Crystal Conway

My view on water as an engineer has been reshaped, I now realize that there are more similarities regarding our water issues than we think but also that there are water issues that I never consider living in the tropics.''

Latin America and the Caribbean
Guyana Latin America and the Caribbean

Crystal Conway is from Guyana. As a Civil Engineer she has worked for four years at the Ministry of Agriculture of Guyana. Guyana is one of the three Guyana’s: British, French and Dutch. “I am from British Guyana, Guyana actually means “Land of many waters”. Something that most people do not know is that the Dutch colonised Guyana before the British did. So back in the 1700s the Dutch did a lot of what they did in the Netherlands: they reclaimed the land. The majority of the population lives on what we call the low coastal plain, which is 2 meters below sea level. Our entire drainage and irrigation and sea defence network is Dutch design and has been so for 300 years. Coming from Guyana to study Water Science and Engineering, Hydroinformatics is very useful and it is like coming back home in a sense.” 

Crystal studied Civil Engineering, she did not like structures and instead she found her passion in water. ‘’Agriculture determines around 30% of my country's income: Guyana is the third most water rich country in the world. As I continue to study, I see more opportunities to solve water issues that affect my country. In my job I spend a lot of time in the field talking to the people on the ground who have to deal with these issues. For example, when it is low tide, salt water tends to intrude upstream going far into the rivers. Farmers have no choice but to use that water to irrigate their land, so they are in effect salting their land in the long term. This is one of many problems that needs to be looked at, but nobody has had the opportunity yet.’’

Crystal Conway's received a SIDS scholarship, launched in August 2015 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. SIDS stands for "Strengthening Small Island Developing States’’ and wants to educate professionals in the water sector to better cope with the effects of climate change”. The information about the SIDS scholarship was sent to several contacts in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) countries. One of the UNESCO representatives in Guyana had sent an informative email to several civil engineers in Guyana to share this message with their young colleagues. This is how Crystal got the information and applied to study at IHE Delft. “By 1 September I was informed, I applied on 17 September, on 23 September I heard that I was accepted and three weeks later I was in The Netherlands. I was interested in Geographic Information System (GIS) and I had always wondered how I could put civil engineering and GIS together. I started reading about the IHE Delft Hydroinformatics programme. I was amazed - everything that I have done in engineering and everything I want to do in GIS, was all wrapped into one. This is a skill set we do not have in my country at present, as we tend to hire foreign consultants for any kind of Hydrological and Hydraulic modelling. This course is an opportunity for me to pass these skills on to my other colleagues. Many of my colleagues will be able to use it at an operational level. I work with seven civil engineers that manage all of the drainage and irrigation infrastructure in Guyana'- which translates to hundreds of miles of canals, dams and hundreds of sluices around the country, just think how these skills could further improve their ability to do that challenging job.”

“I chose IHE Delft because nobody offers what IHE Delft offers. It is an international institution backed by one of the most respected international organisations on the globe, so I thought this will definitely have a lot of positives in the long run. I like the diversity at IHE Delft, when I came here I did not understand the global issues we face in the water sector fully. I understood it intellectually, but it was not internalized, it did not make much sense to me. I could see it on paper, but not in real life. Then I met people from other countries, India, places in Africa I had never heard of, and Asia. I realized a couple of things. First of all I learnt that no country is unique in their water problems, we have a lot more similarities in our water issues than we thought. I also know realize that there are water issues that I had not considered. For example, I never knew that glacier water was a problem - I come from the tropics, and all you have is sunshine. It reshapes your view on water as an engineer.

Crystal on the teaching style: “At IHE Delft you are free to ask questions. You do not feel that you are not smart enough for this. Everybody is approachable, every student and question is treated with respect. Every seven weeks there are exams, this keeps you on your toes. The course content is rich and there is a lot of it in a very short space of time, so you have to be prepared to work. 

Crystal on the introduction week: “In the first week there are a lot of activities to connect with other students. You do not have the time to miss your home country and it feels like a family. The welcoming spirit and attitude, the warmth, it all filters down to the students. You are so happy, that it is weird - they must put something in the coffee here. The senior students did an excellent job in calming our fears. It was nice to talk to other students who had also experienced this a year ago. I talked to senior students to ask them for advice about what I could expect. One theme is common in all conversations: work. You can play hard, but you have got to work hard too.

On life in Delft: “I am a big fan of Europe, I am fascinated by the European architecture. Delft is an historic town which I like. My first impression of The Netherlands was that it was very cold compared to Guyana (30 degrees Celsius), I arrived in mid-October.” 

A benefit to studying at IHE Delft: ‘’For a water professional from a developing country like I am, in search of a world-class education and the subsequent possibilities of studying there, studying at an Institute like this is almost impossible due to not being able to find funding. Luckily IHE Delft creates that possibility for many of us and I would like to encourage more people to look into the opportunities.If you have the will, ways tend to appear.”

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