Nearly 15 years ago, on one of his first assignments as a contractor with MHI, Rob Schumann had the opportunity of a lifetime. Providing holiday relief for a colleague, he would travel halfway across the world to spend four weeks over Christmas in the town of Mtwara, Tanzania, on the coast of the Indian ocean.
It was an experience that stuck with him throughout his career.
In 2006, MHI was working with the Artumas Group Inc. building and commissioning an 18-MW natural gas-fired reciprocating engine power plant that would ultimately generate reliable energy for three nearby villages. On Christmas Eve, the team brought the first generator online, giving the community uninterrupted power.
How did it feel to give people electricity for Christmas?
That one was special. For the first time, in a long, long time, they had power for a full 24 hours, instead of just a few hours each day. There was a lot of excitement amongst the people, the local government, and certainly the company that contracted us. Construction of that plant started in October – by December 24th, we had the first unit running. It was a very successful project in getting that construction going and putting that first unit online as quickly as we did.
How did it benefit the community?
Well, you know there's an impact there, but as an outside contractor, you don't get to see it firsthand all the time.
One can only imagine the impacts of going from very unreliable electricity systems, to where the lights are on 24/7. You can power up appliances for the first time or start little businesses. You know what a difference electricity makes in the lives of people.
We went on to put another five units online over the next year and hired all local staff and trained them in the operations and maintenance of that plant.
Capacity building is a big part of what MHI provides in a lot of our contracts. When you leave a project, how does that transition usually work?
When we're providing utility management services, capacity building and training is usually a big part of that project. In cases where MHI is managing a new infrastructure project, we need to ensure people are trained to operate it properly. A lot of our projects have significant training components – We don't just manage a company and then walk away after the contract.
In your line of work, you've travelled to locations with a lot of challenges. What keeps you going?
I always enjoy new challenges, and I enjoy travel to some degree. But I take pride in the fact that we are making a difference – whether it's directly related to the project or through one of our social initiatives. In Guyana for instance, MHI supported a school for disadvantaged kids. We raised money for a school-ground play structure, and by partnering with a local Hutterite school here in Manitoba, we provided school supplies and gifts for the students and teachers. In general, the kind of work we do has an impact, we know it, we just may not immediately see it.
Rob Schumann in Tanzania