A conversation with Rosie Sanderson: working to protect our water resources

“We only have the one [planet], and we’re not going anywhere yet. My perspective is about having a conscience of equity, and this reflects my approach to the world, particularly surrounding water, sanitation and security. I believe that an equality of opportunity is very important.”

Although Rosie grew up among the farms of rural northern New South Wales in the south east of Australia, she’s no stranger to an overseas adventure. Her career as an environmental engineer has seen her work across the world – from India to Sudan, Bangladesh to Uganda. But she believes now is the right time for her to return home to Australia, to share her experiences and insights, and to explore ways to leverage her knowledge to better protect our local water resources.

“I think I had a very idyllic childhood, growing up in the bush. Mum was a teacher and Dad was a lawyer, so they weren’t farmers, but we were surrounded by farms. We loved it when we were young kids … and now that I’m older, all I want to do is go back.”

Having grown up with a quintessential Australian landscape at her doorstep, it’s unsurprising to learn that Rosie enrolled in a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering at The University of Queensland after finishing high school. While she was studying at university, she also took a part-time job with an environmental consultancy and volunteered for the non-profit organisation Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

“In my first year [at university], I was very close to quitting engineering … but then I met Engineers Without Borders at uni, and once I met them I realised, yes this is where I’m headed.”

As a fresh graduate, Rosie travelled to India with EWB, where she worked on waste programs to help improve the safety of disadvantaged local women. After her time with EWB in India, Rosie returned to Australia for a few years, but it wasn’t long before she found herself deployed abroad again, this time with Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières). Her first deployment was in South Sudan, providing sanitation and waste management strategies to rural villages. She then headed to Bangladesh during the Rohingya refugee crisis and finally to Uganda during an outbreak of cholera.

In 2018, Rosie was awarded the IWC-Ken Thiess Memorial Scholarship with the International WaterCentre to join the Master of Integrated Water Management program. Leveraging her experience of working in crisis situations, Rosie now aims to learn more about emergency and disaster responses as they relate to water.

“I wanted some way to tie all the pieces together, and get a bit of time to reflect on where I’m at, and this program looked like a good way to do that and to supplement it all.”

Rosie said that she chose to start the master’s program to learn from the experiences of her peers, to build on her knowledge of natural and societal systems and to explore ways to be more effective in protecting our water resources from contamination. Ultimately, she wants to bring all that the she’s learnt so far together – in her career and study – to champion equal access to water for local Australian communities.

Rosie Sanderson completed the Master of Integrated Water Management at the International WaterCentre and IWC-Ken Thiess Memorial Master of Integrated Water Management Scholarship recipient.