In profile: The leaders behind Impact Engineers
Buddhi Ranasinghe, Naduni Obadage and Tharitha Murage are the brains behind ‘Impact Engineers’—a student-led humanitarian engineering organisation with a growing portfolio of projects that enrich humanity.
By and large, the inspiring group of ten concentrates on improving the lives of those in rural communities. Buddhi, Naduni and Tharitha grew up in Sri Lanka, all too familiar with the ongoing struggles that many rural communities face.
Buddhi read about Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Aetiology—which is thought to be linked to a lack of clean water—during his advanced level exams in high school and remembers wishing he could do something about it.
“What really sparked my interest was recognising that when things get dire with regards to basic necessities, it’s always the communities with lower per capita income that take the greatest hit. I knew I wanted to work in this space and try to kill two birds with one stone: create economic opportunity whilst addressing a basic need.”
For Tharitha, who grew up in Colombo, his desire to give back to the communities where he was raised was strong.
“I was tangentially aware of a severe problem with drinking water in North Central Sri Lanka. When I arrived in Australia to study and we researched the problem further, the true severity and urgency of the problem dawned upon us. From there we knew we had to act swiftly,” reflected Tharitha.
Naduni was always aware of the disparity that exists between urban and rural communities, and hoped to one day be able to help close the gap.
“Rural communities are part of the backbone of Sri Lanka’s economy as they’re our farmers and growers. However, the unfortunate reality is that despite playing such an important role within the country, they have limited access to basic needs such as water and healthcare, and opportunities for growth.”
The team’s passion for their work and determination to make a difference stems from a shared, sophisticated understanding of the incredible and far-reaching impacts that can result from catering to basic needs.
Tharitha says, “There is an impression within the modern world that the poverty is a direct consequence of some poor actions taken by the community. However, when people do not have the means to satisfy a basic need such as clean drinking water, being productive is not a priority.”
After winning a UNSW-GWI Clean Water Hackathon, Impact Engineers took a formal proposal to the Engineering Faculty with ideas about humanitarian projects they hoped to implement in Sri Lanka. One of these projects included providing a safe and reliable clean water supply to communities who were struggling with high instances of kidney disease and unable to access safe water at a reasonable price. Just six months later, they had raised almost $20,000 through crowdfunding and sponsorship by a major eye care conglomerate, and in partnership with the local Water Supply and Drainage Board, a water treatment facility was formally opened in July 2018, providing over 2500 residents with access to clean water.
When planning the program, Buddhi, Tharitha and Naduni also had the foresight to consider how best to leverage the installation of the facility to gain further socio-economic benefits for the community and ensure longevity.
A community-based organisation called Dilena Tharu was established to manage the facility and reinvest profits into local projects and businesses. To further help Dilena Tharu achieve economic prosperity, a 12-month education program was initiated with local partners at the University of Peradeniya and Sathi Pasala Foundation, with focus on Science, Technology, engineering and Mathematic (STEM) subjects, entrepreneurship and business development.
Naduni says, “When a community is given a helping hand in gaining access to basic needs such as clean water, they have more time in their day to focus on improving secondary aspects in their lives that are crucial for communal development. I see this project as the launch pad for the community in Galwaduwagama to build their capacity, improve their condition and in general drive their social mobility forward.”
Impact Engineers have also been working in the rural NSW town of Walgett through the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership—a collaboration between UNSW and the Dharriwaa Elders Group. As part of a broader program to improve community wellbeing through healthy hydration and nutrition, the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service Community Garden was established and Impact Engineers helped to ensure it was as water efficient as possible for the drought-plagued community.
Now in the final year of their studies, the three students, whose are completing degrees in chemical engineering (Buddhi and Naduni) and Economics and Acturial Studies (Tharitha), say they were all drawn to UNSW because of the many opportunities on offer and the supportive environment that encourages students to give things a go.
“Something told me that UNSW would provide me with the tools to write my own story. In retrospect, this project embodies that hunch,” reflected Buddhi.
The three students are embarking on different career paths, with Buddhi having secured a position as a graduate engineer in the power sector, Naduni becoming a water and wastewater engineering consultant and Tharitha a strategy consultant. However, they all hope to be remain a position to continue working on projects that benefit disadvantaged communities, and hope that as their careers progress, their growing knowledge and experiences will help to offer more even high-impact solutions.