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, and Health, and since its launch, has attracted some of the most dedicated students to work on its projects. Currently, there are five Pembroke students involved in the CDI: Tristan Downing (2012), Izhan Khan (2012), Samad Arshad (2012), Rory White (2012) and Will Gayne (2013). Tristan, Izhan, and Will took some time to talk about their work.

Coming from the fields of Aeronautical Engineering (Tristan and Izhan) and Physics (Will), they recognise that the skills they bring to the group do not obviously lend themselves to their involvement with CDI’s sanitation engineering project, however, Tristan was quick to emphasise that despite the name of the project, students from all subject backgrounds are very welcome:


Tristan: Engineers are great but too many spoil the pot
Will: Everyone brings something new to the table. With a project like this there are a lot of aspects to be considered that don’t need technical knowledge
Izhan: A lot of what we do is community engagement.
T: The technology is never the tricky bit; it’s the community implementation to ensure that it’s sustainable.

It was the CDI’s links to the community in Dar es Salaam as well as Pembroke’s own volunteering ethos that first brought the CDI to their attention:

W: CDI is distinctive because you have an ability to make a very stable difference through the work with the community. I was very swayed by the idea that when you leave improvements continue to be made as we are setting up systems that continue to develop and grow.
I: I had been involved in similar societies before but really liked CDI’s focus on student volunteering and involving the community. It helped that there were a lot of people already involved from Pembroke who recommended getting involved.
T: Pembroke has a real interest in these types of projects. Ecohouse, who I worked with before, had a huge Pembroke contingent.
I: A lot of the same students work with both societies. It is passed down almost as lots of students from the year above and above that have been involved. I got involved in my first year because Steph Willis was my college parent.
T: Abby Bush was my college parent and she did Ecohouse.

3This strong community presence is further strengthened by the Tanzanian half of CDI’s committee.

T: One of the really important things about CDI, that sets us apart, is that there’s a parallel structure between here and Tanzania. We’ve got a President and a committee and the exact same thing is in Dar. There’s a project director and he has a team of students who know what they’re doing. We have some benefits here in that we have access to more resources but they have a lot of ‘on the ground’ experience.

These links are renewed each year as the two teams come together for two months of work in the summer.

T: When we go to Dar, we will be on the site to direct construction but it is also very important that we meet with the community to discuss various things like what they think of the network and where they think the network is going. Some people might be concluding surveys into the feasibility of what we’re doing, the technology, how much people would be willing to pay for it. We also spent weeks last summer going around to different manufacturers, talking to them about the project, getting them involved and engaged. Some of them donated a bunch of materials mainly because they see the project making an impact in their community. I think the reason that we have very strong ties with the community is because our approach manages to engage them really well. The whole network was built by the people there because our simplified sewerage can be done entirely by hand. By engaging the community in the construction, it really gives them ownership over the network and gets them excited about it. They promote it to people around.
I: It’s about our role as facilitators. We don’t have the capacity to scale up the project; we need the community to spread it. What we do well is understanding that.

CDI fund their projects though a variety of ways, relying on support and donations only where necessary.

2T: It’s really important that we do say that we apply for a lot of grants and that’s where some of our money comes from.
I: But some of those grants are dependent on completion or other factors which aren’t beneficial before we go out to the site.
T: There’s still quite a push because the core costs of CDI: the costs of flying out and accommodating all the volunteers pay £600 to cover those costs which is cut down as the average volunteering experience would be pushing £1,500 per volunteer but thanks to our connections in Dar es Salaam we’re got a deal with the university there that we’ve got very cheap accommodation.
I: We try to make sure that as much as we raise from the grants or fundraising goes to the project as possible.
T: We fund raise in a variety of ways and one way that Pembroke has been great is in support. We met with Mark Wormald last term and he really supported us in organising a fundraising dinner which raised a couple of hundred pounds and we sold so many Krispy Kremes, mostly here in Pembroke, to raise an added £500.
I: We’ve done quite well so far, but there’s still a long way to go. What we’re doing has essentially not been done before so that’s why we’re trying to work out the kinks so that we don’t have to keep going over but a lack of funds means a lack of resources and hampers our ability to scale it quickly.

If you would like you find out more about CDI, you can visit their website here. If you are interested in supporting the CDI’s projects, you can donate on their JustGiving page.

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