Things that happened at EWB in 2014

*Content warning: sexual violence. 

by Chelsey Rhodes

Lately I have been really struggling with the reality that EWB, and the broader EWB community and alumni, simply cannot seem to care about the many people injured by the organization. I’m sad about the people who have written to me over the years (I have emails and messages dating back to 2011) about the long-term impacts they are struggling with.

I’m sharing a few documents that paint a disturbing picture (and I have many more in an ever-growing folder). I’d been sorting through old emails, and I came across an exchange with George Roter and Mark Abbott from 2014. Interestingly, it includes the tidbit that I barely spoke in the so-called mediation in 2013 because of suffering PTSD symptoms (and I was in a separate room?!), which contradicts the public statement EWB released about me and has up on its website still, which they continue to circulate and chapters continue to circulate, which I’ve repeatedly told them to take down because it is false and defamatory. (Do they care? No.)

The emails were written in March of that year, after I had been pressured into a non-disclosure agreement in late 2013. The last reply was drafted but then I never sent it; I suppose I considered it futile. It languished in my drafts for years. I guess I am sending it now.

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Next, I include an email from Mark Abbott regarding a “Serious Incident in Kumasi”, dated June 2014 (only a few months later). This was a violent break-in and attack that caused traumatic injuries to some or maybe all of the 15 people in the EWB house.

*Content warning*

This incident included someone being raped at gunpoint while others hid under the bed.

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Mark Abbott wrote that the injuries to people were ‘not life-threatening.’ Rape is life-threatening, Mark. PTSD is life-threatening. 33% of rape victims develop suicidal ideation, and 13% attempt suicide. Those stats are probably worsened when your entire organization and community abandons you or turns against you, or if you cannot access support to recover.

The awful part is, THIS WAS PREVENTABLE. If only EWB had listened to my warnings only months earlier; if only they had made the changes I suggested; if only they had listened to repeated suggestions by others over the years.

If only they had listened to Alex who was at that same house a week earlier and warned that it was not safe or secure; she felt so unsafe that she wedged a chair under her bedroom door handle each night. When she found out later what happened only a few days after she had left, she sat in her car and cried and had a panic attack.

If only they had listened to the others in the house who also knew it was not safe and said so. I had directly told EWB, repeatedly, that they were ignoring health and safety issues for staff and volunteers, underpaying and not supporting them adequately with safe accommodations and transportation, thereby exposing women in particular to heightened risk of violence.

EWB is liable for the injuries caused to these people. The Canadian government is possibly also liable for this and subsequent incidents under their funded Volunteer Cooperation Program (VCP), and Mark Abbott’s email is clear that Canadian consular officials were informed. I think there have been, and continue to be, many many incidents like this across many similar volunteer-sending organizations, that will eventually lead to a class action lawsuit against these organizations and GAC (formerly CIDA) for negligence and discrimination. [See: Legal Support for Victims of EWB]. There is no reason GAC shouldn’t be made to properly compensate people for negligently and repeatedly injuring them during their ill-advised attempts at getting Canadian university students to travel to the Global South to position a young, friendly (and now, feminist!) face in front of the destructive aspects of Canadian foreign policy and industry.

These programs should be stopped entirely. The organizations (mostly, the executives) benefitting from this funding need to rethink their entire mandate.

EWB should apologize and support everyone who they have exposed to harm and injury, including those who were targeted or retaliated against by their own staff and executives. They should start a reparations program for communities they worked in doing pointless, self-serving, and destructive stuff. The alumni and remaining chapter community should snap the fuck out of it and start demanding this be addressed. This issue is not controversial in any way.

This is what’s true: what happened to people was wrong. How EWB has publicly handled this was, and is, wrong. They have compounded the damage many times over by their refusal to tell the truth and take responsibility and make amends to people. This is how institutional violence works.

I don’t know if EWB supported any of the people in this ‘serious incident’ in June 2014 (or any serious incident) with counselling, or long-term financial support for the injuries or disabilities caused by their negligence. Given the zero fucks they gave about the long-term damage they did to me, I assume not. People staying in the house that night included Canadian staff and student fellows, and Ghanaian staff members.

Aakhil Lakhani was also assaulted that same summer, 2014, and then retaliated against when they reported it. There were other assaults that summer that went unreported. I mean, why would anyone bother to report anything to EWB? Why the fuck is EWB operating and still getting donations, and people are still making excuses for it? [Instead, why not donate to Aakhil’s legal support fund?]

Even reported assaults were not uncommon. Another document we obtained from 2014, a ‘pulse check’, shows that sexual assault, harassment, and other incidents were happening multiple times a year.

Pulse Dashboard


EWB has known about this, for years.

The last document I include is from 2019, when an EWB staff member wrote to the EWB community that there had been a kidnapping of one of their chapter members in the same city as the 2014 incident, but that there had never been any incident there before –an anomaly, they claimed!– so they were not going to evacuate the Junior Fellows who they had sent there. This all happened the same summer that they had concealed the Derek Evans report from the Junior Fellow cohort, which apparently recommended they not be sent at all due to serious unresolved health and safety and management issues. So, EWB repeatedly hid relevant information from students, preventing them from being able to make an informed choice regarding their own safety or to demand better conditions and support from EWB.



I wrote to the EWB Board and said they were going to get someone killed.

They didn’t reply. I don’t think they care.

I wonder, did Boris Martin, CEO (why does a charity need a ‘CEO’?) just forget about what happened in 2014? Did he forget about what happened to me? Has he forgotten about the multiple people who reported Prateek Awasthi to him, and that he didn’t give a fuck so they all left and are still recovering from that? Has he forgotten about all of the other things that have happened under his watch? What is the utility of this forgetting? Why does the Board continue to sanction all of this?

Does anyone at EWB know what they are doing? What is the point of this organization? Has everyone forgotten that too?

Open Letter: “As the one at fault, EWB does not get to decide when it’s over.”


*This letter was submitted by Todd Phillips, a former EWB member and chapter president. We concur with Todd in all that he writes, and especially when he states, “I call on the chapters and leadership, past and present, to take responsibility for what happened and to tell the truth.”


November 12th, 2020

To the members and leadership of EWB, past and present,

I’m calling on the leadership at EWB to answer for their and the organization’s behavior in regard to the multiple counts of sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying that have occurred. The sheer number of complaints is worrying, but the only point more worrying seems to be EWB’s response, in the past and as well as now. They have, and continue to, ignore the wellbeing of the people involved. They have lied and covered up what has actually happened.

Before I go any further, I would like to state that I am surely guilty of some inappropriate behavior. I do not remember any specific instances, but I am open to being called out on these or any other behaviors that caused people discomfort or unease. I will make amends to the best of my ability. I am striving to improve and educate myself every day on topics such as this, and am hoping I will be better in the future. I do not expect any person or organization to be perfect, but I expect them to care. I expect them to make things right to the best of their ability.

The only public response I’m aware of, EWB’s main response to Chelsey in August 2019, is misleading at best, but most likely, it is just full of false statements. It is empty of truth and heart. Chelsey has repeatedly asked for it to be retracted, and regardless of EWB’s intentions (which are also questionable), it is punishment for speaking out, and serves as a warning to others. This is in addition to re-traumatizing Chelsey, and attacking her character.

I don’t want to dwell on too many specific points. The overall meaning can be lost if the argument becomes about specific points and semantics, but I feel I need to give some examples to demonstrate what I’ve said. To begin, Chelsey has flatly denied anything was consensual, let alone being “emphatic that it was consensual” as stated in the response. Abuse cannot be consensual.

As well, it seems to me that all decisions taken were from a purely legal standpoint, and the person was forgotten. In EWB’s statement, their treatment of Chelsey contradicts itself in the same paragraph. EWB states that “we are confident that we acted appropriately and addressed all concerns that she raised in mediation. That said, we regret that she was not offered more acknowledgement and support at the time.” How can you say you acted appropriately and then immediately say you should have given more support? In my opinion, the only way this makes sense is if ‘appropriately’ means ‘legally’.

As well, I don’t have faith that the new policies are enough when they are so EWB-centric, instead of person-centered: “We hope that recent dialogue can provide closure and allow us all to focus on the future.” Unfortunately, as the one at fault, EWB does not get to decide when it’s over. Any suggestion otherwise takes more power away from the victim. Victims decide when the dialogue, when the healing, when the everything is over, not the perpetrators.

I call on the chapters and leadership, past and present, to take responsibility for what happened and to tell the truth, to make the situation right as much as possible for the victims, and to take real action to minimize the chances of something like this happening again, and if it does, ensuring that it will be dealt with appropriately. Person-centered, victim-centered appropriately, not EWB’s current definition of the word.

I stand with Aakhil. I stand with Chelsey. I stand with all victims. I encourage all others, but especially chapters, alumni and leadership, to do the same.

Todd Phillips
Former EWB Member & Chapter President

Former Director Prateek Awasthi admits he helped EWB cover up abuse

Update: See Youth Coalition’s statement on Prateek Awasthi’s former membership there, and multiple sexual harassment allegations against him that were found to be substantiated. We told the EWB Board about those allegations in April 2019 after we were tipped off about them. They did nothing, even though Awasthi had by then been reported multiple times internally at EWB. 

We just announced we were closing down the project, but we wanted to share some recent media coverage related to harassment cover-ups at Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB).

First, we’ve heard EWB’s founder and former CEO George Roter is currently suspended from the Ontario Liberal Party after our recent podcast and this story in QP Briefing.

Another ex-EWB executive, Prateek Awasthi (who left his Director position at EWB earlier this year) has just had to resign from his Executive Director position at the Green Party of Canada.

CBC news has reported on what happened, including Awasthi’s admission that he helped EWB conceal sexual abuse: 

Awasthi told the party he was part of EWB management’s “efforts to disparage and ignore claims of sexual harassment and assault,” according to an internal investigation report written by outgoing leader Elizabeth May and leaked to CBC News.

It has also been revealed that Awasthi was reported multiple times for harassment internally at EWB in 2019, all while he was publicly disparaging Chelsey Rhodes on behalf of EWB and claiming the issues Total System Failure project was raising were false.

Boris Martin (along with Roter and Mark Abbott) was involved in covering up Chelsey Rhodes’ allegations against Mike Kang in 2013, and it is now revealed that he has been covering up the multiple recent allegations against Awasthi.  Martin remains CEO of EWB despite frequent calls for his removal and people pointing out he has himself been implicated in harassment and retaliation (see here, here, and here)  All four staff who reported Awasthi have left EWB and several spoke to CBC news.

The Board of Directors of EWB, which contains 7 new Directors, continues to refuse to deal with these allegations properly or investigate the executive team (Boris Martin, Shivani Patel) and Board members who participated in the cover-up (Rebecca Kresta, Manissa Patel, and Kaitlyn Gillelan).

This situation now includes top officials in the Green Party of Canada trying to help conceal Awasthi’s past behaviour (when we said “total system failure,” we meant it!).  Awasthi’s resignation was announced on Sunday.

Green Party leadership contestant Meryam Haddad spoke out in support, and denounced the Greens for minimizing and concealing the issue.

PressProgress has more, reporting that Green MPs Paul Manly, Elizabeth May, and Jenica Atwin defended Awasthi’s role in covering up abuse at EWB and presiding over a “misogynistic work culture.” A Federal Councillor who was disturbed by how this was handled and has since left the party, said, “These are three Members of Parliament taking a very disturbing stand on an issue of sexual harassment, abuse or assault… It shocked me.”

Elizabeth May said in an email, “I think we can agree that EWB is a textbook case of what not to do.”

Unfortunately it seems that people cannot help but use this textbook as their rape cultural bible.

More soon, as this unfolds.

Podcast E5: “Ontario Liberals Cover Up Sexual Harassment”

*Podcast also available on googleplay, iTunes, and podcast apps like Castbox.


Sam Nami, ex-President of the UofT Scarborough Young Liberals, talks about the resistance he faced trying to get the Ontario Liberal Party to address sexual harassment within their ranks.  Fake investigations by friendly insiders, assailants receiving promotions, bullying, racism, and organizational silence are well known to followers of TSF, but now show the hypocrisy of political parties that publicly proclaim their lofty principles while operating very differently behind closed doors.

Host: Chelsey Rhodes

Guest: Sam Nami

For more info:

Musical theme: by Buda Bap Beats

Open Letter regarding EWB’s unsafe work environments and mistreatment of employees, volunteers, and partners

*the following letter was submitted to the Total System Failure team by an EWB alum, and we really appreciate that they took the time to offer this public support. We welcome letters, submissions, or opinion pieces from the alumni network of EWB (or related organizations), and would love for more people speak up about these issues. Please see our Contact page for information on how to contribute.

I had been a part of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) for about 3 years from 2012 to 2015. My past roles included being a general volunteer for my university’s chapter of EWB, an executive role at said chapter, and a Junior Fellow (JF). I am writing in support of the legal action for victims of EWB’s unsafe work environments and mistreatment of employees, volunteers, and partners.

I was a JF in Malawi with the Water and Sanitation venture. While my experience was generally positive and safe, this was mostly due to luck, and I would like to express concern for the lack of safety and support for employees, volunteers, and partners of EWB both overseas and within Canada. In the pre-departure training in Toronto, there were many instances where the JFs were told that working overseas was seen as the “wild west”. Those in positions of power at the Toronto office such as full-time employees and then-leader George Roter often gave the impression that it was going to be difficult and possibly unsafe, but that was what we had signed up for. While in Toronto I had the understanding that to complain or ask for a change in placement or home would be akin to “not being able to handle” the exciting life of working in another country.

There was little discussion about gender safety beyond not leaving the home after dark and I do not think EWB made a genuine effort to let us know how they would respond and support us should there be harassment or assault during our placements. Looking back on my experience and based on discussions with the returning JFs at the end of the placement, it was very obvious that the quality of support varied greatly from country to country and placement to placement and that there was no oversight to ensure a standard of safety across all placements.

Furthermore, over the years I became increasingly disillusioned with EWB as I believe there was a culture of racism and discrimination at the National Office that benefitted those who were friends with George Roter and others in power and wanted to maintain the status quo, while others who sought to make real change both in Canada and overseas were not given the same respect or roles. It is my opinion that National Office was more interested in gaining investments from large companies and showing off “innovation” without making true space for those they were claiming to “support”, and the overwhelmingly white and Canadian leadership at National Office reflects this.

This is also reflected in the Dorothy campaign which I found to continue to uphold the white saviour narrative by having Canadian volunteers speaking for people in African countries. During the pre-departure training, a lot of the cultural competency training relied on stereotypes and National Office staff making fake accents to represent potential partners in African countries. For these reasons, once my returning JF duties were complete in 2015, I ceased to become involved with EWB because I lost the belief that actual change was possible due to the way National Office was run.

As more information comes to light and based on my interactions with EWB National Office staff, I do not believe that EWB has taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees, volunteers, and partners nor have they provided the required support and accommodations for incidents that happened during placements. I urge EWB to take the efforts of those who are coming forward seriously and fulfil the action items as recommended to prevent similar incidents in the future and make the organization more equitable and anti-racist.

Legal Support for Victims of EWB

Apologies for the delay in communicating. A lot has happened since our last update, including the Total System Failure (TSF) team receiving more disclosures of violent and discriminatory incidents at EWB. Due to the increasing volume of disclosures, we have asked a lawyer to assist us going forward, please read on for more details.
Chelsey and Alex met with the EWB Board twice in 2019, in April and July, the latter time with a lawyer present. We listed many incidents of harassment, assault, rape, and discriminatory behaviour at the organization stretching back a decade. We have repeatedly pushed for an independent inquiry including reparations to those affected, to no avail. Following Chelsey’s public disclosures in January 2019, Aakhil also spoke out publicly (in June 2019) about facing sexual violence and retaliation at EWB, and has been disbelieved and ignored. See here, and here.

By now it seems apparent that the EWB leadership will continue to refuse to address this long-standing pattern of abuse at the organization, and will continue to cover it up. This is upsetting in itself, but also suggests there is an ongoing risk of harm to staff, volunteers, and ‘recipients’ of EWB’s work.

Without a functioning or responsive Board or executive team at EWB, and with no regulatory body or Ombuds office for the aid sector, we have reached the unfortunate conclusion that there is no way forward except for legal action. We also wanted to make sure that people feel some measure of safety and protection in reporting their experiences, as we are aware of fears due to EWB’s pattern of retaliation towards whistleblowers (and other societal pressures making it difficult for people to come forward or speak publicly).

We hope that having some legal support will help people to feel more comfortable pushing for justice. We have discussed the possibilities of individual legal challenges, a group lawsuit, or a class action. However, more information is required on specific incidents, when they occurred, and who was affected.

Marcus McCann (contact info below) has agreed to provide legal advice, and he is experienced with human rights and employment law as well as working with nonprofits. He is also familiar with the general issues and concerns.  He has agreed to provide free phone consultations to any current or ex-EWB staff or volunteers (this includes staff/residents in other countries, so please pass this onto anyone you think this might apply to). Speaking with him will help clarify the best strategy going forward; can help you understand how your experience may have constituted a breach of the human rights code, employment law, etc.; and may help you gain clarity on whether you would like to pursue legal action for what happened to you.

These consultations will be confidential between you and Marcus McCann and we will not have access to any information shared or informed if any conversations took place. Speaking with him to review your story does not mean you have to move forward with anything; it’s 100% your decision.

If you would like to reach out to us as well, please feel free. It would be good to strategize together and support each other. Even if you can’t personally be part of a legal challenge, we can still work together on a broader project of justice. You can contact us at this email or through our anonymous form on our website. Please continue to send in reports of incidents or concerns to this email or form as well.

A few notes:

  • If you are not sure if your experience was “that bad” (it is common to underplay/ underestimate the seriousness of traumatic incidents), or unsure if it rose to the level of discrimination, harassment or assault, this is a good time to explore that with a legal professional. Marcus can help navigate that and provide suggestions.
  • If you experienced or witnessed a violent incident, especially if that incident included sexual harassment or sexual violence, this is also potentially actionable even if the incident happened more than 2 years ago. There is no statute of limitations on sexual violence cases in Ontario (and the definition is quite broad).
  • Marcus has already spoken to some of us about our individual cases, and we can assure you of his professionalism and sensitivity. If you would prefer to speak to a woman, this is available and his colleague will be assisting with these cases.
  • Any incidents occurring after Chelsey raised these issues to EWB in 2012/2013 (and was pressured into a NDA) are particularly important to bring forward, as EWB should have dealt with them appropriately when notified.

Email Marcus McCann to set up a phone consultation:

Thanks to everyone who has shared their experiences with us, and it has taken a lot of work behind the scenes to get to this point. We hope that this provides an opportunity for people to pursue justice and accountability, and to help bring resolution to a situation that has hurt so many people.

In solidarity,

Total System Failure team

Podcast Episode 4: “WE, EWB, and Doing Harm by Trying to Do Good”

*Podcast available on googleplay, iTunes, and podcast apps like Castbox.

WE, EWB, and Doing Harm by Trying to Do Good

CW: abuse, institutional violence


Aakhil Lakhani and Chelsey Rhodes, two of the co-organizers of Total System Failure, talk about the WE Charity scandal and draw comparisons with EWB.  They refer to Boris Martin (above left) and George Roter (above right) as the “Kielburgers of EWB.”

To kick off the episode they discuss the reception of Chelsey’s recent profile of Aakhil’s experience at EWB, in Briarpatch Magazine: “What do we do when humanitarians are the disaster?”

They go on to discuss labour issues in the nonprofit and charitable sector, the use of unpaid internships, lack of employment protections or union representation, and abuse in the workplace.

Chelsey draws distinctions between isolated or seemingly disconnected “victim narratives” versus a larger political critique, the latter being the intended focus of Total System Failure. Aakhil emphasizes that sexual harms in these organizations are connected to a larger culture of supremacy that operates globally.

They also discuss EWB’s ties to the mining and extractive sector; the myth of Canada’s foreign benevolence; NGOs’ relationship to the crushing of dissent; and EWB’s refusal to critique the engineering profession and their role in globalizing capital, militarism, and unfettered industrial development that is harmful to people and planet.

The episode concludes with a discussion of how to shift from a traditional aid model to mutual aid or reparations, and the urgent need for more people to speak up about these issues.

Hosts: Aakhil Lakhani, Chelsey Rhodes

For more info:

Musical theme: by Buda Bap Beats

Is EWB working in African countries illegally?


Another anonymous whistleblower has contacted the Total System Failure team regarding Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), an international development NGO based in Toronto. They have suggested that EWB has a practice of using illegal tourist visas to work in African countries such as Kenya and Ghana.

The anonymous person submitted the following:

“You should start asking questions about the Visa’s that EWB LTF’s [Long-term Fellows] are on, especially in Ghana and Kenya. Did EWB spend money to send a Kenya LTF to Uganda because otherwise she was going to be deported? Or ask if they are legally registered in each country as an NGO to get the appropriate documentation, I will answer in short, EWB is not.”

Countries such as Kenya require that NGOs register themselves properly.  The NGO Board of Kenya regulates NGOs and states that they are responsible for “advising the government on their contribution to national development.” All registered NGOs are required to submit an Annual Report.

Most countries also require that NGO workers obtain work permits–which require a fee and provide revenue to the host country. These work permits, which apply also to unpaid/ volunteer work, require that the organization prove that there is no suitable local candidate for the position (highly unlikely that there are no suitable local candidates for the work EWB is doing).

EWB, if they are obtaining tourist visas for their workers and requiring them to ‘fly under the radar’ i.e. lie about their activities and actual status, are putting their Canadian workers at risk as well as engaging in unethical practices related to local hiring and host country guidelines. (If they had to obtain work permits for their Canadian workers, they would also be forced to admit they are in fact workers and should be paid more than $2/hr or whatever their ‘stipend’ provides these days.)

If the leadership of EWB thinks that they do not have to register as a NGO because they are conducting for-profit enterprise in these countries–often run by Canadians and funded with charitable dollars, and staffed by Canadian ‘volunteers’ who are also supported with charitable dollars–then that deserves a much larger discussion (EWB’s entire ‘development’ model and theory of change deserves rigorous scrutiny, and is on the surface highly flawed). If EWB thinks that they do not need to register their workers, follow local recruitment guidelines, or pay tax because they are ‘helping’ these countries, that is paternalistic bullshit. It is also not okay for the idealistic young people who fundraise for EWB’s international work to demand voluntourist trips that are systematically undermining local economies.

Even more disturbing is the possibility that EWB has used taxpayer dollars to invest in for-profit enterprises and then has kept those profits to themselves or re-invested them.

We have contacts in one of the countries where EWB has many projects, and they are looking into this further as well as undertaking longer-term investigation into the actual impact of EWB’s ‘ventures’ there. Check back here soon for more information.

Former EWB staff denounces CEO Boris Martin, calls for him to be fired


An anonymous former staff member has blown the whistle on toxic management at Toronto-based development NGO, Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB). They submitted the following to the Total System Failure team:

I want current exec/Board at EWB to know:

“Boris Martin [EWB’s CEO] needs to be fired. He is incompetent and wasting donor dollars.”

Systemic issues are:

“Abuse of power.”

I have given up on:

“Boris Martin. And Shivani [Patel, EWB’s VP].”

I feel/ felt unsafe or afraid:

“to do anything, since nothing would be done about it.”

I witnessed:

“Dishonest practices.”

What happened when I spoke up:

“they made excuses and then made me the issue. blamed me for all the issues.”

If I haven’t spoken up about this before, it’s because:

“it’s hard to do so when you work there, and the fear that it will be held against you.”

Justice or repair would look like:

“Boris finally being fired and to stop bringing EWB down.”

Do you consent to us publishing quotes from your story on our website or in the final report:

“Sure if it helps.”



Audio of Chelsey Rhodes’ Phone Call with EWB Board, June 13 2019

Below you will find an audio recording of a phone call that took place on June 13, 2019, with Chelsey Rhodes and Alex Fox speaking to the following representatives from the Board of Directors of Engineers Without Borders (EWB): Rebecca Kresta (Board chair) and Manissa Patel (Board member).

EWB Board (clockwise from top left): Rebecca Kresta, Manissa Patel, Miriam Hird-Younger, Kaitlyn Gillelan, Morenike Olaosebikan.

Content Warning: the call contains strong language, discussion of sexual assault/ harassment and institutional retaliation, and discussion of workplace trauma and suicide.