Engineering some good deeds

Engineering some good deeds
Retana and Chandoo taking measurements for a potential location of a septic system in Tecate, Mexico. (Mujahid Chandoo)

For Irvine engineers Mujahid Chandoo and Arthur Retana, their careers in design and building have become their way to give back to the world.

Both have joined up with Engineers Without Borders, an organization that has sends professional and student engineers to sites worldwide in need of clean water systems, bridges and other engineering projects.


The engineers work for Michael Baker International's Irvine office. Michael Baker, an engineering company with over 90 locations around the globe, asks that employees take part in community service projects, Chandoo said.

It was through working for the company that Chandoo and Retana discovered opportunities with Engineers Without Borders.


"Whenever I saw images of natural disasters around the world, I felt a responsibility to do something with my engineering education," Chandoo said. "I'm a firm believer in giving back and taking any opportunity to do some good."

Chandoo, who was born in Tanzania and came to the U.S. in 2001 to attend college, took his first trip with the organization in 2010. He traveled to a village on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.

Alongside his co-worker Tim Muli, who had been to previous Borders trips to Kenya, and the engineering team on the trip, Chandoo helped finish constructing a bridge.

Engineers Without Borders' bridge project in Kenya had been under way for five years when Chandoo joined the team.


Before the bridge was built, a long river bank separated a path from a village to a health center. If locals in the villages were in need of treatment at the center, they would have to walk miles around to avoid going through the river, Chandoo said.

Some of the residents cut down thick trees near the river to make a bridge to the center — one that the engineers said was unstable and dangerous.

"For the Kenya project, the people were very grateful, appreciative and happy," he said.

After that, Chandoo said he wanted to help more communities.

This past year, Chandoo traveled to Tecate, Mexico with Engineers Without Borders three times. In February, a team was sent to assess one home for the possibility of installing a septic system.

During his second trip in April, the engineers built the system for the same home.

Retana joined Chandoo for the third trip in June, where 15 homes in Tecate were assessed for possible septic system installments. It was Retana's first project with Engineers Without Borders.

"Being Mexican-American, I wanted to help the country that my heritage comes from," Retana said. "What surprised me most during the trip was seeing the rural living conditions in Tecate. I didn't realize that some places didn't have running water but buckets of water outside their house."


Retana also discovered houses without electricity or a waste disposal system. Because of this, he said some residents resort to burning their trash in their backyard.

He said the trip left him with a greater appreciation of engineering and helping less fortunate communities.

Chandoo's next trip with Borders will be to Tecate in October. The visit will involve educating the local people on hygiene and proper disposal of waste.

Retana hopes to travel to El Salvador next with Borders, but said his trip has not yet been confirmed.