Human Centred Design Key to Volunteering in India

NDY mechanical intern Melanie Finch spent time volunteering in India with Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Melanie shares her first-hand experiences.

“Earlier this year I was fortunate to spend time in India with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) on a Humanitarian Engineering Design Summit. The program was focused on the Human-Centred Design process, appropriate technology principles, and development best practice; concepts which were explored through first-hand experience with humanitarian engineering in a rural village in southern India.

My design team of 3 adopted a strength-based approach. Building on the strength of the villagers in creating multi-use spaces, we designed a wall hanging garden made from locally available materials in which households could grow commonly used herbs and spices without encroaching on their valuable space. Use of the human-centred design process meant that the villagers were involved in every stage of the process, providing valuable feedback and insight.

The program was not without its challenges.

Facilities were basic, with most of us sleeping on the floor in the same room as our respective host families, and showers taking the form of buckets of cold water. Another major difficulty we faced was cross-cultural communication, where the nuances of using a translator came to the forefront as we endeavored to transfer meaning in the most effective way.

The design summit provided a great introduction to humanitarian engineering and allowed me to develop a range of new skills, which I have already found myself using back in Australia. I am incredibly thankful for the experience!”

Melanie is a final year student working as an undergraduate Project Engineer at NDY whist completing her studies in Mechanical Engineering and Commerce. She is also a Demonstrator for the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing at UNSW, and is completing a thesis in the field of acoustics.

Melanie’s previous experience includes a recent tenure as President of the Mechanical Engineering Society at UNSW, involvement with a number of Women in Engineering initiatives, and many years as a barista upon which she looks back with nostalgia.

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