…and that’s a wrap.

Going to bed late Sunday night after a long day of driving, all we wanted was to sleep in before exploring the shops of Kampala. But our wonderful driver, Richard, informed us that he had a surprise for us and would be by at8:30 to pick us up. Though we grumbled a little about being tired, Richard had done so much for us in these past two weeks that we were up and dressed to be picked up at 8:30, and man were we glad we were.

After about an hour of driving and sitting through the Kampala traffic, we stopped outside of a gate that had barbed wire across the top. Richard cut the engine and we all piled out of the car. As soon as we closed the door behind us, a hundred little kids came running out of that gate yelling “Merry Christmas” and slamming into us for hugs. Surprised doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The kids pulled us inside and sat us down in the front row of some benches in front of a small stage area filled with teenagers and brass instruments. The band began to play and entertained us with 8 or 10 songs while two young guys did some dancing and one talented did acrobatic as if she didn’t have a spine.

After the concert we were given a tour of the area and found out that we were at a facility that uses music and art to help orphaned and street children in Kampala. Their mission statement is to protect, transform, and restore dignity and self confidence among vulnerable children and youth for self reliance. They are an amazing organization that has had over 500 children pass through its doors. Many of these children go one to become social workers or something of the type, to give back to the community that they were able to make it out of. It was an amazing experience to be able to see the good work being done by good people to help as many children as possible.

After an inspiring morning like that we were up for the rest of the day. We stopped by Davis & Shirtliff, a solar pump supplier, to makes some contacts and talk prices so that we can be better prepared for next trip. After lunch, Richard took us to some shops so we could pick up souvenirs and look at the work of some local artists. Not a bad end to the trip if you ask me. But after a very successful trip, we are all excited to get home to our families for Christmas!

Meghan Reid

There and back again

Sunday, Dec 21st

Today the rest of the team and I finished packing our stuff and took off for Kampala. Although we said our goodbyes to Oloo last night, leaving Aloi was also bittersweet. We were all a bit relieved to return to the many creature comforts of civilization, but for Meghan and Jessie, this would probably be the last time in northern Uganda. They are both graduating in the Spring and won’t be able to travel with EWB once they are no longer students. We also said goodbye to George and left him at his home in Lira.

The drive itself was uneventful, and copious amounts of roasted goat skewers were eaten. When we arrived in Kampala after about 6 hours on the road, we headed straight to the Ethiopian Village restaurant. One of our mentors, David Bell, suggested the place last time we were in Kampala and I can see it becoming a tradition. We hit the sack early after dinner, worn out but satisfied from our week of activities.

Colin Kelsall

Happy Moments!

Today was the official “Launch Day” of the project that George had been hyping up since before we even arrived in Uganda. This public event was meant to be an official celebration of the successful completion of Phase I of the Oloo Community Solar Powered Water Distribution Project. George told us that it would attract over 500 people including local and regional politicians. Well, I can honestly say that it did not disappoint…

This morning, George left before us from the hotel to drop off a load of chairs in Oloo for the event. He said he would be right back to get us, but we ended up waiting around over three hours for his return. Now we are all used to African time at this point in the trip, but this was getting a little excessive. Little did we know, George was running around getting together all of the preparations for the event. Once we finally arrived on the road leading to the well site at about 1pm, we were greeted by 50 to 60 women in dresses holding tree limbs. They were waving them back and forth and joyously singing their welcome song for us. We walked through the crowd realizing that we were indeed the stars of the show. At the well site, a large awning had been set up, and there was even speakers and a sound system. I would estimate that there was indeed well over 500 people there. After some welcome dances preformed by some Oloo women’s groups, Patrick, our MC for the afternoon, welcomed everybody to the Launch. Then, George came forward and gave a long speech to the crowd. In summary, he said how thankful he was that this project was officially underway, what it took to get here, and what was required of the community moving forward. Next, I got up in front of the crowd and addressed everybody. In short, I thanked them for having us, gave an overview of what had been implemented, then talked about the future phasing of the project. I was sure to emphasize the importance of them raising the 5% community cash contribution and of them maintaining the current facility in order to ensure the continuation of the project. After I spoke, the local chairman addressed the crowd as well as some other community leaders and regional officials. Then, George and the local chairman gave us a framed plaque of appreciation to our chapter for completing Phase I. After that, we had an official ribbon cutting at the entrance to the well site and took a ton of pictures around the well itself.

Overall, it was a fantastic day as we were able to really receive all of the appreciation that the community had to offer. There was a lot of celebratory dancing and smiles all around. At the end of the day, we said our final good-byes to members of the community. Oh, and we were even able to fit in a brief soccer game at the primary school pitch. It was a fitting end to our time in Oloo, and a day I won’t soon forget.

Jessie Spruill

12/20/2014

Finishing touches

The day started off slow with a few errands that George needed to run, passing out invitations to the local government for our launch party tomorrow. We ended up getting to the site around noon after taking some final GPS points around the community where they want a tap stand in the future and where the local government is going to dig them another borehole. At the site the carpenter had finished and hung the gate for our fence and everything was finally coming together.

We finished securing the chain link to the fence posts and then began to even out the land and build the soak away pit. While we had filled the pit with rocks in the previous couple days, but we needed to create a berm on the top and around the sides of the drainage channel. This will give us the correct water flow around the well because we don’t want rain water and excess well water seeping straight down under the well. We would rather have the water seep down farther away from the well and filter through the rocks and soil before it reaches the aquifer. The work it took to even out that land was rough. Colin and Moses were work horses and finished in a couple hours.

Another big part of our day was the training for the technicians who will be in charge of operations and maintenence throughout the year. We met with the three technicians, who were picked by the community, to go over their responsibilities and duties for the upkeep of the well. Our three technicians are going to be Dennis, who has been helping throughout the trip with translating, digging, and wherever else was needed, Moses, who lives in Obangakora A (the village the farthest from the well) is one of the most invested community members because of how much the well will do for his village and he is one of the hardest workers we have come across, and Nicholas, who is one of the community’s carpenters and will be very handy in fixing the fence and other problems that arise. Nicholas’s English is not the best, but he always takes initiative and works on anything that is needed. We talked to them about daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that will need to be completed and how to keep track of who is completing each task. The operation and maintenance is one of the most important aspects of our project because we need to be able to know that they will be able to care for the well after we are gone in order to increase the longevity of the project.

After the training and putting the finishing touches on the fence and soak away put, we connected the chain on the well to give it full functionality for the first time. And let me tell you, seeing those little kids dipping their cups in that stream was one of the most satisfying feelings I have ever had in my life. They would down an entire cup of that water and the grin on their face was infectious. Amson’s face was the brightest. This little kid knows how to work a camera, every time we were taking pictures he would look directly at us and give us that smile that will melt your heart.

Although I would tell you the Edmond is my favorite. He is Toni’s son and he hated us at the beginning of the trip. I’m talking couldn’t look at us without balling his eyes out, hated us. But he us warming up to us! Today I even got him to smile at me! Toni told us that he is trying to be very brave and told him that he wasn’t going to cry today, that was after he asked his dad whether or not we were planning on eating him. But my plan is to get a picture with him tomorrow!!

We are expecting tomorrow to be a day full of pictures, hand shaking, and playing soccer with the kids, can’t wait!!

Meghan Reid
12/19/14

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Raising the bar

The plan for today promised another day of working beside the community on the protective fencing for the well. Before that, however, we decided to visit the local markets. There are two market near Oloo that both occur on Thursdays. One is in Aloi, and the other in Alebtong, a nearby town. We visited both and enjoyed walking around the hustle and bustle of market day. We stopped by a pot seller and all purchased some of the beautiful local pottery. It retailed for the high price of $0.40 a pot. We also purchased a gift for the eldest son of Tony, another helpful community member.

After the market, Emmanuel joined us again and we stretched chain link around the posts we planted yesterday. The actual management of the chain link was easier said than done as it had a tendency to unravel and become caught on itself. We eventually got a system down with a local carpenter and a few other helpful community members. The finishing touches on the fence was a doorframe for the gate made of heavy timbers. Although it was probably overkill for the situation, it looked good and felt solid. Emmanuel climbed up to the top of the frame on temporary footholds to nail the final beam in across the top. This activity took most of the day and we were all beat by the end, ready for some well deserved rest.

Colin Kelsall
12/18/14

Hard day’s night

We are just past the half way point, and time seems to be moving faster and faster. We are steadily knocking off to-dos for this trip. Since we are only able to come to Uganda once a year, it is critical that we gather every bit of information, have every crucial conversation, take every picture, and build everything that needs to be built in the short time we are here. Not to mention, we also need to spend time building strong relationships with community members. This last task is often the most fun and rewarding part of being a part of the travel team.

So the big task for today was to begin construction on the protective fencing around the well site. This fence will be about 12 by 18 meters and will be used to protect the well from animals that could potentially contaminate the water source. Yesterday, the community dug fourteen 2-feet-deep holes in places designated by the EWB-GT team for the future fence posts. This digging was done under the supervision of Patrick, who is George’s right hand man at A River Blue. Patrick is an agreeable and enthusiastic guy with a desire to be as helpful as possible. His English is also very strong, which makes him an effective mobilizer in the community. Since the holes were already dug, it was up to us to line up the fence posts, make sure they were level, and secure them into the ground. In order to accomplish this, we needed to gather large rocks to provide stability to the posts and mix our own concrete to pour around said rocks. Fortunately, there was extra sand and gravel left over from Ebowa’s construction that we could use and we were able to buy cheep cement in Aloi. The rocks were a bit more challenging to obtain. Thankfully, George was back in town and showed us what you may call a “rock shop”. As we pulled up along a dirt road that we don’t normally take, we saw a few people sitting on the side of the hill banging rocks with larger rocks and organizing them into piles based on sizes. After gathering a few piles of appropriately sized rocks and negotiating with the woman in charge of the operation, we made a chain and passed the rocks from one person to the next and into the floorboard of our resilient 12-passenger van. By the way, the five piles of rocks came to a whopping total of 2 US dollars.

After stopping at the local sub-county government office to shake hands and receive a warm Ugandan welcome, we proceeded to the well site in Aloi. We quickly got started cutting the wooden beams to have water-shedding triangular tops. We got a ton of help from Dennis, who is a technician for the well and active member in the community. He has been by our side throughout the construction process and is always the first to lend a helping hand. His work ethic is truly unmatched by anybody else we’ve encountered and he is genuinely a great guy. Once the beams had been cut, the four of us aligned the wooden posts into each of the 14 holes one at a time. We took care to make sure that all of the posts aligned perfectly and that they were as level as possible. In order to secure the post into the ground, we inserted the posts into the pre-dug holes and used alternating layers of concrete and rocks to hold them in place. Emmanuel Ekora (aka. Little Emanuel), a longtime friend of the project was a huge help in this process. He works in the nearby city of Lira as a roofer and construction foreman, so he is quite knowledgeable about construction techniques. Emmanuel also volunteered to construct the fence gate tomorrow, which will be a huge help considering we were previously planning on purchasing a pre-made gate, which would have been quite expensive and cumbersome to transport.

After all the fence posts were lined up and plum in their respective concrete/rock filled holes, the tired team took a short lunch break of fried chicken and french fries. After this much needed break, Meghan and Colin began to take GPS points of our newly built facility while Jessie and Emmanuel took measurements of the fence, well platform and drainage channel in order to complete as-built drawings once back back in the states. Additionally GPS points were taken of nearby trees in order to determine the optimal placement of the future solar panels that will power a submersible pump during the future phases of our project. With that, we called it a day at about 5:30pm. Throughout the working day, we played contemporary American music out of portable iHome speakers we brought Needless to say, the community members loved the new music just as much as they loved seeing some members of the EWB-GT team sing and dance to it while they worked.

So, tomorrow the plan is to completely finish the protective fence by attaching the chain link around the posts we installed today. Once this is complete we will officially be done with our implementation tasks. All that will be left to complete is executing couple education sessions, gathering a few more GPS points and celebrating our accomplishment on “Launch Day”, which Is scheduled for this Saturday. George tells us that they expect over 500 people this Saturday… No pressure huh??

Jessie Spruill
12/17/14

 

adorable kid dennis sawing E and D concrete fence posts

Organized chaos

 

Organized chaos is the only way I know how to describe it. Lira was insane. There were tons of people moving around, motorcycles and bikes everywhere, animals, loud noises, business deals, and yet everyone seemed able to get everything done that they need to. It was incredible and chaotic, but it worked.

We brought Dennis, a community member, along with us because he wanted to sell his rice at the market. It was amazing to me that the people of Oloo would have to catch a ride or ride their bike for miles with their goods on their back just to make a couple bucks. It was inspiring to see how hard everyone was working to make it.

It was our first trip into Lira, a city about an hour from Aloi. We went for supplies for our protective fencing that will be placed around the borehole well. We wouldn’t have been able to find our way around if it wasn’t for our guide Emmanuel, who is from Oloo. He was invaluable and took us to all the right shops we needed and helped us haggle some deals.

We headed out around 9 am and arrived to pick up Emmanuel around 10, who was staying in Lira. We first went to pick up some tools for the maintenance of the well and then moved on to the hardware store. We found all of the necessary materials in one area and were on our way to pick up George and the banner he ordered for our project’s unveiling. But since we are working on African time, we had to wait about an hour for the banner to be finished. In the mean time Emmanuel took us into the market where we brought some simsim and they ground it into a paste for us. That stuff is delicious!! After a stop at the grocery store (to pick up some much needed mango juice) we headed home for a check of the well sight to see the progress the community made.

When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the sight had been completed cleared and all of the holes needed for the fence posts were finished. A very productive day (minus the parking ticket)!

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Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

Today was yet another action-packed day for our project. This morning we decided to sleep in a little bit for a change and headed into Oloo around 9:30am. Shortly after we arrived at the well site a different crew of workers from our contractor, Ebowa Investments Ltd. arrived on site with two pick up trucks filled with a long rubber pump, pipes, cement and various other materials. They started right away doing the test pumping for our new well. We contracted them to do a three-hour test pump, which tells us the yield of the well and the well’s recharge rate. In other words, it tells is how productive the well is. In order to preform this test, the crew used a submersible, electric pump powered by a generator deep within the borehole’s casing. Once the pump started churning, the water started pouring out of the rubber pipe they were using. Almost immediately people began to arrive at the site with their jerry cans ready to try out the new water. Although this water can safely be used for washing and cooking, it is not fit for drinking until the water quality tests come back. After three hours of pumping, the crew measured the water depth within the well, which came out to be around 15 meters. For reference, our static water level was measured at 5.8 meters. Note that these distances are measured from the top of the well, and our well is a total of 60 meters deep. Additionally, the well recharged itself to 94% of the static level within one hour. This all means that we have a highly productive well

While the test pumping was taking place, the rest of the crew were casting the platform and drainage channel. They worked hard to make sure the concrete stayed within its cast and that it was smoothed out on top to make a clean finish. While this was going on the community members and the EWB-GT team started to dig a 1 meter by 1 meter by 1 meter soak-away pit at the terminus of the drainage channel. This was later lined with geo-textile fabric and filled with large rocks collected by the community. The soak-away pit is an important component of our design as it allows excess water to percolate back into the ground and filters that water in the process.

Once the test pumping was complete, the Ebowa crew moved on to installing the India Mark II hand pump. Before installation started, the lead engineer for Ebowa, Sylvester, explained to us how this particular hand pump worked by showing us, and the community-appointed well technicians, all the different components. First of all, the pump is placed at the bottom of the well casing and is attached to a galvanized steel brod that runs all the way up to a chain within the pump casing at the surface. The chain is then connected to the handle which can be moved up and down to pump the water through piping and out of the spout. Once all of this was installed, the EWB-GT team was able to make the first victorious pumps of water out of the new well. To say this was a gratifying moment for us would be an understatement.

For the next four days the concrete platform and drainage channel has to fully cure before the well can be pumped by the public. Until then, we will be working on constructing a chain link fence around the well site with the help of the community. If everything goes as smooth as it has so far, we should be finished up with all of our implementation tasks a couple of days early.

getting water setting concrete

 

Striking Gold

Today was one of those days that makes all the late nights and weekends spent working over the last few months totally worthwhile. It began at 7 am when the drilling was scheduled to begin. The rig was almost finished being set up and the site was bustling with activity. A happy change from the previous morning. The drilling started at 7:30, surprisingly on time compared to our previous experiences. Jessie, Meghan, and I left at around 8:30 to finish the surveying we had begun yesterday once we saw the drilling was under control. We surveyed part of the remaining distribution line then headed back up the site for lunch and respite from the midday sun.

During our time surveying, our drilling mentor, Paul, held down the fort and informed us of the goings ins that had occurred. Apparently there were some minor setbacks having to do with the collapsibility of the soil previously identified by the contractor. To address this, a temporary casing was pushed into the hole prior to drilling and prevented the walls from caving in.

Drilling was going pretty smoothly and soon after we got there, a miracle happened. Instead of the normal dry sandy clay getting pushed out of the hole, the clay have way to mud and water started pooling around the hole. The entire site was energized and excited about the potential of the well. Drilling continued, however, and a deeper well was required to maintain adequate supply throughout the year.

While the drilling continued, the rest of the surveying team and I returned to the distribution line to finish the elevation data collection. We took with us two of the future well technicians to help guide the confusing footpaths. We finished the surveying shortly before sunset and headed back to the well.

When we got there, the drilling was finished and the final, permanent casing was being installed. With the casing in place, well development began. This is a process that clears the screens at the bottom of the well of any debris. It involves high pressure air pulse into the well and results in an impressive 40 foot geyser that the workers used to shower off in. The foreman informed us that the preliminary, conservative, yield test predicted 8m3 of water per hour. This was over 5 times what we expected and the relief was eminent on all of our faces. This crazy project we all dedicated so much time to just might work. A well this productive was a great start to the system that could truly change a lot in the community of Oloo. No matter what happens on this trip from this moment on, it will be a success.

Colin Kelsall
Technical Director and travel team member
EWB-GT Uganda project

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Sunrise to Sunset

Today marked the first full work day of the trip, from sun up to sun down. We left Aloi at 5:30 in the morning to meet the contractor we hired to dig the well at the site. The drilling was supposed to start yesterday, but due to some mechanical troubles, the equipment didn’t start arriving until late afternoon. We discussed the delay with the contractor and he made a good point that by his observation, the soil in the area was “collapsible” and that drilling in two sessions could result in collapsing overnight. We made a plan for him to start the drilling at 6am this morning, and left him to assemble the remaining machinery yesterday evening. When we arrived this morning, however, important machinery was still missing and the site was completely devoid of people. After calling the contractor again, we discovered that there had been more mechanical issues with the drilling rig and it wouldn’t arrive until later in the day.

Instead of letting a few logistical issues ruin our second day in Oloo, we worked on some assessment tasks necessary for future phases of the project. An important step to designing the distribution system is finding exact elevations of the tap stand locations relative to the well location. We use a combination of traditional elevation surveying and a high-accuracy GPS unit to survey the distribution line and determine the elevations. We only surveyed about 1/3rd of the line and the hot African sun made it pretty grueling, but everybody recognized the importance of the work and soldiered on despite the conditions.

Additionally, we attended a community meeting to welcome us back to Oloo and address any concerns about the implementation. Jessie started off assuring the community that we were still committed to the project, despite the long interval between the last trip and today. I discussed what exactly the contractor would be doing during the week and what to look out for, and Meghan discussed training that would be vital for the community members to take care of their new well. After we all spoke, the community group asked questions and we did our best to address any concerns.

After the meeting, we headed back to the distribution line to continue surveying. We made it to the first tap stand and called it a night, walking back as the sun set. On the way back to Aloi, we saw the drilling rig finally on it’s way to the site and made a plan to start drilling tomorrow at 7am. If all goes according to plan, which it rarely does, the well should be done by tomorrow night. A great end to an initially disappointing, but finally productive day.

Colin Kelsall
Technical Director and travel team member
EWB-GT Uganda project