Humanitarian Engineer Reflects on her School Days

Humanitarian Engineer Reflects on her School Days

When she’s in Melbourne, Camilla Bachet often finds herself drawn back to her old school. One minute she’ll be walking the Tan Track, the next she’s sneaking through the Melbourne Girls Grammar gates to see how the latest renovations are coming along.

Almost two decades have passed since she graduated, but it’s always nice to be back in a place that holds so many cherished memories.

“I loved my time there,” she says. “All of my best friends now are still my old school friends. It was a fantastic learning environment – I found it was very inclusive, all the teachers were very supportive.”

Bachet knows the professional path she took – engineering – is uncommon for a young woman. “We’re still struggling to get female engineers at work.” But in her time at the Merton Hall campus, she remembers only support and encouragement for all students to pursue subjects that interested and inspired them.

A school trip to Papua New Guinea in year 11 planted the seed for the other enduring arm of her working life – humanitarianism. The visiting students slept in the local school, went trekking and were billeted out to families in villages where they were the only non-natives.

“You saw different challenges in each household, each village, the difficulties that were faced in those environments. It made me think, ‘How can I actually do work that combines travel and helping people?’”

She’s managed to sate those joint passions exceptionally well. For the past three years, Bachet has worked for GHD on The Connections Project, modernising century-old irrigation systems in the Murray River region to provide farmers with more water for their crops and land, and also ensure there’s more feeding the ecosystems downstream.

She’s happy with the outcomes, yet more proud of her work in Nepal and Bangladesh with RedR, an international, engineering-centred organisation that rebuilds lives in the wake of disaster through training, supporting and providing aid workers. Amid the Rohingya refugee crisis, with water stocks down to five litres per person per day, she designed a new reservoir to help 20,000 desperate people.

“In Australia you work for months and months on a project, you see it get built and that’s great, but you don’t see the impact on the individuals’ day-to-day lives,” she says. “You design something in a refugee camp to be built in the next few weeks; you see that impact immediately.”

She feels fortunate to be described as a humanitarian engineer, having met many aid workers who move only from one emergency to the next. “That’s a tough lifestyle, I’m lucky to be able to do both.”

In March 2019, Bachet’s old school declared her the inaugural recipient of the Emily Hensley Award, named after MGGS’s first principal, to honour alumnae who embody the school’s values through their contribution to society and professional success. It’s hard to imagine a more worthy first name for the honour board.

“I didn’t realise people were that impressed by it – you know when you just do the work and it is what it is. I was really chuffed to have been awarded that. I saw the old principal and vice principal at the awards, it was like nothing had changed. I still have very fond memories of my time there.”

This article featured in Domain Review’s 2020 Independent Schools Guide.