Dr. Bernard Amadei shares the Heinz Award in the Environment for his work to improve the quality of life in some of the world's poorest communities.
By all accounts, Dr. Bernard Amadei had established an impressive, though mainstream, academic career in engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he arrived in 1982 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. In 2000, however, his career took an abrupt turn.
Invited by a representative of the Belize Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Amadei visited San Pablo, a Mayan village of 250 people, to examine the possibility of designing and installing a water delivery system to the village. What he saw, he said, "broke my heart": a village with no electricity, running water or sanitation, and, because most villagers worked at a nearby banana plantation, the responsibility for carrying drinking and irrigation water from a nearby river to the village fell to the village children. Professor Amadei returned to Boulder and recruited eight University of Colorado students in civil and environmental engineering, as well as a local civil engineering expert, to work on the project.
He eventually founded Engineers Without Borders - USA (EWB-USA), which applies a combination of professional expertise and selfless compassion to remote areas of the world. Over the past seven years, and buoyed by the success of the Belize project, Dr. Amadei and EWB-USA have since grown to 224 projects in 43 countries, 8,000 members and 235 established university and professional chapters. In 2001, he co-founded the EWB-International Network, which is now in 45 countries.
Projects typically "find" Engineers Without Borders. Many projects are brought to the organization by universities with international exchange programs, in-country volunteers or by non-profit organizations that have funding but lack the engineering expertise to get the projects done.
Back at the University of Colorado, Dr. Amadei has created a new program called Engineering for Developing Communities. Its overall mission is to educate globally responsible engineering students and professionals who can offer sustainable and appropriate solutions to the endemic problems faced by developing communities worldwide.
Dr. Amadei's engineering solutions are grounded in the principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability that restore human dignity, peace and economic health to poor villages. And he is a man of action, going well beyond the halls of academia to help students and professionals in the United States and elsewhere live lives with purpose by freeing others from oppression and poverty. Through his organization and outreach efforts around the world, Professor Amadei is leaving a legacy of others who will carry on his work.
With the practical insight of an engineer and the compassion of a global humanitarian, Dr. Bernard Amadei is literally transforming pockets of the world that lack even the most basic living infrastructures. His talented and dedicated network of academics, professionals and students is engaged in making sustainable changes that are profoundly improving the lives and fortunes of some of the world's poorest people.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
February 2008 - Amadei is elected to the National Academy of Engineering for "the creation of Engineers Without Borders, leadership in sustainable development education, and research on geomechanics." - National Academy of Engineering
February 2008 - In celebration of National Engineers' Week, Drexel University announces its selection of Amadei as 2008 Engineer of the Year. - Drexel University
10/22/2007 - Acceptance Speech
Thank you Mrs. Heinz and thank you for giving me this great honor to receive this award from the Heinz Foundation. I'm receiving this award on behalf of a lot of people, of Engineers without Borders, the staff of Engineers without Borders, the executive director of Engineers without Borders, Kathy Leslie who is with us tonight. The volunteers of Engineers without Borders, we have about 9,000 people across the country, who are really trying to make this world a better place. And also, all of the communities that we are serving, all of the people who are looking for a better future, hope, who want clean water, sanitation, the basic things that for us, we take for granted.
Engineers without Borders started originally in my own back yard in 1997. But during my first trip to Belize in 2000, I came across that little girl carrying water back and forth, that little girl could not go to school and as a result was going back into the cycle of poverty over and over again. They asked me can you do something about it, you are a civil engineer. And I said oh yeah, no problem, I am professor of engineering; I'm supposed to know everything. But very quickly I realized that small scale engineering in the middle of the jungle, putting a pump in the middle of the jungle with no electricity and no power whatsoever, will become a very quick challenge. So I threw all my degrees away, my Ph.D., and everything, and decided to address the needs of that community. A year later, I came back with a team of 10 students and we brought water to that village and those little girls could go to school.
When I came out of this project, three things were created, Engineers without Borders at the University of Colorado first and it's spread very quickly, I was the only member at the time, now we have about 9,000 members, we have 235 chapters, we are working in about 43 different countries and working on 250 projects of water, sanitation, energy and shelter.
Another thing that came out of my trip to Belize was for me to realize that the world needs small scale engineering more than ever. Until that time, I had practiced engineering for the one billon rich, big dams, and big tunnels, big everything as if everything has to be big. You know for us engineers, you don't hear about to many engineers saying I was responsible for the construction of a small dam; we need to have it big. Well, let me tell you that in the entire world today they don't want big infrastructure, for 5 billion people it is a question to be alive by the end of the day and I decided on that day that helping the poor, helping those at the bottom of the pyramid, giving them dignity and the basic necessities of life was going to be the things that I wanted to do when I grew up and that's what I did.
And third, I realize also, that this new kind of engineering, small scale engineering, I call it engineering with heart or engineering with a human face, needed bridging between the top three inches of the head and the heart. This is the kind of engineering that can only be done through compassion, if you do not bring compassion today, then that kind of engineering can not succeed.
Finally, let me tell you that we are living today on the planet with 6.4 billion people, 1.2 billion people do not have clean water, and 2.4 billion people do not have sanitation. 29,000 children die for reasons that are purely preventable every day of the year, 1.6 billion people do not have electricity, and 3 billion people do not know how to read or have never placed a phone call. On the same time on that same planet, we are spending 1,054 billion dollars on weapons in the entire world that was 2006; you divide that by 365 days, 24 hours, 60 minutes and 60 seconds and you find out that we, citizens of this planet are willing to spend 31,000 dollars a second on weapons, when 29,000 children die for reasons that are purely preventable every day - this my friends is not acceptable, period.
So what do we do about, we do what we should be doing as human beings, is to stand up and be the change that we want to see in the world. Nobody else is going to do it and that was the world of Gandhi. Be the change that you want to see in the world.
And I also want to thank my family tonight, who has been really supportive, very patient with me, because I'm on the road quite a lot. I have seen horrible things; children blown up in front of me on land mines. Believe me, I've seen children die in front of me for reasons that are purely preventable, I will never forget those children, and this award goes to them as well. With the award money, I'm going to do two things, bring peace into the world and I'm going to create a project in Palestine to bring Engineers without Borders Palestine that I created and some Israeli students and we work together on a small community in Palestine. I want to see how the young people come out of that project, if they still hate each other, believe me they will love each other and hate will disappear. Another thing, I want to do is to create vocational schools. I read the other day in the World Bank report that in 2020 in the Middle East and in northern Africa, there will be 100 million young people without a job. We as a planet can not afford that. We need to empower the youth, with very creative potential and healthy potential of expressing their creativity, before they discover very dark ways of expressing that creativity. All of us have to do it; all of us have to be an instrument of change. So that's my statement and let's make the world a better place, not just do it, but let's think before we do it, one community at a time.