Latifah Hamzah (OS 2008) co-founded Engineers Without Borders Malaysia, a non-profit organisation, and is currently pursuing their PhD in Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.
'After graduating, I wanted to put my engineering education to work with underserved communities at home. Thus, Engineers Without Borders Malaysia (EWBM) was born. Our aim is to improve quality of life with simple sustainable solutions that consider context, nuance, and myriad perspectives, with emphasis on community empowerment. One of our projects - building a hydrotherapy pool for a centre with special needs - recalled fond Thursday VSU afternoons spent volunteering at the Valence School.
We have also installed renewable energy systems for indigenous communities that enable them to continue living on their ancestral lands while reducing energy poverty. Our current project focuses on water and waste management systems for a stateless, maritime Bajau community off the coast of Borneo, who often previously had to ration themselves to 1L of water per person per day.
Through sharing in the lives and experiences of our partner communities, I found myself wanting to further explore sustainable and equitable development coupled with environmental justice. As part of my PhD, I am working with indigenous Malaysian farmers and the Chocolate Concierge, a tree-to-bar social enterprise, to establish a circular economy in the chocolate industry. We hope to do this by converting the cacao husk waste stream into biochar, which can improve soil health and yield while reducing fertilizer inputs and sequestering carbon. Currently, the empty husks, which comprise 70% of the weight of the crop, are left to decay on the farms after the harvest, collecting water during the rains and becoming mosquito breeding grounds. Turning this waste into a product of economic and environmental value while reducing health risks could yield substantial benefits for our farmers.'