Students bringing clean water to Ugandan village
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Water is often taken for granted in the United States, where many people can just turn a knob and have access to clean water. In Lukodi, a village in northern Uganda, residents need to walk to a well – often at least half a mile away – and carry their water back, assuming the well is in working condition.
As a chapter of a national organization called Engineers Without Borders, a group of about 20 UNH students – not just engineering majors – are coming together to bring clean, safe water to Lukodi.
“It is important to bring clean water to the village because, after having tested many of the water sources, we found that they were contaminated with E.Coli,” group president Kayla Mineau said. “Clean water will be provided to the village through borehole wells, disinfection of currently contaminated water sources, fixing broken wells in the village, and providing wellhead protection to avoid further contamination.”
The chapter on campus started about 10 years ago, when the group worked with UNH professors Tom Ballestero and Robin Collins to help a village in Thailand.
Collins said that the students came to him “for assistance in the design of their small system, drinking and wastewater treatment systems, during their first project for a small village in Thailand.”
The chapter also asked hydrologist and water supply specialist Ballestero, who has since been letting the students do their own work and “roll up their sleeves,” to be an advisor to the group.
“[I] make sure everything’s done safely and everyone comes back with all of their fingers,” Ballestero said.
Last August, Ballestero travelled to Lukodi with two students to test the water. This year, Ballestero and three students will travel to the village again to talk to community leaders to discuss the needs of the village, and to continue testing water.
“We have a minimum five year commitment to this village, and will continue with a variety of engineering projects in the area once we have successfully completed the first stage of the project,” Mineau said. “Some examples include drip irrigation, a biomass press, or a windmill.”
Lukodi was the site of a major massacre during the Ugandan Civil War, and while the civil strife may have ended in 2005, according to Ballestero, the effects are long lasting, as he learned when he talked to a Ugandan man on EWB’s last trip.
“His family was all killed: his wife, his children, [and] his parents,” he said.
Ballestero also said that the military is still present in the village, which is a little “unnerving” for him when they pass by with automatic weapons.
During this project, EWB partnered with a non-governmental organization called ChildVoice International, based in Durham, to bring clean water to the village.
According to their mission statement, “ChildVoice acts on the conviction that children broken by war can be restored in safe communities with loving care, spiritual and emotional counseling, and effective education and vocational training.”
Collins agreed that children and adults alike are a large focus of these projects, because they are affected by war and by unsafe water.
“Public health and safe drinking water are directly related, especially for young children and growing families,” Collins said. “Indeed, 10 million people die each year around the world from the lack of safe drinking water, and this problem can only be eradicated one system at a time.”
Along with ChildVoice, EWB raises money for their projects through such fundraisers as the silent auction they held in Portsmouth last weekend, writing grant proposals, and from donors. These funds allow the group to complete their projects and to travel to places like Lukodi.
While in Uganda, the students and Ballestero will live in huts like the villagers, with no running water and no electricity. They will travel by walking, biking, or four-wheeling for longer distances.
EWB will assess the quality of the water and how the village gets water. The group will also assess where the best source to get the water from is, and where the water might be brought.
“The need for appropriate treatment technologies in developing countries [is] just as vital as in our country,” Collins said. “I consider it a privilege to work with such dedicated students in EWB, regardless of [their] major, who are aware of the importance of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation conditions for all citizens of the world.”