Christina Berg Olesen: Spends her summer holiday establishing better water supply in Zimbabwean villages

Christina Berg Olesen

In her daily life, civil engineer Christina Berg Olesen works with biogas and waste water projects for NIRAS. However, her 2019 summer holiday was not of the usual kind, as she spent it in Zimbabwe examining possibilities for a more efficient water supply. She did this in connection to her involvement as a coordinator for Engineers Without Borders.

As a recently graduated engineer, Christina Berg Olesen from Aarhus has her hands full with consulting on projects concerning biogas and waste water. Aside from her consulting job, Christina works for ‘Engineers Without Borders’, so when an interesting project opened up in Zimbabwe, she jumped at the opportunity.

Along with her colleagues from Engineers Without Borders Denmark, Christina has been a part of a small team that spent the spring of 2019 organizing and seeking support for the project, which will explore opportunities to improve water supply in Zimbabwean villages. This summer, the team conducted workshops, SWOT-analyses and field work in the African country to assess the optimal project for them to work on.

How are the conditions in Zimbabwe’s water supply?

The villages usually only have a manual hand pump or a well, where the water is fetched with a bucket and rope. Basic conditions like these bear a big risk for water pollution and in the warmest months, the more shallow wells will dry out quickly. This causes more people to rely on fewer wells, making it necessary for many people to walk multiple kilometres every day to get water. I think these conditions were rough.

Did you find your project?

The purpose of the trip to Zimbabwe was primarily to define the project that would deliver the greatest value. Additionally, we met with a local partner to determine whether they have the capacity the execute such a project. After our return home, we will compile everything into a report, which may result in a pilot project that Engineers Without Borders then will commence. The project could for example consist of restoring defective wells or establishing a new solar driven pump installation. The solution must correlate to the level of conditions in Zimbabwe for it to be successful.

How was it to spend your summer holiday this way?

It was incredibly exciting. It was a new way of working for me, even though I have been a volunteer before. Having a technical purpose through the project provided a different experience meeting the country and interacting with the locals. We definitely also ran into some challenges and witnessed how many things took much longer than necessary. Nevertheless, I think it was a great trip and a good opportunity to obtain more professional experience. It is very valuable that NIRAS provides opportunities such as these to their young engineers.

What do you work with on a daily basis in NIRAS?

I primarily work with wastewater and biogas projects. I consult companies on how they can efficiently clean their wastewater to make their company function more sustainably. I also help purification plants optimize their processes and in turn improve their green profiles. For example, I have helped a small purification plant on Fyn in Denmark establish a biogas motor, making it possible for them to utilize the biogas to heat their own buildings and simultaneously produce electricity, which they can sell to the power grid.

What motivates you to work with Engineers Without Borders, while also having a fulltime job?

To me, the opportunity to work on aid projects and share my knowledge with people who do not have the same resources we do, is too good to pass up. Furthermore, it is a splendid personal opportunity for me to gain professional experience in the field. It also allows me to experience the work through an NGO-perspective, which is very interesting to me. NIRAS provides good opportunities to work with Engineers Without Borders and they have supported my trip both professionally and financially.

Why did you end up at NIRAS in particular?

The consulting business provides great opportunities to work on a wide range of different projects, making it possible to expand one’s professional expertise. I value that a lot. Additionally, NIRAS provides opportunities to get involved in aid projects and contribute within that area. NIRAS has a fundamental profile focused on the environment and sustainability, which appeals to me immensely.