Friday morning we got up early to leave Mbarara and head back to Kampala. We had two stops on the way back at schools! The first school was one of Peter’s projects where we got a tour of all the facilities. The second school was where Peter’s two daughters attended. We ended the day with a surprise performance in Kampala!
Before we arrived at the first school we stopped on the side of the road because we saw zebras! When we arrived at the first school we met Peter’s mother and some of his brothers. Then they and the headmaster showed us around the school and into some classes. We saw that they had a science lab with some chemistry materials and many vocational classrooms for things like sewing and soap making. They also were completing construction to build more classrooms as some of the classes are currently in an old chicken house. They also had lots of food growing on a farm there so we got to see coffee beans up close and some people tried them. We spoke with a crowd of students in the cafeteria and Gabi led us in asking questions and handing out prizes! During this meeting with the students we found out that they were going to name one of the new construction buildings “Benito” after professor Mariñas!
We then went to lunch at an outdoor restaurant in a town nearby. We got a buffet and ate quickly so we could go to the next school. A former CEE449 student, Anjana, who is now working in Uganda met us there and told us about her NGO, Brick by Brick.
The next school we went to was where Peter’s daughters attend, and it was an all girls boarding school. This school had a very beautiful campus and lots of useful facilities including a fairly large computer lab. They had the beginnings of a library for the girls but it needed many more books. We spoke to a group of girls at this school and handed out prizes, although we had to go quick as we were running low on time.
After we got back into the cars, we started to head back to Kampala. We all knew Peter was planning a surprise for us, so we couldn’t wait to find out what it was! As we were running late, we did not have time to stop at the hotel and went straight to the surprise. It turns out it was a performance show of songs and dance of many local cultures in Uganda. Everyone really enjoyed the performance and thought learning about all this culture and history was very interesting. They performed dances and music from many different regions in Uganda. We even got to dance at the end too!
Finally we headed back to the hotel after everyone finished dancing. Most people were very exhausted so everyone fell asleep very easily from our long day and got rested before our last day in Uganda!
Author: Abby Cohen
After three long days of field and lab work, we were finally given a chance to relax. Safari day was upon us. Although we had to wake up at 4:00am (to catch the lions, who like cool early mornings before the sunrise) we were all very excited for the opportunity to experience the geography and wildlife of the country a little bit more. We had a quick breakfast and packed into our vehicles to depart.
Three hours later, our safari vehicles descended down a hill into Queen Elizabeth Park. It turns out that the vans we have been using all week were actual safari vehicles. The roofs of the vans were able to extend upwards so that we can stand up and see outside. We hopped on the roofs of our cars and began the journey through the prairie. We had four vans of students, and we all got very excited when we saw our first animal: an antelope! We drove through fields of waterbuck, water buffalo, and various species of birds but were not lucky enough to find any lions or elephants while on the trails. After a bit, our driver pulled off the trail. It turns out Professor Mariñas was able to pull some strings and a few workers led us to three lions that they tracked. We pulled up to a large cactus tree and saw two female lions lounging in the branches. After taking a few photos we were shocked to find that there was another lion lurking around near our safari vehicles. We followed it around for a bit before heading outside the Safari zone.
After a quick lunch consisting of fried chicken and fries, we embarked on the boat portion of the safari. Our tour guide Martin was extremely personable and knew endless facts about the hundreds of species of animals and birds in the area. Every time we asked a question about the wildlife in the area, he knew the answer! Each time we saw a group of male water buffalo, he would exclaim “more losers!” This was because the absence of a female meant these male water buffalo lost a fight and were banned from the herd. During our boat tour we saw many hippos (many of which were much too close to our boat), baboons, and a few herds of elephants. We learned that out of all the animal species in Africa, 6% of them are birds that live near the water. Overall it was a really great day, and our team appreciated that Benito and the TA’s rewarded our hard work throughout the week with an amazing safari day.
Not only was it a successful Safari day, but Valentine’s day is also my girlfriend’s birthday. Our fearless team leader Gabi, surprised Sara with a birthday cake and we ended the night off in celebration.
Author: Erwin Lavric
Today was by far the best day of the trip so far. Our team arrived at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement around 10am and met with Janet Asiimwe, the Field Program Coordinator of Humanitarian Initiative Just Relief Aid (HIJRA). She was very welcoming and was pleased with the idea of a partnership with us. She explained how HIJRA provides aid in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda. Much of their work includes providing legal services to refugees and others who do not have access to such representation. The HIJRA helps individuals who are know as PSN’s: Person with Specific Needs. These include orphans, women at risk, the elderly, the disabled, and many more. Janet also explained how the HIJRA provides incoming refugees with hygiene kits to help with their sanitation and health. As Janet was speaking to us, a visitors book was passed around that all 16 students, 4 TA’s and Professor Mariñas signed. I was eager to sign the book and leave a remark about how grateful we were to be there. I think it would be really cool to return one day to the Nakivale Settlement and see my name in the book from my time in college. Professor Mariñas and Peter (our outstanding Ugandan contact who we are working with) then explained what our team was doing in the settlement and the purpose of our work. Janet was very receptive and hopeful for a lasting partnership with us. She understood that the impacts of the environment affect the protection of the refugees, so our work will help their work.
After our meeting with HIJRA, we went to visit a primary school within the refugee settlement. When our four vans pulled into the compound, children ran from the buildings smiling and waving at us! They were so excited, and if we simply made eye contact with them and waved they would melt with joy. I got out of the vehicle and immediately was swarmed by kids. They were all reaching to grab my hands and saying “How are you?”, as this is what they are taught us our greeting. Although English is taught in schools, the children were young and their English vocabulary was limited. Teachers were approaching and swatting the kids away with a soft branch and told them all to return to their classroom buildings. But there were only about 10 teachers and (not exaggerating) THREE THOUSAND STUDENTS. So their attempts were futile. I, however, did not mind. When the initial crowd was shooed away, I started walking towards the building our team would be meeting at. I didn’t get four steps before a child ran straight into me with a bodyslam hug around my waist with a “How are you?!” Then two more. I slowly walked as more and more students snuck around their teachers, smiling wildly, to come give me a hug and run back away. As more and more children ran up to greet me and hold my hand and hug me as tightly as they could I was overcome with emotion. There was so much love surrounding me that I started to tear up. I knew they wouldn’t understand why I was crying, so I tried to hold it in. Thankfully a teacher came to shoo away the current crowd of kiddos so I could escape and wipe my face. Professor Mariñas and the TA’s had a meeting with the headmaster while the rest of the team waited outside. Kids were sneaking peaks out of classroom windows at us and giggling. I saw kids ranging from 3 up to around 15 years old.
Eventually the teachers gathered all the students in the courtyard for our water and sanitation demonstration. And let me tell you, that did not go so hot. The entire school was in the courtyard so the student to teacher ratio was probably somewhere around 75:1. So corralling these super hyper, super excited children was not happening. I saw pushing, and slapping and crying children all just trying to move closer and closer to us. Because we were in broad daylight, our blacklights were not working for our demonstrations to show bacteria and the roar of the crowd meant they couldn’t really hear us anyway. After very strong attempts to make the demonstrations work, we decided to just call it and spread out so that the waves of kids stepping on each other would disperse too. As I threw myself out of the circle we had inadvertently created and into open space, about a dozen kids followed. This was good though because the chaotic crowd was dispersing to follow individual team members around. The kids continued to ask me “How are you?!” And shaking my hand. And when I asked them back, they responded “I’m fine.” Every single one of them. It was clear they were taught this as the English greeting and response. I asked a lot of them what their names were and I would slowly respond back “My name is Sara, it’s great to meet you!” To which they would bashfully giggle and run away with their friends only to come back a minute later to ask me again how I was. I loved talking to the children and giving them a reason to be excited, simply by giving them a little bit of attention.
Our team then went into a classroom to repeat the water and sanitation lesson to a smaller and more controlled audience. This one went well! Gabi asked the students questions about water and they responded correctly most of the time. After doing a few demonstrations, we handed out sunglasses to those who answered our questions. Once this was done, it was time to leave. We had to cross the courtyard again, which took me about 15 minutes because I couldn’t help but talk and hold hands with the children. By the time I got to the van, they were waving us goodbye and saying “I love you so much”. It melted my heart.
We had lunch at the Nakivale offices for the third and last day in the settlement. After lunch we had a team discussion with Peter about any lasting questions we had about the settlement and our upcoming design projects. Peter gave us very good insight on how best to design a technology or system that could succeed in the settlement and beyond. He expressed his gratitude for our team’s assistance and presence in Uganda. It was a open and motivating discussion.
We left the offices around 2pm to visit the Nakivale Secondary School in the more rural part of the settlement. Secondary schools host students aged 14-18. Many of the schools in Uganda are boarding schools, including this one. Gabi, Peter, Professor Mariñas, Amanda, Ashley and I met with the headmaster of the school in his office. He was very aware of the water issues that the school faces and discussed them openly with us. The school has one 10,000L tank that is filled every night around 10pm. Then water is available in the morning for the students, but there is never enough. We further discussed the challenges that the secondary school faces and took notes. After this meeting, our team split up with half of us teaching the water and sanitation lesson to a classroom and the other testing the schools water. Turns out we collected water from the primary school to test later in the lab, but I was too busy with the kids to notice. I went with the water testing group. Because the students here were older and calmer, we did a full test on site. Erwin and I used the calorimeter to test the Ammonia and Bromine concentrations while Abby and Amanda rested the total and free chlorine concentrations. A couple other team members used the probes to test the water’s pH, Nitrate concentration, dissolved oxygen and conductivity. As we were doing our tests, students were arriving at the tap to fill their Jerry Cans. Because they were older, they knew more English and we talked with them about the water. They said the quality was fine, it’s just that it runs out. Our conversation slowly shifted into more casual topics about each other’s homelands. They asked us about the differences between Africa and America. I met this really sweet girl named Emily. I told her that my sisters name is Emily, and she liked that a lot. We started taking pictures with my phone and a few girls asked for a selfie with me. It was fun chatting with them and showing them the photos. Erwin ran to the car and grabbed the Polaroid camera. We took the first picture and showed them how it develops if kept in the dark for a minute. They LOVED it. I don’t know if they have ever had a photograph of themselves before. After that the students were asking for pictures with us left and right. They were so delighted to have a keepsake from our visit. This school visit was just as rewarding as the primary school energy. But because we were closer in age and could speak the same language, the time spent together felt more sincere. It really sucked when we ran out of film and many students didn’t get photographs. But like most of this experience, I had to focus on the happiness we brought, and not on all the sadness that’s still there.
We left that day knowing it was our last at the refugee settlement and in the field. It was bittersweet. We drove the 1.5 hour trek back to our hotel where we showered and ate dinner. After dinner we worked in our makeshift lab in the hotel’s boardroom. Here we did further tests on the water that should be more accurate and also that can test for different things than in the field. We finished up our work around 10:30pm and went to bed. We’d be getting up early the next day.
Author: Sara Pattison
Today we visited two water treatment plants. One was a conventional plant that takes water from the lake. Here they were doing an expansion and we saw a plant that was undergoing construction. We also ate random berries Yuehao found in a bush on the ground. Hopefully we don’t die! (They were aptly named ground cherries and were very good),
At the current plant they explained to us how the treatment processes they used worked and the how once the new plant was online how the old plant would be used. This plant worked pretty much the same way as the one at base camp we saw yesterday. This plant has a capacity of 300-400 cubic meters per day.
After that we went to lunch with Jean Baptiste and Silvia the people in charge of water management for the Nakivale camp. During that lunch some members of our team used that opportunity to learn more about the plant operations, Gabi our wonderful TA used the opportunity to make fun of Mike for drinking his Coca-Cola too fast.
The next plant we visited pumped groundwater. This plant pumps groundwater 500m up a hill into a sand filter and then from there gravity is used to send it to the spigot used by the refugees. Team 3 drive up in one of the trucks to check out the filter and the rest of us ran our water quality tests and interviewed the community. We got a lot of information about water availability at the source. The source turned out to be pretty good. The only major problem was that the water table would fall below the pump during dry season and there would be no water.
We also went with one family to there home where they told us about their daily life and thought it was really funny we wanted to see their wash basin. The intermittency of the water source was a big issue for them because one of the other sources they went to for water was the lake. When they took water from the lake the people who own the land around the lake make them pay.
Plant under construction
Landscape around the plant no lions 🙁
Author: Michael Boetel
Starting our first day of field work, we first drove to the office of the Prime Minister where we were formally welcomed into the country for our efforts. As Amos, the director of the Nakivale and Oruchinga camp explained the government of Uganda’s commitment to improving the camps, Peter expressed his gratitude for allowing us to conduct research in the settlement, outlining his motivation to make sure our research would not go without tangible change within the community.
After driving another hour towards the settlement, we were greeted by the assistant to the commander of the UNHCFR camp associated with the office of the prime minister of Uganda who explained the current conditions of the camp. Currently, there are 102,000 refugees consisting of mostly French speaking residents who all have the potential to receive full Uganda citizenship. The government’s role in the camp comprises providing a plot of land for the refugees for farming and housing and arranging services through NGOs such as the World Food Programme and UNHCR. They are also in charge of security and policing within the camp to ensure the safety of the refugees. Unlike refugee settlements in other countries, Uganda’s government encourages the citizens of the camp to farm their own land in order for families to use new skills to bring back to their home country. The Uganda refugee camps also differ in their policies to allow citizens to grow their own food when WFP donations are not sufficient. Although the government arranges services for the refugees, there are various outside players. NGO’s, for example, provide the funds for water, food, and construction of infrastructure within the camp. The camp has been around for 60 years consisting of 27 villages, and there is a census every three years conducted at the camp. It was clear driving through the settlement’s dusty roads, there were many families and local businesses within the camp, and we were frequently greeted by the residents as we passed.
Once we spoke with the leaders of the settlement, we arrived at the Basecamp Water Treatment Plant to learn about the water treatment and distribution process the camp employs. Hearing from the operations manager of the water treatment plant, Jean Baptiste, we listened and took notes as he walked us through the treatment methods already in place. Collecting from Lake Nakivale, the water is pumped through a galvanized iron pipe to pre-chlorination tanks where alum, chlorine, and soda ash is added before flocculation and sedimentation. As we familiarized ourselves with the plant more and more, it was clear that Jean Baptiste was eager to see improvements made within the camp, always willing to explain things twice if needed to us if we didn’t understand or wanted clarification on the current dimensions and materials used to construct the plant.
There are currently five treatment plants in the Nakivale settlement, three of which use raw lake water and hand pumps while the other two are motorized from groundwater. Basecamp is the largest of the plants with a capacity of 600,000-700,000 L/day supplying water to 89,207 residents at 17-18 L per refugee per day. For many of the residents, the walk to the nearest water tap is 500 m, and there are still many challenges within the settlement to address in terms of water access. In order for improvements to be made, Jean Baptiste would like to prioritize increasing the capacity of the plant, adding more chemicals, acquiring more fuel and generators to power the plant, and extending the pipelines. Though the amount of work felt overwhelming, we all wanted to work to see the improvements were implemented.
Our time visiting basecamp, collecting samples, and performing field tests on the raw source water and treated water from the plant ended with us traveling to the center of the camp for lunch, where we had the chance to speak more with Richard, Peter, and Jean Baptiste. We all loved trying the different cuisines we were starting to grow accustomed to while learning more about the language and customs of the cultures within the settlement.
After lunch, we split into two groups to take samples from the community water taps and survey the residents on the quality of their water. Surrounded by Gerry cans in rows, the tap operated systematically with children sliding cans down the rows as each was filled. With Richard as our translator, we were able to speak with members of the Water Committee at the tap and ask them questions about the biggest challenges their community was facing with water supply. In terms of quality, most residents had no complaints, however, the committee reported the capacity of the water was barely sufficient to meet the needs of the entire community.
Our long first day of field work ended with all of us tired from the heat and activity, but as soon as we got back to the hotel, there was still a lot of lab work yet to do. Dividing into groups after dinner, we tested the samples collected from the raw source water of the lake, the basin at the plant, the chlorinated and treated water, and the two taps we visited. For some of us, it was our first time using the titrators and calorimeters, but by the end of the night, each of us had learned something new.The lab work ended our first day, but we were ready to return to the camp the next day and learn how we could work to meet the growing needs of the community.
Author: Amanda Darling
After arriving late to the Golf Course Hotel on Saturday night, the course group was allowed a late morning start. We ate breakfast and were introduced to Peter Luswata and two of his assistants; Diana Bamurangye and Joan Tumusiime. Peter Luswata is the course’s main contact in Uganda. He takes the yearly design reports that UIUC students complete at the end of CEE 449 and implements the solutions outlined with modifications to better suit the actual conditions of the communities they are intended to benefit.
His two assistants will prove to be very useful resources during our time in Uganda. Diana speaks 7 languages and will work as a translator on our visits to the refugee camp of Nakivale and the host community. She will also prove to be an important source in learning to respectfully communicate and interact with the people we meet throughout the trip. Within minutes of meeting her, she taught the group greetings and how to express thanks in Ugandan and Swahili, and what languages are spoken in certain districts of Uganda.
Joan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Ugandan Christian University in Mokono. Her background will be helpful in communicating with water treatment plant operators and technicians, getting a sense of norms in water treatment in urban vs. rural areas in Uganda, and how Nakivale’s treatment compares.
Around noon, we set off from our hotel in Kampala to Mbarara; an almost 300 km drive. With such a long trip, we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery of the countryside and observe dozens of rural communities along the route. For lunch, we stopped at Flamingoz Joint Bar and Grill in Kayabwe, which is known for lying directly on the equator. We ordered a mix of local and international foods: chicken sandwiches, chapati, samosas, cassava, matoke, posho, and chicken piece. While waiting for our food, we got to witness the highly business-driven Peter in action. He made his way to the kitchen to speed up food preparation and serving in somehow the most positive and motivating way. Before leaving, we made sure to get pictures in front of a large circular equator landmark.
Several hours later, we made it to the Lake View Resort Hotel, checked in, showered, and had dinner. Before heading to bed, TA’s and students worked to prepare materials for the field. This included measuring out chemicals, calibrating sensors (all the probes and the fluoride titrator), and packing bags with all necessary materials for our first day of field work in Nakivale.
Author: Javier Mulero
(by George Gunter and Runze Liu)
Today was the group’s first day off of lab work since we arrived in Puerto Rico, and we capitalized on the opportunity to visit the island’s premier engineering school: University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. Throughout the week Madeline Torrez had been helping us navigate our way through the mountain sides of Puerto Rico, and today she showed us her home institution where she teaches as a Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department.
When we first arrived at UPRM, professors in the college of engineering gave us a presentation about major research initiatives at the university. They ranged from material science research projects focused on membrane design to education efforts in local schools to try and promote students in Puerto Rico to consider careers in Engineering and the Sciences.
In addition to presentations from professors at UPRM we enjoyed the company and introduction to a number of undergraduate and graduate students in different science and engineering disciplines from chemistry to Biological and Chemical Engineering. We were treated to coffee (George was thrilled) and snacks. Along with local students, everyone enjoyed the fresh time.
After snack time, we had a great time visiting the UPRM campus. Located at west edge of the island, UPRM has a fantastic tropical style. Walking along coconut palms, students became familiar with the university and its history.
It is said that Mayagüez rains every afternoon at 2pm, we were kind of “regretful” for missing that. So we took a great group photo at a landmark of UPRM with beautiful sunshine.
After a lunch of seafood along a beach, we went back to UPRM visiting their environmental engineering lab. Graduate students of UPRM introduced research they are focusing on and what equipment they have. One of their highlighted research areas is experimenting on filters with plastic media. They also introduced research about UV light disinfection and groundwater contaminant removal.
At night, we went on an adventure exploring local life experience in Ponce. Students bought some souvenirs and enjoyed live music there. It was a special experience enjoying live heavy metal music performance with zero distance. (and without headphones).
(by Meghan Drew and Nicole Loza)
The travel team woke up on March 1st ready to explore different communities in Villalba and interact with the community members. The team gained an additional member today – Adrian, the 12-yr old son of one of the team members, decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and help the team interact with the community members. After a hardy hotel breakfast, the team travelled to Sierritas and met Esteban – the vice-president of the water board who showed the CEE 449 team around the community:
At the first pit stop, the team sampled water from a tank that supplies the water for 150 homes in Sierritas. The tank is gravity fed from a source up the mountain. No treatment is done besides a wide filter at the entrance of the intake pipe to block leaves or other large debris. The only way to sample the water was to climb to the top of the tank.
The next pit stop on the team’s agenda included a hike up to the Sierritas water source and a few community member interviews. The students split; many hiked while a few with an expertise in Spanish stayed behind to conduct the interviews. The hike featured many physical obstacles for the team, but the guidance of Esteban and a special animal friend helped lead the way.
Once making it to the water source, the team took samples and performed on-site tests. The YSI and Horiba probes were used to test pH, dissolved oxygen, chloride, nitrate, and more, while fluoride and ammonia tests were also performed. A surprising discovery was the presence of free chlorine in the source water – the team suspects that the test reading is not in fact a value for chlorine concentration, since the presence of chlorine is unlikely in untreated surface water. Further analysis was required to elucidate these results.
After a successful hike back down to the Sierritas water tank and our cars, the team headed into the community to meet up with the team members who had been conducting interviews. More water samples were taken at three of the community members’ homes. Interestingly enough, one of the water test results revealed data that varied from the other water samples in the communities. This may indicate that for this community member the water comes from a different location than the source water (i.e PRASA).
The evening came to a successful close after microbial, metal, and alkalinity and hardness analysis were performed back at the hotel. By day 4, the students worked much more efficiently and were able to test all their collected samples fully within about an hour.