The flip side of an engineering degree is…

When Sean Lowrie was a 10 year old grade five student at Steele Street Public School in Barrie, he was a caring kid. He crawled across his backyard fence on Marwendy Dr. to reach the playground at his public school where many after-school hours were spent with friends. He worked his way through Steele Street and went on to Eastview S.S., graduating and taking his engineering degree at Queen’s University. His parents, Jim and Shirley Lowrie, are big boosters of education.

As a newly minted engineer, Sean started his first job.

And then he discovered he didn’t like engineering. He didn’t like the work at all.

He decided to take a year off. He and his next door neighbour packed their knapsacks and headed out to see the world. While they were in Sudan, Africa, Sean was struck with wonder at two things… the incredible material poverty of the Sudanese …and their peaceful, positive, happy natures. It put into conflict everything Sean had experienced about being Canadian … material wealth = success, opportunity = happiness, I could go on and on.

At that point in his life, engineering dropped away from Sean’s interest and working with people in developing countries moved to the top of the list. He ditched the engineering degree and charted a course to Swaziland where he built and managed a refugee camp for the World University Service of Canada. He then worked in Kenya, Ruwanda and Zaire under the auspices of Care Canada.

Today, Sean Lowrie is 34 years old, and working for Care Canada, which is part of a 10-country confederation based in Ottawa. He is very involved with Central America right now, coordinating the emergency response team efforts in helping those in Nicaragua and El Salvador where thousands of people have been killed in mud slides. Sean expressed delight at the generosity of Canadians who are helping with the relief work. “There’s a process to deal with disasters. First we have to rescue and we have people on the ground and people like DND in Trenton who are airlifting food, equipment and supplies. Second, we stabilize. We’ve bought and shipped, for instance, thousands of cases of black beans as ready-to-eat food for people… they’ve lost their homes, cooking utensils, have no ability to make fires and cook anything. We’ve shipped portable latrines and potable water for immediate use. Stabilization is essential. It includes supporting drilling rigs in El Salvador to dig new wells and dig latrines to stave off communicable diseases from contaminated water. Third, we start to re-build and people need help to re-build their villages.”

Sean says the Canadian government, as well as its individual people, is responding to the tremendous need caused by Hurricane Mitch.

To track all the movements, needs and transportation of goods, Care Canada is using an advanced communications system which includes a coordination program lined up with Department of National Defence computers in Trenton. The system is all part of a website that contains information for the public and behind-the-scenes organizational systems.

It’s funny how close Sean came to NOT having this turnaround that has harnessed his passion and utilized his humantarian attitude. He had the courage to turn away from something that didn’t feel right, a difficult decision after years of university study. Was it wasted?

“Not at all,” says Sean. He used his engineering skills to build the first refugee camp in Swaziland. Today, he uses his engineering skills every day, but now it’s to manage projects. “I use logic and technical fluency and my ability to learn electronic equipment.”