Wednesday, February 28, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

(by Jacqueline Glattard and Melanie Holland)

Day 3 for the travel team was focused around testing the sampled water from Los Duros, Orocovis taken the day before. There were 9 samples taken from 3 sites: the spring, the homes in the community, and the Limones water treatment plant. Specifically, we tested for copper, iron, manganese, sulfate, sulfide, iodide, alkalinity, hardness, and pH. These tests require reagents and equipment that are not easily transported to the field, which is why it is lab work. The lab of the day was the hotel room 407.

It was interesting to observe the levels of contaminants in the samples, and note when they exceeded the World Health Organization standards.  This will be useful information for the team to take into consideration when developing our design recommendations.

We had a team meeting to discuss observations and possible project ideas, comparing interview notes and data to gain a stronger understanding of the potential challenges that lie ahead.

We ventured outside for lunch to enjoy the nice weather, ocean views and each other’s company. Tomorrow we will have the opportunity to visit another community in the municipality of Villalba to take samples, interact with community members, and evaluate the potential of a project there.

After two days of strenuous labor, we were able to do much needed loads of laundry, relax, and catch up on homework. For dinner we switched it up and ate seafood in Ponce, at a restaurant that overlooked the ocean. A highlight included the pumpkin and cheese flan, which we all shared and quickly devoured.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

(by Mark Healy and Kevin Zhu)

Although we have become accustomed to the sounds of roosters calling, the metaphorical morning crowing came bright and early today. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, French toast, and potatoes, we loaded all of our gear into the car to begin the long trip to Los Duros, a community in the Orocovis municipality.

Known as the geographical and cultural heart of Puerto Rico, Orocovis is the most distant community that we will be visiting from our base camp in Ponce. A legend regaled to us by our guides states that the winding mountainous roads are a result of drunken Spanish colonists following their equally clueless donkeys as they laid the stones connecting Ponce and San Juan.

Today, the hazards along the road are more hidden. Communities have put up signs to inform passing motorists that they have been without electricity for over 124 days. Schools without power have led to classes being taught in the dark or students having to travel long distances.

Along the way, we made a stop at a hospital facility in central Orocovis to meet Thalia Martinez (who would help us with translation) and Brenda Guzman (our Oxfam collaborator who has expertise in water treatment in the mountainous villages).

Upon arrival in Los Duros, the travel team collected all of our gear and began the trek up a steep hill and through a dense forest. After climbing over logs and under exposed pipes, we found a waterfall flowing into a stone basin. We learned that the water containment structure was built by a resident’s relative approximately 100 years ago and has served the community ever since.

Each student performed their own role and collected and tested water samples. Once all these tasks were completed, we returned to “La Casa de Ana” to take water samples from her home and have a lunch break. Along the way, we found some interesting new fruits to try.

We then performed interviews with several residents of the Los Duros community regarding their water usage, water concerns, and the effects of the hurricane. With the assistance of our guides Christian, Thalia, and Carlos, we were able to successfully translate our prepared questions.

These interviews taught us that most residents of Los Duros were not comfortable drinking the water coming from the river source. However, they used the water for everyday applications such as cooking and bathing. A resident of the community told us that only one in ten residents had access to water from the governmental aqueduct firm PRASA. Other residents stated that the hurricane was a terrifying experience and one that still affects their community today.

After leaving Los Duros, we stopped to visit a Riverbank Filtration Plant that utilizes chlorine disinfection. While at the plant, Professor Mariñas expressed concern that the specifications of the plant’s operation may lead to an excess concentration of chlorine in the water that was being supplied.

We ran tests at the filtration site before moving up the hill to see the holding tanks where water from the plant was held before being distributed to 250 homes in Orocovis.

With rain coming down, we made the long trip back to the hotel in Ponce to eat dinner, clean up, and run some more water quality tests.

Monday, February 26, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

Monday, February 26, 2018 (by Anneliese Paik and Rachel Banoff)

Ponce, Puerto Rico

After a long day of travel on Sunday, we finally arrived at our hotel in Ponce around 8 AM. After having some time to rest from the trip, we met for a conference with Brenda Guzman, our OXFAM collaborator, Madeleine Torres, our University of Puerto Rico Mayaguëz partner, and Fabian and Thalia, our guides. We planned out our week and which communities we would visit each day.

Afterwards, we ate dinner at a seaside restaurant. Lots of people ordered mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish with mashed fried plantains topped with a creole stew of meat or seafood.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel and organized and calibrated our instruments for the sampling that would take place the next day.

On Monday morning, we were ready to go to Corea Metralla, a mountain community in Peñuelas. Our guides hit traffic on their way from San Juan and could not join us. Nonetheless, we loaded up our SUVs and drove through winding, steep, and narrow roads towards the water source of the community. A resident of the area, met with us to hike directly to the water source. He carved out the way with his machete, pointing out a plant used as an ingredient in cancer medicine.



We arrived at a rocky stream with a concrete structure with a filter. We collected our water samples and then hiked back up to the residential area.

Next, we explored an abandoned water treatment area, with a filtration unit (which George and Melanie climbed inside to sample) and an underground concrete water storage tank. Benito explained that by estimating the dimensions of the tanks, we could estimate the volumetric flow rate and the number of people served by the system.

After lunch, a community member showed us his property where he grows cacao, coffee, beans, and various other plants. We had learned that he used to grow and farm his own coffee, however, his entire farm got destroyed when Hurricane Maria occurred. He’s working slowly but steadily to rebuild his farm. We befriended his sweet and cuddly dog, Toby.

After dinner at the hotel, we conducted more tests on the water. We also discussed what we could improve upon to make the next few days go smoother.



Day 10: Headed Back to the USA

February 12th, 2017 by Brandon Lung

We arrived in the Entebbe airport and had to go through 3 different waiting areas since we arrived about 8 hours before our flight due to a delay.

We had dinner at about midnight Uganda time which is about 3pm Chicago time. I believe everyone took a small 6.5 hour nap until breakfast. This was until 7AM Uganda time and 10PM Chicago time. The airplane food was not that bad either. They gave us two meals for both our 8 hour flights. All meals came with deserts despite it being breakfast.

The nap felt great, however we’re going to feel jet lagged when we finally arrive back at U of I. We arrived at Amsterdam at 8:30AM Uganda time and 6:30AM Amsterdam time. We gained 2 hours. Some people slept, and some people decided to get homework done.

We had a small talent show that a few people decided to participate in. Wen and I played the piano. I also decided to rap for everyone. My “High” of today is that Gabi told me that I was a good water engineering student.

There’s a casino in the Amsterdam airport so we decided to donate a bit of money there.

Nearing the 24 hour mark of traveling home. This blog day is especially long because of the time change. 24 + 9 = 33 hours long travel blog.

On the plane to ORD, estimated time of arrival is 2:32PM it’s weird that Amsterdam departure time is 12:30pm and we will arrive to Chicago in about two hours for our 8 hour flight.

Everyone is tired and wants to go home, however not everyone is ready for school. This past week has flown by so fast that school due dates have crept up on many students and there is a rush of calculations and assignments being done furiously in the planes and airports.

We landed at O’Hare at about 2pm. My “Low” for today was the landing. It was very windy today, and over half of us got motion sickness and nearly puked.

Finally arrived in ORD. We had to go through US Customs and Border Protection before leaving the airport.

We got into our rental cars and drove to Champaign at 4pm. Everyone was tired because many haven’t slept since the first flight to Amsterdam.

We arrived at Newmark at about 6:30pm.

Total travel time back home was 34 hours. We had an amazing time. The experience was eye opening, and I am so glad that I got to spend a week learning and exploring Uganda with my classmates and teachers. It makes me realize how well we have it in America and how we should not take what we have for granted. This trip was definitely a highlight in my college career. Thank you to the department for funding this trip and thank you to our readers for following us throughout this blog! Suula balunji!

Day 9: Market & Last Day in Uganda

February 11th, 2017 by Kazami Brockman

Today was our last day in Uganda. Peter Luswata met us for breakfast and we exchanged contact information and well-wishes. We will keep in contact with him and update him on our progress. He also wanted us to contact him with any questions we had, so that we could deliver to him the most useful reports possible. We also plan to welcome Peter at UIUC later in the semester, at which time he will be able to interact with the entire class, not just the travel team.

After exchanging money at a nearby bank, we went to a market for some souvenir shopping. We wandered and shopped and haggled for around two hours. Haggling was new and fun for much of the team, and was (mostly) successful. The team returned to the hotel satisfied.

Brandon and Mingming browse merchandise.

We then had a very long time until our flight and nothing planned to fill the time. After the hectic schedule of the past week, the open time seemed out of place. These leisurely hours put me, at least, in a state of dread for our very long journey home. Sitting and waiting will be all we can do for the next many hours.

Our last meal in Uganda.

Day 8: Peter’s Farm

February 10th, 2017 by Jack Morrissey 

Today after sleeping in and a well-earned breakfast we drove to our host, Peter Luswata’s model farm just outside of Kampala. On just 3.7 acres of land, Peter grows passion fruit and bananas, in addition to raising pigs.

Peter houses this cute little guy, and lots more, in a cost-efficient and sustainable wooden structure with tarp lining.

After admiring the dozens of piglets we saw Peter’s anaerobic digester, which he uses to create biogas from the pig manure that can be used for cooking and lighting as well as potentially being compressed into cylinders. The biogas system Peter is using is the first of its kind in Africa and is one of the many urban farming innovations that Peter hopes to teach his fellow Ugandans about in order to improve their productivity and quality of life.

Kazami inspecting the anaerobic digester

After visiting the farm the team went to see some traditional Ugandan dancing and had a nice farewell dinner in Kampala. At the end of the show everyone got on the stage with the performers and we learned some moves of our own.

Day 7: Safari!

February 9th, 2017 by Mingming Gui

Today is the day full of excitements. It is the safari day. Departure time: 5 AM.

We sit on top of safari cars.

We got to hang out with many friends from Lion King: warthogs, lions, elephants, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, impalas, monkeys…

We went on a boat ride and short hike.

We witnessed the magnificent water fails in Murchison Falls National Park.

Today is also the day full of stresses.

One car broke down inside of the Park.

Another car broke down on the way to Kampala.

A lot of great bonding happened.

It was a fun day. Arrival time: 10:30 PM.

Day 6: Last Field Day

February 8th, 2017 by Krish Saxena and Jessica Villie

Having had a long two days in the Bweyale area, the team prepared for the penultimate day here. After a sumptuous breakfast highlighted by some juicy pineapple juice, the team convened to plan for our first stop- the Arnold Primary School, which is partly funded by the UNHCR. It was an overwhelming sight to see the students pouring out of their classrooms and surrounding us with curiosity as we stepped into the yard. A hundred handshakes and plenty of pictures later, the team finally proceeded with the teachers to a larger compound for a short presentation on good drinking water practices. The team specifically educated the students on the use of WaterGuard before drinking water drawn from wells, the ill effects of excessive fluoride in water and the invisible transfer of dangerous pathogens through contact.

We learned that the school has a severe shortage of funds, which was evident in a regrettable student-teacher ratio of almost 180. After surveying the compound, it was determined that there was great potential for rainwater harvesting on the large roofs of the school buildings, and for the construction of a storage tank to hold municipal water in times of shortage. Two borewells were also surveyed in close proximity to the school (~100m radius) and the water was found to be turbid in one and with high amounts of chlorine in the other.

The team headed back to the hotel to brainstorm potential projects that could be implemented in the communities visited so far. Following this, part of the team visited the Kiryondongo General Hospital to collect water samples for microbial tests. Also, the hospital administrator gave us a tour of their laboratory, in which approximately 80% of their lab work consists of testing for Malaria. The other part of the team headed to Cluster E in the Kiryondongo Refugee Settlement to interview refugees at their homes where we also collected some water samples. In one of the interviews, the mother informed us that if she gets to the borehole at 7 a.m. then she will return to her home around 1 p.m. Even though the borehole is only about 1 km away from the village, people will get there hours before the well is open just to get their spot in line. Other households told us that the water does not taste good and frequently causes headaches and stomach aches. After the interviews, the team returned to the hotel early to finish up lab work before dinner due to a very early start the next day!

Interacting with young students at the primary school.

Day 5: Second Day in the Field

February 7th, 2017 by Xiaorui (Sharon) Wu and Anjana Krishnan

Today we finally got the chance to visit the host community and explore their daily life. In the morning, we stopped at a large family with 20 people, including 12 children. The first thing that caught our eyes was a pot set to boil water, which suggested that the family had good drinking practices. The whole family, as well as some residents nearby, drew water from a shallow well built in the center of their yard. This facilitated their life to a large extent: with a nearby well, they did not have to walk long distances to get water from a borehole.

Collecting water from the well

The CEE 449 team members worked as two groups: one of them taking samples from the well while the other interviewed some of the family members and their neighbors. While taking samples, our group observed some latrines just a few steps from the shallow well, causing potential risks to well water due to cross-contamination. Our testing results confirmed the existence of fecal contamination – we found ammonia in the water, with its concentration exceeding the regulation value. Next, we stopped briefly to collect a water sample from an open spring, before arriving at a borehole to collect samples and interview people lining up around it to collect water.


Field water testing

In the afternoon, our team visited a secondary school at the Kiryandongo refugee settlement. There, we had some fun demos about the effectiveness of chlorine in disinfection and the effects of fluoride on teeth. We also collected information about the school’s rainwater harvesting system, their solar lighting backup, and local water sourcing and consumption patterns. We then returned to our hotel for a night of lab work testing the samples for various water quality parameters.

Measuring roof height for solar panel placement

An interesting finding of the day was that that local people generally preferred borehole water to chlorine-treated tap water, due to lower cost and better perceived taste. This encouraged us to brainstorm ways to make our final design more acceptable in terms of social factors such as taste, as well as in terms of water quality.

Day 4: First Day in the Field

February 6th, 2017 by Hannah Perl

Waking up for 7:30 AM breakfast was tough after our late night last night! But breakfast was worth it! Fried eggs, spaghetti, bread, peanut butter and jelly, and fruit set us up for our long first day conducting fieldwork. A lot of us tried the jackfruit for the first time- it was super sweet, kind of like pineapple! We started the day at a meeting with the assistant commandant of the refugee settlement to be briefed and then went out to collect our samples at a nearby borehole. We conducted interviews with refugees and collected some water quality data. It was so interesting to see the process every household must go through to get water to use and drink. It made us all realize how much we take for granted at home. After the refugee settlement we went back to the Max Hotel for a large lunch! After lunch we visited a groundwater treatment and distribution area to learn about what changes could be made at the distribution level to get water to more people. We took water samples there as well. Our final stop of the day was to a water tower within a community. We took samples from the communal tap where jerry cans, the container water is transported in from the borehole to the homes, are filled as well as visited homes to get samples from within their own personal taps. Some more interviews were conducted then. After our dinner we started our first evening of lab work to test for contaminants and double-check our field data. No one was used to the intense heat so even with a really exciting day, we were all worn out! Ready for sleep and another great day tomorrow!!