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Barry Fellowship Alum Spotlight

Mario Conde, 2004 Barry Fellow

During the summer of 2004, Mario Conde traveled to Brazil to work for a public water treatment facility. Read on to hear about some of his difficulties in working with public organizations and how he learned to deal with these obstacles. Mario graduated in 2006 and is currently in Germany with an interest to work in the field of renewable energy sources/bio fuels.

 

An interview with Mario Conde about his experiences working in Brazil during his Barry Fellowship in the summer of 2004:

Where did you get you the idea for this project?

Towards the end of my sophomore year I was looking for an environmental project/internship in the developing world as a way to expand my knowledge of the field and better focus my engineering studies at Yale and my future career path. I had an idea of the general area of work and type of organization but nothing specific about the project.

Why did you choose this specific country and project? In a sentence or two, give a brief outline of your project.
I wanted to be in Brazil because it is a leader in environmental policy among Latin American countries. It is also a country that can provide for large-scale projects and infrastructure with an environmental focus. The project itself involved taking the waste from a large water treatment plant and recycling it to produce cheap bricks for construction.

Who did you consult in developing this idea?
I met advisers at OFP once or twice in this process. Dr. William Mitch from the environmental engineering department (and the faculty adviser of the Engineers Without Borders group) was extremely helpful as he had experience with water treatment and other environmental issues in third world countries.

 


How did you find the organization in the target country/countries?
I searched online for NGOs and local organizations. Since I wanted to be involved in the actual science and physical development of the projects (as opposed to just the idea or the policy aspect), I had to go directly to the developer of this kind of project, namely the local government. After consulting a few NGOs I learned about the three branches of the department of the environment of the State of Rio and the projects that were being carried out by each.

Which Yale resources did you utilize most effectively in developing this proposal?
OFP and the engineering department (i.e. an academic counterpart).

What surprised you most about the country/experience when you first landed? What did/didn't go as planned?
The project was not on schedule as planned, there were terrible delays and obstacles to the development and in the meantime there was a lot of waiting to be done.

With whom did you live? Would you go about finding housing in any different manner?
I lived in a small pension in a nearby town and also got to spend some time in some internal housing/apartments at my workstation. Now I believe I would have contacted my future colleagues and other people in the organization for suggestions and contacts.

What do you know now about the experience that you did not know prior to departure?
How difficult, bureaucratic and corrupt the environment at government agencies can be.

Was there a language barrier? Did you experience communication problems? If so, how did you deal with them?
Although my conversational Portuguese is fluent, I was initially worried about my lack of proficiency in technical Portuguese. I quickly became familiar with the vocabulary by reading a few reports and articles about the ongoing work in the project or in similar ones.

Were there any health concerns? Did you ever need to see a doctor?
It was very important to take my own medicine for things I might expect to suffer from (i.e. allergies, colds, athlete's foot, diarrhea, parasites, etc). I did not need to see a doctor.

Did you have time for fun? Did you have time for travel outside of your project?
My working team invited me to attend a conference in São Paulo which was great as I got to visit a new city and have contact with other organizations involved in water treatment and infrastructure for environmental applications. There were also a few Yalies taking Portuguese courses in the city of Rio itself and I met up with them a few times. The most memorable was watching a soccer game in the world famous Maracanã stadium.

How do you plan to pursue this project? Would you go back to the country?
I have kept in contact with my colleagues and received news of the progress of the project. Sadly, because of the success of the idea, the project has become a bit of a political tool with my work team being caught in the middle of a struggle for who should benefit from the positive outcomes of the project. I will most certainly go back to Brazil but I would not return to a government-contracted team or to a governmental organization.

Any other advice for future Barry fellows?
First of all, one should use the resources Yale offers for the development of projects abroad - especially the World Fellows - who are mostly involved with strong and dynamic organizations and who are more than willing to help a hard-working student. On planning your stay or housing get advice from your future colleagues or organization. They will know better than you what makes sense and can give you great suggestions.