May 7, 2021

From Calgary to Ethiopia, with love

3 Schulich capstone projects focus on technology for the African nation
Duncan Lucas tests a solar panel and a water pump at the Bahir Dar Institute of Technology. Courtesy Duncan Lucas

While political unrest and violence continue to hamper dreams of peace in Ethiopia, three groups of University of Calgary students hope they can make a difference in the African nation.

The three projects, aimed at helping residents of Ethiopia, were among those presented at the annual Engineering Design Fair in April.

The projects focused on an irrigation system for a tree nursery, empowering computer education in rural areas, and a renewable microgrid.

Not only did the students fulfill their capstone project expectations, but they were also able to continue a long-standing connection between Ethiopia and the Schulich School of Engineering.

Making life better

“Ethiopia has seen a loss of 98 per cent of their total forested regions over the last 50 years,” civil engineering student Anne Pacios says. “This results in soil erosion, decreasing water quality, losses in biodiversity, and a loss of a key resource for shelter, sustenance and fuel.”

Pacios teamed up with Luke Yakielashek, Maria Hernandez and Sarah Lam to design a solar-powered drip-irrigation system that is capable of watering more than 110,000 tree saplings.

“Right now, they are watering these plants simply by walking back and forth from the nursery to a small river,” she says. “We wanted to use our engineering skills to design something practical to help people.”

Meantime, Amira Elwakeel worked with Louisse Vinluan, Danielle Dumouchel, Carolyn Pethrick and Grace Curry on the computer education project.

“We wanted to determine the most effective way to solve grid unreliability in rural Ethiopian schools,” Elwakeel says. “We developed a comprehensive solar design guide that can be used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to power rural computer labs.”

Duncan Lucas and his team, including Evan Lawrence, Brett Pardo, Hannah Asaolu and Zhilei Hu, focused on the solar microgrid.


A small farm behind one of the houses in a village near Dangla. It was part of a pilot program to provide a solar-powered water pump to increase crop yields.

Submitted by Duncan Lucas

“My motivation as an engineering student is to help the world around me,” he says. “This project was an opportunity to help develop the technology and economy in Ethiopia, while simultaneously protecting the environment.”

Lucas did field research in a rural Ethiopian village in 2019, which helped inspire the project.

“We actually developed this project totally independently of the other groups,” he says. “We all wanted to come up with our own unique perspectives and solutions.”

Giving hope to Ethiopia

Engineers are tasked with solving some of the world’s most-complex problems. Over the years, Schulich students have come together to tackle them through Project90 – a student club at the University of Calgary.

In 2011, six students created the club in hopes of providing resources to communities that needed it the most. It also connected them to NGOs like HOPEthiopia.

“Working with HOPEthiopia has added a lot of value to our capstone experience,” Elwakeel says. “It was really motivating to know that our hard work will be put into action. We were thorough and calculated throughout the project because we wanted it to succeed in making a positive impact in Ethiopia.”

Pacios was equally excited about the opportunity.

“Through our work in this project, we were able to think of different contexts in design and find things we tend to take for granted, like readily-accessible water and power,” she says. “It was very inspiring to see the global support that Schulich gives to other countries in need.”


A solar panel set up in Ethiopia.

Submitted by Duncan Lucas

Both of those groups will be passing their work along to Project90, with the hopes of visiting the country in 2022 to help install their projects.

Lucas says his team’s feasibility study still needs funding to develop the system.

“The long-term goal is to roll out sustainable microgrids across Ethiopia to develop economies of scale, and attack the lack of electrification broadly and decisively,” he says. “This would require co-ordination and support from international bodies, governments and local communities.”

The students’ efforts aren’t lost on the groups they have been trying to help.

“Our organization today has come a long way since 2010 when we became an official iNGO (international non-governmental organization) and since 1995 when I sponsored my first child,” HOPEthiopia co-founder Wayne King says.

Since the group’s inception, King adds they have been able to work on a variety of projects including schools, medical centres, fish farms, and reforestation efforts.