As I stood at the baggage claim in the Philadelphia airport patiently waiting for my luggage to be unloaded from the international flight I had just endured from Cairo, I paused to ponder the events that had brought me, exhausted, to this place. I had just returned home from an eleven day trip to Egypt, land of the pharaohs, home of the sphinx. I had not been there to sightsee, although what architect could not in a similar situation? My reason for traveling ten hours to and from Cairo was to aid a team of professional volunteers in the design of a multi storied addition to an existing church facility. The reality of being home started to swirl around me as the baggage carousel finally came to life. However, I could not help but ask myself just how I came to be part of this incredible experience.
It all started more than five years before when I received an email from a friend forwarding me an urgent need from Engineering Ministries International (eMi) for an architect to aid them with a project in Africa. I had never even heard of eMi. As such, I began my typical process of researching the organization and need before I would commit. I found that eMi had been established in 1982, and was a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that mobilizes architects, designers, engineers and surveyors from the western world to design projects that serve the poor in developing countries. Not only did they have offices in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom but they also had field offices in Central America, India and Africa. I immediately realized what a wonderful opportunity this organization offered. Not only for young budding professionals about to start their careers, but also for “old timers” like me who were seeking to give a little back and use our experience to help others.
That initial project never came to fruition for me, but a year later one did. It was the design of a small church in Barcenas, Guatemala. A project based out of eMi’s Central America office. It was on this trip that I got my feet wet with eMi and realized I could do this for the rest of my life. It was also on this trip that I met and became friends with one of the eMi staff members who would later head the Cairo project I had just returned from.
Still waiting for my bags to arrive, I started the process of Continue Reading