Engineering a Brighter Future

Harry Chaplin
Harry Chaplin

Harry Chaplin graduated from Exeter in 2015 with a MEng Civil and Environmental Engineering. He’s currently a Project Manager at SEED Madagascar, working to bring clean, safe water to rural communities.

It all began in 2011, the summer before I started at Exeter, when I spent 4 weeks volunteering on a conservation programme in a rural village in southeast Madagascar. I was working with a charity called SEED Madagascar (formerly Azafady UK), scouring the biodiversity-rich rainforests for weird, wonderful and most importantly, rare flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet. For me, that fleeting time spent in the Malagasy bush – learning the culture, meeting the incredible people and appreciating life for what it is – changed everything. Camp life was basic relative to the norms and luxuries we take for granted, as we had neither running water nor electricity. I was pretty content with the well water we were washing in until one night of heavy rain half-filled my bucket and I then realised what potential was being wasted every time it rained.

Making changes to the village school to collect rainwater
Making changes to the village school to collect rainwater

Once back home I got obsessively interested in how to improve the water supply, eventually writing a feasibility study on the subject in my Second Year. I continued pursuing ideas and designed the system and background project for a rainwater harvesting scheme based on the school roof in the village for my Third Year dissertation. After a two-month research trip between Third and Fourth Year, I presented to a board of trustees of a UK based donor charity and they agreed to fund the project.

“Embracing all the opportunities that have come my way has allowed me to do something I love and value.”

The project is a year-long pilot scheme aimed at providing the 143 primary school children with clean drinking water whilst demonstrating to the community a simple, affordable and replicable technique of clean drinking water provision. The system has been kept as simple as possible to reduce the risk of failure of small parts and the need for lots of skilled maintenance, but the challenging aspect is making it sustainable within the community. As Project Manager the learning curve over the last 5 months has been, and still is, very steep. The skills I’m learning in all areas of the job, be it people management or project development, budget supervision or working in a foreign country with a vastly different but amazing culture, is incredible experience for my professional development and I’m loving it!

Working with the community partners
Working with the community partners

The fascinating people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve shared and bush parties I’ve danced during my times out here with SEED have set me up brilliantly for a career in this sector. During a lot of my time at Exeter I hadn’t the faintest idea of where I wanted to be in 5 years’ time, but embracing all the opportunities that have come my way has allowed me to do something I love and value. If you want to find out more about how you can get involved or more about the project, visit www.madagascar.co.uk

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