Offering a helping hand
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
From 1986 to 2006, Northern Uganda was at war. During this time, longtime war criminal Joseph Kony abducted women and young children, using them as soldiers to transfer goods to Sudan. Having faced enough tragedy for a lifetime and then some, the inability to access clean water was the tipping point for the northern village of Lukodi. In 2011, UNH Engineers Without Borders (EWB) stepped in in an attempt to begin to improve the village’s future.
The integration of a clean water project required the community members of the village to be accepting of and willing to learn these techniques. UNH student and EWB President Kayla Mineau was accompanied by two of her peers, Annie Sager and David Kurtz, along with Doctor of Civil Engineering Tom Ballestero, who served as their professional mentor. On the trip, the group met with community leaders and members to identify the needs of the community, identifying their highest-priority need as potable water.
The idea to provide aid to Lukodi was initially proposed in 2009 by UNH Natural Resources Masters student, Heather Ballestero. She later went on to become an intern for ChildVoice International, an organization that teaches marketable life skills to young mothers who have been affected by war.
Heather Ballestero is the daughter of Dr. Ballestero, who has made the trip to Uganda twice now.
They were initially working on a project in West Africa; however, when that project fell through, Ballestero presented her Uganda trip and project to spark interest in working with Child-Voice and they ran with it.
Lukodi is a community presently serving as a refuge for returning child soldiers. It serves as a rehabilitation center for young women and children as they begin to acclimate themselves back into society. However, waterborne diseases in the village’s drinking water stems from many different places, threatening human health.
Young children are most at risk, as the illnesses developed from the water can cause gastrointestinal irritation. In addition, the poor sanitation and improper disposal of waste seem to be inescapable.
“Without clean water to drink, they are constantly becoming very sick and are unable to move forward,” Mineau said.
The group tested borehole wells throughout the village for microbial contamination. Mineau said that roughly 80 percent of the village’s water sources are contaminated with E. coli and/or total coliforms. Working with the community, Mineau and her group were able to disinfect one of the borehole wells. Testing before and after the disinfection indicated success. Water samples were taken throughout the summer at this water source, and during this period of time, the water remained potable.
“We have targeted 10 borehole wells to be disinfected. In addition to disinfecting, we are going to construct wellhead protection to prevent further contamination from surface sources, including fecal matter (from both humans and animals),” Mineau said.
While some of the borehole pumps are currently broken and unable to be used, Mineau said the group plans to rehabilitate these pumps to increase the quantity of water available to the community, in addition to the quality. The next step is to perform full-scale implementation into the village.
The EWB group has traveled to Lukodi twice thus far, the first time being in August 2011. The group has a minimum five-year commitment to the village, and plans to return many times over the next few years.
“Our main goal for the potable water project is sustainability, and therefore, education,” Mineau said. “If we can teach them to fix these problems themselves, more water will be available.”
UNH engineers said they hope that they can instill these important skills into members of the community, as well as into its leaders, so that they can be utilized in other nearby villages.
“Once our group has completed our work in the village, we want them to be sustainable,” Mineau said. “It is the same analogy as teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish.”
The next trip is already in the works and includes plans for a health clinic, micro-irrigation system to increase the availability of food in the dry season, bridges and school facilities.
“During the trip we were able to really get the community’s support and encouragement,” Sager said on the organization’s blog. “They are so very thankful that we are there and that we want to help. They cannot wait for us to return, which will hopefully be in January.”