By ANN-MARIE KHOR
Photos by DAROLD WONG
MAKE no mistake: Latifah Hani Hamzah may have played the violin in a recital benefiting Engineers Without Borders Malaysia (EWBM), but she is certainly not playing second fiddle in the non-government volunteer organisation.
Latifah, a subsea engineer in an oil and gas company, plays an instrumental part in EWBM – both literally and figuratively. The 24-year-old is the inaugural president of the Malaysian chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which was founded in March 2013.
With 15 people currently actively involved with EWBM (mainly based in the Klang Valley and Sitiawan, Perak), Latifah certainly has high hopes for the organisation.
“I found out about Engineers Without Borders (EWB) from my time in college, but never had the opportunity to participate as the projects typically involved travelling to a far-off country for a few weeks in the middle of summer during my internships.
“So when I got home, I thought I’d use my energy and skills to help the community here,” she said, before learning that EWB did not exist in Malaysia.
As someone who genuinely found engineering fascinating, the Subang-born lass felt it was a shame that there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for engineering in the country.
“I figured EWB could perhaps get people out doing some real-life, applied engineering and get them excited about it,” she said. With a few other like-minded friends, EWBM was born.
Last month, at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Damansara Perdana, Selangor, she impressed the full-house crowd with her passion on the violin, accompanied by Wong Yat Sheng’s deft tinkling on the piano.
“She may be an engineer by profession, but she is very experienced, and you can definitely feel her passion for music,” said Wong, a professional violinist and pianist, who added that while he has had his share of recital performances in the past, this was his first time performing in front of such a large crowd.
The Puchong-based piano teacher also noted it was his first time performing with Latifah, although he has worked with many other soloists before.
So, why did EWBM choose to raise funds through a music recital anyway?
“A violin and piano recital allowed me to use my passion for music to raise funds for our fledgling initiative.
“I have done recitals before, too, so this seemed like a somewhat manageable first step,” she said.
According to Latifah, the recital also seemed like a neat way to introduce EWBM to a wider audience, as compared to the strictly engineering one it would typically appeal to.
The recital was a resounding success, too, as they ended up raising RM10,638.50, exceeding their initial target of RM10,000.
Latifah, who graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering with minors in Music and Energy Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology two years ago, pointed out that it hadn’t been smooth sailing in the months leading up to the recital.
“It was definitely tricky, juggling work and practising for the recital,” confessed Latifah, adding that she pretty much had no social or sporting life leading up to the recital.
“I even had to take my violin on all my business trips because I couldn’t afford to go a few days without practising!” said Latifah. “But the biggest challenge is definitely looking for projects, because we’re trying to look for engineering problems in the community that we can help solve. Finding the right kind of project is not easy.
“We don’t want to be just a fund-raising organisation or one that simply does service, but we don’t have the resources to do long-term engineering research projects as of now.”
Nonetheless, Latifah said EWBM has been able to start working on some cool projects, which is a good starting point considering it is newly instituted and volunteer-based.
EWBM is the second Engineers Without Borders organisation to be established in South East Asia, with the first being in Cambodia. Although affiliated with Engineers Without Borders International, funds are an issue when it comes to facilitating projects.
The organisation is currently undertaking two main projects – building a hydrotherapy pool for disabled children at the Persatuan Kebajikan Orang Cacat Manjung, Sitiawan and a series of one-day classes and field visits for underprivileged secondary school students on engineering topics. Other projects in consideration include a water system for an orang asli community, a school for children with special needs and an animal shelter.
Latifah said the organisation is currently looking into a range of options, from fund-raising dinners and jumble sales to applying for grants, in order to obtain more funds for their initiatives.
“We’ll start with baby steps for now and see how things go. Hopefully we’ll get to raise funds with more concerts!” she jested.