Our guest today is Jen Dyer, a director at CHOICE Humanitarian helping those living in rural poverty in more than eight countries — including the US. Give this a listen to learn how you, as a civil engineer, have the knowledge to help provide basic needs to those who desperately crave it, from access to drinking water to good housing conditions.
Tune in to Learn:
- Jen Dyer's background and how she became a Director with CHOICE
- What CHOICE Humanitarian is all about and the countries they currently serve
- What makes CHOICE stand out among many other humanitarian groups
- How you as a civil engineer can be of incredible help to CHOICE's initiatives worldwide
- How COVID impacted CHOICE's operations
- Jen's top 2 most impactful humanitarian projects so far
- A case of devastating poverty in the US you don't even know — and how you can help
- One thing that blew Jen away during her expedition to Kenya this year
- Two announcements about Civil Engineering Academy’s future plans
Built Bar – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/built ( civac for 10 percent off)
CEA #149 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xs8Qx4M-pE
CHOICE Website – https://choicehumanitarian.org
CHOICE Instagram (@choiceorg) – https://www.instagram.com/choiceorg
CHOICE YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/c/CHOICEHumanitarianOrg
CHOICE Twitter (@CHOICEorg) – https://twitter.com/choiceorg
CHOICE Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/CHOICEorg
Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
FE and PE Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
Free Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
Free Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/newsletter
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/theceacademy
Twitter – https://twitter.com/civilengacad
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Transcript of Show
You can get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what is up everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy. Excited to be with you on another podcast episode. I'm excited for this one. I recently talked about my experience in Africa when I went to Kenya. Well, one of the team members that I went with was Jen Dyer. She's actually a director with CHOICE Humanitarian over their Community and Corporate Impact. And this was her first expedition as well being with Choice, but she's gone on a few more now.
Isaac Oakeson: And so I wanted to bring her on and talk about the mission of CHOICE, who they are, what they do, what they represent, and really just get a deeper dive into CHOICE Humanitarian and what they're all about. We also share more experiences and we talk about how you can have an impact on poverty around the world as well.
Isaac Oakeson: So I think it's a great episode. If anything, it will open your eyes to how you can help in the world that we live in today. Whether that's through your skills as a civil engineer, or whether it's through monetary donations, or whether it's through joining an expedition and making a difference in a country where you probably have never been to in your life.
Isaac Oakeson: So, I really enjoyed this conversation with Jen. She has a fantastic job. We did have a little bit of a connection issue in the middle there, but she had to join me from her car because she's a busy woman. So we're both busy. We gotta figure out when we can do this. And it just worked out how that worked out. But it was still fun. I love talking to her and I think you're really gonna enjoy this. The episode's gonna be coming up right after this. I'll see you in a minute.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. We are going. We're live. I mean, we're recording by live. But Jen, I'm excited that you're here with me with CHOICE Humanitarian. How are things going?
Jen Dyer: Hi, Isaac. I'm thrilled to be here today. Thank you for having me. Things are fantastic. Truly, I see miracles every day when you're doing important work, like focusing on world poverty, and how to eliminate it and provide opportunities and options around the world. You can never have a bad day.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, I'm excited to have you on the Civil Engineering Academy podcast. Both of us recently -- I mean, relatively recently, returned from a trip to Africa in Kenya. And correct me if I'm wrong, but that was your first expedition with CHOICE. Is that correct?
Jen Dyer: That is correct. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Well, let's dive into a little bit of your own background. You're a director with CHOICE Humanitarian. Tell me a little bit about your background in humanitarian work and how you ended up in CHOICE.
Jen Dyer: Yeah. That's such a great question and I can take so many different -- I could answer it so many different ways. But I think, ultimately, for me, I love to serve. I feel very passionate about whatever gifts I've been given, whatever talents I have using them to help build others. And so, I've kind of coined a phrase. I don't know if I actually coined it, but "I have a servant's heart" is what I like to say.
Jen Dyer: And so, really my whole life has been focused on, you know, family and community. And I've been in the nonprofit space for over a decade. Came to know CHOICE about two years ago, actually, and was really drawn to their work around the world. CHOICE has been around for four decades, and that really speaks volumes when you're talking about an NGO, a nonprofit, a civil society organization. To have longevity for 40 years is really unheard of, specifically when you're talking on more small scale. So, you know, once I really learned about CHOICE's work and the countries they work in and the impacts they're having, have had, and will have, it just felt right.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So I want to maybe back up a little bit because the audience that I serve and I'm chatting to all the time, they maybe not even know what CHOICE is as a whole. So, what does CHOICE do and what's your role with CHOICE?
Jen Dyer: Okay. So, CHOICE Humanitarian, at its core, we support rural communities around the world. We're currently in eight countries with programs and projects that expand or provide more opportunities and options to create powerful change and powerful impact. So we basically provide opportunities and options where they otherwise would not exist in the most poor areas in the developing countries where we work. And that can be anything from food and water security to education to economic development. And we can dive into that a little bit more maybe a little bit later in the podcast.
Isaac Oakeson: Sure. So that's awesome. What countries are they serving right now? And, I guess, how did COVID impact that and where are they at right now? Because it sounds like, in the past, they had lots of expeditions. COVID really killed things and kind of where we sit today. So, could you touch on that?
Jen Dyer: Yeah, absolutely. So we're in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico, Navajo Nation, Nepal, and Peru. And COVID, like anywhere around the world, had incredible negative impact. You know, when you think of the most needy communities in the developing countries where we work, they don't have access to medical care, they don't have hospitals nearby. They tend to live in multi-generational homes, or communities. You know, really tight, really close together.
Jen Dyer: So, you know, if one gets COVID, it can spread on a very large scale, and they don't have what I have, what you have when you're sick. You know, we don't have 10 pharmacies down the street and a doctor who can tell us what we need to do, and even the access to masks and hand sanitizer. So, not only did COVID bring our expedition program to a screeching halt, but you know, it also impacted -- You know, it took lives. It took livelihoods. It affected the ability for children to go to school.
Jen Dyer: You know, globally, there's about a two-year gap for developing countries and children in school, due specifically to COVID. They're two years behind because when they go home to their rural communities and their villages, they don't have internet. They don't have teachers. There was no way for them to continue learning while COVID was, you know, spreading across the globe. So it really did have vast impact on the communities where CHOICE works.
Isaac Oakeson: And not only that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but CHOICE expeditions just completely kind of had to halt with plane, you know? No way to get there and things of that nature. So there was no way to do what you do, and do humanitarian work in these developing countries either.
Jen Dyer: Yeah. Correct.
Isaac Oakeson: So, where are things at today? Are they picking up? Are we in as just as many countries doing humanitarian work? What's the status today?
Jen Dyer: Yeah. Definitely things are picking up. The world is opened back up again. Programs and projects are back underway. In fact, I don't think we have any area that we worked in pre-COVID that we aren't working in -- I don't wanna call it "post-COVID" because COVID is here to stay. But yes, everywhere we work, we're back up and running.
Jen Dyer: Expeditions are back and running. We'll have executed on about 15 to 18 expeditions this year. Our best year was about 40. So you can see, you know, we're getting back up there. We're making progress. Things are opening back up. Teams are feeling more comfortable having people travel the country. And so, things are definitely looking up, and we're very grateful for that.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, I'm glad to hear that.
Isaac Oakeson: You know, as we talk about these different countries and the different projects that are going on, what are some of the projects you've personally been a part of that maybe have made a significant impact to you? Because I know you've done even more than just Kenya now. So what are some of those that have made an impact that you've personally been a part of?
Jen Dyer: Yeah, I mean, I have to start with Kenya, where you and I spent two weeks, I think. About two weeks together with a group of -- I think there were 24 of us. And I still haven't quite been able to put it into words other than "it was a beautiful journey." Being able to work with my team in Kenya.
Jen Dyer: So, CHOICE humanitarian, we have teams on the ground in-country that are native to that country. They speak the language, they know the traditions, they know the needs in the specific areas where we work. And so, for me to be able to meet them face-to-face -- We do stuff like this all the time, Zoom calls and emailing back and forth. But to actually be with them in the field and see what they're facing every single day was very humbling. And it absolutely helped me realize the impact of what I'm doing thousands of miles away to raise awareness and raise funds for the programs and projects in-country. I really brought home a sense of urgency and a sense of responsibility to, you know, really help spread awareness.
Jen Dyer: So, if nothing else today, I hope that your listeners get excited to learn a little bit more about world poverty and what their place in that is. It doesn't have to be with CHOICE. Of course, we would love that. But I just think the more people can understand that it does exist. And the areas where choice works doesn't even -- We don't work in what the UN considers extreme poverty areas, which is a $1,90 or less a day. We work in areas of devastating poverty where they're not making a living wage. They're living off the land.
Jen Dyer: We saw it, Isaac. You and I saw. They literally were living off the maze they could grow in a very drought. They hadn't had rain. Believe it or not, it seems unbelievable. They had not had significant rainfall for two years in the area where we worked in Kenya. So how do they grow their food? How do they store their water? The watering holes have now dried up since we were there. They were very low. Water that you and I would never imagine putting into our bodies. That was what they drank. It's what they washed. It's what they cooked with. And those watering holes have now dried up.
Jen Dyer: So, projects that are really impactful -- Boy, we came home, our group of 24 came home from Kenya, and we are trying to raise money for water. They have a plan. The team in-country, which is the way CHOICE operates, our field teams in-country are the ones who lay out what CHOICE can help do to provide opportunities. They tell us. The central office in Utah does not dictate to any of our countries what we think they need. They come to us and say, "Please help us raise funding for a water project. A water system in Kenya." And so that's what's happened. And it is happening. It's happening right now as we speak. So that's very exciting.
Jen Dyer: And other projects that I've been able to participate in is down on Navajo Nation. Just a short six-hour drive from my home. And you think, "How can devastating poverty exist in the United States?" It does. I've seen it. I've been down there multiple times. Currently we're working on food security down there and building hoop houses, greenhouses with a hoop frame. So they're growing fruits and vegetables, and we're teaching them, together with the communities down there, how to create specific types of beds so that the produce can have more healthy nutrition. What type of soil do we need? How do we get water to these hoop houses in an area where they do not have running water?
Jen Dyer: I'm talking 20 minutes from the Grand Canyon, where one of the chapter houses is where we work, does not have running water. The houses do not have running water. So you know, being down there and actually building a hoop house from the ground up. Building out the beds, planting the seeds, planting the plants. So rewarding to be in these communities and have these people whose deep rooted traditions and love for the earth and growing things. And you know, being able to help them get back to that was very rewarding. So those are just two.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Yeah. When we were in Kenya, I shared my experiences in a previous podcast episode. You can go check that out. But we spent a day with a family, you know, living as they did and seeing how they lived on the land, how they made charcoal out of the wood that they have available to them, and witnessing the kitchen that they have and not having any food storage whatsoever, they're shopping for a small bag of corn mill that is not nutritional at all, it was very eye-opening to, you know, the circumstances that they live in.
Isaac Oakeson: And you come home thinking -- I agree with you. It's very hard to put into words that experience that we had. And to be honest, when we went out with that group, you kind of form a new relationship with the group because you've seen this, you've gone through a difficult situation with each other.
Isaac Oakeson: And it's almost like -- I don't know how to describe this other than like a veteran that goes to war and they get along with, you know, other veterans and they come and share this common experience. But when you come home from doing these CHOICE Humanitarian expeditions, you all share that common experience of seeing what you've seen and helping who you've helped.
Isaac Oakeson: It's hard to describe that to other people, because many people just kind of glance over that and it's like, "Oh yeah, that's great," you know? "Oh yeah. Of course people have problems in the world." But when you're there and you've put names with faces and these kids that are meaningful to you, and the people that are meaningful to you, and community leaders, it just adds another layer to that. And you know that the people that you went out there with kind of share that same experience.
Isaac Oakeson: So, if anyone ever has a chance to do this, I definitely highly recommend it. It sounds like there's ones even local. But definitely check it out. But I really enjoyed it. It is really hard to put into words, and I tried to do that on a previous episode. But it is very difficult to do.
Jen Dyer: Yeah, that's great. And I think the one thing that I knew before I went, but that was really -- I was blown away by the fact that, despite not having electricity or water in the area where we were -- You know, there was this new for school classroom that was constructed while we were there. It was amazing to me to see the innovation of the children, of the leaders of the community, the teachers. It was amazing for me to see they're intelligent. It was amazing for me to feel their spirit.
Jen Dyer: They have the same desires that we have here halfway across the world. They have the same hopes and dreams. We asked a little boy what he wanted to do -- Actually, it was a classroom. But one little boy responded when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, and one of them responded, "I wanna be a police officer." One of them responded, "I wanna be a school teacher." You know, the girls in the classroom, they responded they wanted to be a teacher. One wanted to be a doctor.
Jen Dyer: So they have the same hopes, dreams, wishes, aspirations as we do here. The difference is they lack the options and opportunities. And so, there again, that's where CHOICE can come in and provide what they deem are the best options and opportunities for them at that time. I'm sure you saw that as well. Saw that despite where I am, despite where they are, we are so much the same and we are so connected. And, I mean, to this day, I can think of someone and immediately I can feel their spirit and I can remember the time that we shared together. And I hope I never forget that.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. For me, I keep remembering the boy [inaudible] that we met out there, and he was sleeping at the school because there was a light that they had there. And you know, you hear these stories of even what the kids sacrificed to just get an education there to better their lives. And it's kind of mind-blowing.
Jen Dyer: And did he not have the best smile? I mean, his smile would light up any room. And he was the happiest young man. Was he 13 or 14? Something like that.
Isaac Oakeson: I think he was 12.
Jen Dyer: Ok.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. He got upset at us because we thought he was like 9 or 8. He was like, "No, I'm 12."
Jen Dyer: And you know, part of not having healthy nutrition is stunted growth. And so you're exactly right. He was. He definitely looked more like 9 or 10. And, you know, he laughed. I remember that. He laughed at us and said, "No! No way, man. I'm 12." So anyway, he was a remarkable young man.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Anyway, there's lots of stories like that when you go on these expeditions and you meet the kids. Definitely eye-opening.
Isaac Oakeson: I guess another question I had is, what do you think sets CHOICE apart from maybe other humanitarian groups that you've seen? What gravitated you to CHOICE? Why do you feel like that's something that stood out to you?
Jen Dyer: Yeah, that's a great question. Several things. First and foremost, I would say it's the way CHOICE goes about doing the work we do. So you know, there's wonderful, wonderful nonprofits out there. There's an analogy that I like to use. You know, I live here in Utah, every fall we do a coat drive, boot drive, glove drive for the homeless shelters. That is an absolute need that is going to provide immediate relief to somebody who needs a coat, boots, hat. And it's important. But it's not going to solve the homelessness issue or the poverty issue here in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Jen Dyer: And so what CHOICE does is, we work with our teams in the country and try and get to the root cause of the problem. If you're looking at it as a system, what at the very root level is the reason for the poverty in this area? Is it lack of education? Is it lack of opportunity for economic development? And then, you know, we decide what can we do about that? What are you lacking as far as education?
Jen Dyer: Okay, you might have a school, but now do you need a computer lab so that, you know, your students can be educated around technology. And boy, the technology gap in the world is vast. It is enormous. And, you know, we get behind if we don't have a new phone every six months. That's not even like in their realm. So, I really appreciate the approach choice takes to the work that we do in country with our teams in-country.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. You know, and this is my own opinion because I don't know a ton of other humanitarian groups. And in fact, when I went on this whole trip, I had no clue what I was even getting into. You know, there's a mutual friend, Tereza, that kind of gave me some pointers and she'd been involved with a bunch of these, but I really had no idea.
Isaac Oakeson: And so from what I've seen, yeah, I totally agree. I love that they've got these in-house teams and the way they carry out the work. I never at once ever felt that safety was an issue or that what we were doing was a complete waste of time. And I love that the service, also, with each of these expeditions, it's also kind of fun because they always tack on a little adventure too while you're out there. But you know, the core of it all is this humanitarian work, and that's really what you take home with you and that you really will remember for the rest of your life is those experiences that you have. So, good points.
Isaac Oakeson: I'm curious, you know, my audience is civil engineers. Are there any engineers that you've worked with in CHOICE in developing anything? And then I can maybe touch on a few points maybe of where I could see engineers maybe helping. But let me hear your thoughts first.
Jen Dyer: Okay. Yeah, that would be fantastic, Isaac, I think. You're the expert here. I'm definitely not around civil engineering. But you know, as I studied it a bit and as I know the programs that CHOICE has done and is currently doing and has plans to do, you know, every country we work in has a lack of water. Obviously, we have to have water to live. And quite literally, there are many of our communities where we work, they have to walk miles a day---we saw it ourselves, Isaac---carrying 40 pounds of water on their heads or their backs. You know, every country's a little bit different how they transport it. But water is a very big need in every country where we work.
Jen Dyer: And so we had a group of engineers just this year that went down to Navajo Nation. Maybe I didn't mention, but Navajo Nation is a new country for CHOICE. We started a year ago and had a group of engineers that went down, saw the need, the lack of water, the need to be able to get water to these greenhouses, these hoop houses that we're building to improve food security there and developed -- You know, depending on the location of these hoop houses, they may have water access that's higher above, or they may have to bring it in from the ground.
Jen Dyer: And so whatever the situation is, they -- I think there were about five of them that went down. These engineers went down to Navajo Nation. They did a complete analysis, I guess would be the word, of the situation and the needs, and then put an entire program together around what could happen. And that's been implemented and we have currently, I believe there's 18 operating hoop houses. Our goal is to have a hundred and to make Navajo Nation the salad bowl of the west. And that's happening at a pretty rapid pace.
Jen Dyer: So that's one way I've seen engineers plug in and help CHOICE accomplish the great work and fulfill the great need.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree with you. So within the world of civil engineering, you have a few disciplines. One of them is water resources. So, they're civil engineers that go into that branch of diving into water resources. And that includes engineers that help design systems for wastewater, for hydrology, figuring out flow and where water runs. So, all of those things tie into that element of what civil engineers do.
Isaac Oakeson: So yeah, they could definitely help with trying to figure out where they can get water resources, how to drill for wells. You can always go, you know, really deep into the earth to find water. There's some water down there somewhere. And so that's a way to do it. Going to higher elevations because water is typically always gravity-fed. And so, if you're going to higher elevations, you can tap into that and use gravity to flow the water where you need it to go. But, yes. There's a branch of civil engineering that totally deals with water in itself.
Isaac Oakeson: The other disciplines I could see helping with other areas. One of them is structural. So, they may be diving more into like how the schools are built, how they're constructed, and making sure those are done safely. Other areas that they dive into are transportation, construction, and geotech. So, there's a wide range that each one can go into. Some are more competent in different areas for sure, but civil engineers and the companies they work for, I could definitely see taking on a humanitarian leg of this and really helping move the needle in terms of providing humanitarian help.
Isaac Oakeson: So if anyone's out there that works for a firm that works for water resources or whatnot, there's definitely a need for ideas on how to improve things. And you can definitely help out.
Isaac Oakeson: All right, Jen. Thanks for jumping on the show. I really do appreciate you joining me today, sharing your wisdom, and really spreading the word about choice. Where can our audience here find out more about choice and connect with you? And what are ways that they can help?
Jen Dyer: Yeah. So, super simple. We're on all the platforms you'd expect. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Our website is choicehumanitarian.org. And from there, you can learn about us, about our work. You can learn about the countries and specific projects that have been accomplished in-country. You can donate. It's pretty obvious how you donate. Big red button that says "donate." And you know, if you wanna donate specifically to a project, there's an option there to select where you would like your donation to go. Maybe Isaac wants to put a plug in for the Kanjaoka School, which is where we worked in Kenya. So that is an option on the donate page on the website.
Jen Dyer: It would be wonderful if you could check us out. We have a blog that you can access from our website. Our social media is fantastic. We have a great communications team that does a great job. Our countries have pages as well, if you wanna go to their specific, you know, Nepal Choice humanitarian Facebook page or Kenya choice Humanitarian Facebook page, you'll be able to really understand what's happening in country through story. And they do a fabulous job there. So, those are a few resources.
Jen Dyer: And I'm pretty easy to get a hold of as well. If you're interested and you wanna reach out, my email is [email protected]. I would love to hear from you. I'm happy to answer any questions or provide more information on anything you've heard today.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, just a couple little teasers, I guess. Civil Engineering Academy, I felt a need to try to help in the cause. So, I think in the future we'll probably do a course sale and we'll try to donate also some of the proceeds of any course sales to the Kanjaoka Primary School. So that'll be fun to do. That's coming up.
Isaac Oakeson: And then also another little teaser is that I've got Oreu, who's the in-country team director in Kenya, and I'm gonna be interviewing him. That'll come out on another future podcast episode as well. And hopefully you can get a better feel for the needs in Kenya and really how they operate in house. So those things are coming as well.
Isaac Oakeson: Thank you for coming on, Jen. I know we had a little bit of a connection issue, but hopefully through editing we can get that all sorted out. But it's been fun to chat with you in the car. Podcast in the car. That's where people are at anyway. And you've been great to do this with me, so I appreciate it.
Jen Dyer: Thank you Isaac. And thank you for your generous offer to donate from some of your courses and can't wait to have Oreu. Your listeners are just gonna love him and they'll really get a sense of -- I mean he has a master's degree. He was educated in the United States. Chose to go home after he had a successful career here. Chose to go back to Kenya, leave the United States where it's a land of opportunity and options to go back and use what he learned and his passion and his love for his country and his people. And so I'm thrilled that he's gonna be on. And I can't wait for that. So, thank you!
Isaac Oakeson: No problem. Well, thanks Jen. We'll catch in another episode maybe sometime in the future.
Jen Dyer: Fantastic! Thanks, Isaac. Thanks everybody for listening.
Isaac Oakeson: Thank you. See you.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Other Great Content