ME MECHANICAL ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT
SPRING 2000
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Chris Egle Does Social Engineering with the Peace Corps

After he received his BS from the ME Department in August 1998, Chris Egle decided to take some graduate classes while awaiting his Peace Corps assignment. When that assignment finally came through, he was given his first choice of location: the small country of Belize in Central America. Now, after serving one year of his two-year commitment, Chris has given us the following report:
Chris Engle in Belize

With the assistance of a local worker, Chris Egle constructs a shower room onto his house in Belize City. His assignment is to be a rural community development officer. (38K JPG)

"While most of my class scattered across the globe to take on the challenges of the corporate and academic realms of mechanical engineering, I ventured a little off course into the country of Belize as a Peace Corps volunteer. Why? I could give a myriad of reasons, but the most noble is to help people realize how they can help themselves and their nation to develop.

"This small Caribbean/Central American country is tucked under Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The size of Delaware, Belize has a population of 250,000, including Creole, Garifuna, Mayan, and Mestizo people along with some East Indians and Chinese. A former British colony that initially made its income by harvesting logwood and tropical hardwoods using African slaves, Belize gained its independence in 1981.
Chris Engle in Belize

Chris Egle, on the right, with fellow Peace Corps volunteers camping in the rainforest of Five Blues National Park in Belize. (37K JPG)

"I work as a rural community development officer with the Ministry of Rural Development and Culture. Along with my counterpart, I am charged with working with 31 villages to help them address their needs in their communities. I focus on showing villagers ways to identify their problems, develop solutions, and organize themselves and their thoughts so their solutions can be implemented. While I might be able to solve their problems, it's imperative that they develop their own process to deal with future needs that will crop up after I leave. In effect, I've become a social engineer trying to improve the infrastructure of Belize's society.

"I deal mainly with Creoles who are descendents of logwood cutters and slaves. They are quick to laugh but cynical toward change. They have been promised many things, but little has come to reality. So when my counterpart and I went to a village to revive the council, we were met with nearly total apathy. After three attempts at meeting with the village, we got a good but hostile turnout. The villagers said they were tired of empty promises by the government; why would we be any different? They had dozens of excuses why the council couldn't work. We countered with different ideas. They scoffed at them. After three hours of heated deliberation, the villagers were finally convinced that the village council could work and develop the village with the help of our office. How did we convince them? They ran out of arguments. At the end of the meeting, the villagers were smiling and anticipating the next time we would come visit.

"Needless to say, the work has been interesting. I don't know how much change I've made or will continue to make; I doubt it can even be measured. I do know one thing--I've impressed at least one person here. I made a simple timeline in one village meeting. The chairperson was amazed. He made me swear that I would teach him how to make one. Maybe I should call in the paramedics before I show him a decision matrix: I don't want to kill anybody down here. The arguments alone are enough violence for me." Chris Egle stays connected to the world via e-mail (egle@btl.net).


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Last Modified: Tuesday, 19-Sep-2000 16:00:00 CDT

SPRING 2000 Contents