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“Know your worth.”  I hear it so often back home. And back home (for me, the US), I wouldn’t think twice about what it means. For me, this phrase has always been about making sure I was treated with the respect I deserved. But in global development, and especially during my time in Madagascar thus far, I have come to learn that knowing my worth has a drastically different meaning. I have come to learn that knowing my worth is knowing how I can most effectively contribute to the situation at hand. Knowing my worth is about being honest with myself, and knowing that my expectations, no matter how hard I try not to set them, will never be worth more than my contribution to the community if I’m honest about my capabilities and my role in the situation.

I came into this summer with expectations. Like any other student, I was nervous about what lied ahead, but I had a general idea of how my summer was going to pan out.

I had never been more wrong.

The original source we had designed for (during the entire spring semester at Duke), turned out to not be a viable option, as it had been contaminated and didn’t offer enough pressure head to get to the village. Coming to terms that my entire plan for this summer (and an entire semester’s worth of design) was turned on its head proved to be difficult at first, but throwing away any expectations for this summer allowed me to more clearly assess my place in both the community and this project as a whole.

After identifying the new source, we came to the rapid realization that the scope of this project will have gotten much bigger. The new source would provide for two villages, nearly quadrupling the size of the sustainable social infrastructure necessary for proper implementation. On the technical side, the pipe network itself became much more complex as well, with over 6 km of pipe (as compared to the 2 km of pipe in the original design), and over 5x the pressure head. That left us with 5 weeks to confirm a new pipeline route, test the new source for coliforms, design an entirely new pipe network, and conduct proper community consultation to design social infrastructure to support the new project.

Although I would have loved to be out doing community consultation and hearing what people had to say about the new project, gaining a better understanding of the social atmosphere of Manantenina, I knew that my strengths lied in the technical side of the project. As a result, I ended up spending 2-3 straight weeks on my computer doing AutoCAD for the new design that was being designed simultaneously. Luckily, we had two water engineers from New Zealand with us that served as key players in the technical design of the pipe network.

The conditions we designed in were less than favorable, but we learned to stay flexible and accept the conditions that we were given. We ended up spending a greater majority of our time in our translator’s house, powering our computers with a car generator, next to a screaming chicken (it never stopped, really).

At first, it bothered me that I was stuck inside while a majority of the team was out conducting village consultations. However, I realized that I was the only one on the design team who was proficient enough in AutoCAD to get all 14 drawings drawn in enough time to get to contractors. I realized that my expectations that I had subconsciously construed were not worth the detriment of not having drawings for the community.

In the end, the design team’s efforts saved the village over 18,000,000 Ariary (roughly 6000 USD). And although I know that a greater portion of my time was spent in a cramped room next to a car generator and a screaming chicken doing AutoCAD for +13 hours/day, I am forever grateful for these circumstances. These circumstances forced me to be honest with myself about my worth in this project.

In the process, I’ve learned more about my worth as an engineer in global development projects and simultaneously greatly bettered my skills in AutoDesk Software.

I also befriended a chicken in the process, which is a bonus.