I have just returned, this evening, from the University of Minnesota, where I gave a talk to the University of Minnesota Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The invitation to speak to EWB stemmed from a short presentation I made to Compatible Technologies International, which I reported on this blog.
The EWB are involved in projects in Uganda, working together with the Uganda Rural Fund. I like EWB's commitment to respecting local initiatives and focusing on sustainability. I dwelt on the cultural aspects of such ventures involving people of different cultures. I stressed that any interaction involving people of different cultures ought to include cultural learning by all, from the very beginning, and throughout.
Cultural factors may appear of little consequence in a project such as building wells, as people of different cultures will easily agree on the value of such a project and on the need to accomplish it. In the implementation, however, cultural issues are bound to crop up which could hamper the project and sour relations between the people involved. Drawing from my "Africans and Americans" book, featured on the right of this page, I gave examples of cultural differences that Americans and Africans need to be aware of. Some of the EWB have already been to Uganda and could relate to what I was saying. Following my presentation, we had a lively question and answer session. We look forward to continuing working together.