Maria Wünsch De Alvarenga

At IHE Delft we are not just studying for a title, but to understand and solve real problems.

Latin America and the Caribbean
Brazil Latin America and the Caribbean

Maria comes from Brazil. She studied Environmental and Sanitary Engineering at the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) in the south of the state of Minas Gerais. After graduation, she worked for Biokratos, a consultancy agency in her hometown. Afterwards, she followed a trainee programme at AEGEA Saneamento, where she was responsible for the quality control of wastewater treatment plants. Maria has a Rotary International scholarship, obtained through the application to Juiz de Fora Rotary Club.

In her childhood, Maria wanted to be a sanitation doctor, because she was intrigued by how people could die from silly sicknesses like diarrhoea. With time, she changed her mind and began to study environmental engineering, though the concern about public health was still present. She wanted to study how to improve the quality of people’s lives and still preserve the environment. While studying and working during her Bachelor’s, she experienced that with technical skills (sometimes very simple ones) the quality of river water could be improved and someone could live healthier. She saw the direct impact of her work when she volunteered with Engineers without Borders, where she learned about social and environmental friendly technologies and about a participative approach with communities: “At that stage, I knew I was on the right path for my professional choice.”

How Maria heard about IHE Delft: ‘’I have a friend who was doing PhD research at IHE Delft. At that moment (2014) I was in Germany, studying for a year through the Brazilian program “Science without Borders”. In my holidays I came to Delft to visit my friend. When I arrived at the door of IHE Delft, I said WOW, I want to see this! I was very impressed with the international environment and the focus on water studies. Since then, IHE Delft became a reference for me. Last year I saw a post about Rotary Scholarship on IHE Facebook page and I was already looking for chances of a Master’s study abroad. So I thought this was a chance to study at IHE Delft. I knew that I would meet international people there that could help me to improve my knowledge on sanitation studies.’’

Maria about problems in her home country regarding to water: ‘’Brazil is a huge country, most of it is supplied by drinking water (about 80%). But some small communities still do not have this. Sanitation is the biggest challenge, only around 40% of the population has wastewater treatment. This is a very big issue that needs investment. Sometimes investments are not done well or efficiently. We have diversity in geography and population, in cities that can be small or very big. Sometimes one solution is used for a lot of cases, but the planning is not done in a participative way with the community. So at the end there might be conflicts of interest, the population might not take part and the system does not work properly.’’

In the classes at IHE Delft she also learns the social, management and financial aspects. ‘’At IHE Delft I get a more holistic view of sanitary engineering. The professors are doing projects all over the world and have a lot of experience. They really care and have the patience to answer our questions. They see us as drivers of change and believe in us. That motivates us to give our best every day. We are not studying for a title, but to understand and solve real problems.’’

‘’My goal when I finish my Master’s is to pursue a PhD. I would like to contribute to research in my country and change the way things are planned in the sanitation sector. I want to take part in this discussion and improve the situation in Brazil.’’

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