Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Trying to stay a step ahead of the “one step back”

One of the things that has characterized some of my frustrations working with the water project are the steps backward that we sometimes take.  In my 9 months in Bundibugyo, the water project has been sabotaged 3-4 times (it gets hard to remember).  Sometimes it has been ignorance – a child wondering into the area housing the reservoir tanks and grabbing a 1/2” GI pipe that acts as a snorkel for the system and breaking it off.  (a snorkel is a pipe that allows air into the system when it is turned off to ensure that the HDPE pipes don’t collapse under the vacuum of water and surrounding soil pressure.  By nature, they have to be taller than the static pressure head so that water doesn’t come out of them.  At the reservoir tanks, they are 10’ tall and connected at only one end which means that not much force is required to break them off).  Sometimes it has been thievery – someone cutting some metal pipe for their own personal use.  And sometimes, heartbreakingly, it has been intentional sabotage to prevent other’s access to drinking water, which happened during recent tribal conflict.  Thus,  I have spent time planning, designing, and fabricating countermeasures with the help of my Ugandan friends.


The first step has been installing a new door at the reservoir tank compound.  There had been a wooden door installed there when the tanks had been first completed, but a long time ago it had rotted away  (I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t even there in 06-07 when I did my internship in BGO).  Hopefully this door can last for years (praying maybe decades).


The next step was ‘glassing’ the upper rim of an unprotected section on one of the reservoir tanks.  The height of this tank was low enough to pull yourself up to get access to the top of the tanks (I know, I used to do it regularly).  With the door in place, it would be simple to bypass by jumping to the top of the tanks.  While neither of these measures have transformed the tanks into an impenetrable fortress, I’m hoping that they will greatly reduce vandalism.

The other area that needed attention was the sedimentation basin.  This is a specially designed tank at the source to remove some dirt, sand, and other particles by gravity before sending the water down the pipes to the communities below.  This was the location of intentional sabotage about a month ago to prevent people in the villages below from having access to water. 


These are the unprotected, plastic HPDE pipes that leave the sedimentation basin and bring water to the villages below.  On the bottom pipe you can see black tire tubes that were utilized to repair the cut that a machete made in the pipe.  These pipes are 110mm, which make them difficult and expensive to repair. We were fortunate that the saboteur had only made one cut in the pipe and that it was repairable by the inexpensive tire tube method.  I purchased a 110mm HDPE Union in Kampala incase this repair didn’t hold and it ran me about $56.  I now have it for a backup in the future. 

Even though we didn’t have to do this specific repair, as a financial comparison, adding local labor to help make a repair would increase the cost to about $70 (Material plus 4 Laborers to help with excavation and positioning the pipe).  This represents about 60% of what the local water committee is currently able to collect in one quarter from its small user fees and 15% of the annual budget.  For one repair. Turns out sabotage is not sustainable.  Repairs to the water system can cost between $2 to over $70 per repair depending on the nature of the problem. Currently my assistance in materials and money for labor is subsidizing the local water committee at somewhere around 80%.  There is a long road ahead to make this project sustainable and it is overwhelming to realize that it is grossly underserving the community and needs large expansion projects to increase supply.


These are the pipe covers that I designed and had a local technician fabricate to protect the 4 feet of HDPE pipe when it leaves the sedimentation basin.


Here’s the installation of the metal covers, the one on the right has already been bolted into place.  The remaining exposed pipe was inside the trench and was recovered by soil afterwards.  Total project costs of trying to prevent those “steps back” (door, masonry, metal covers, and labor) was about $170. 

Friday, August 03, 2012


This little joy is named Joshua.  I’m not really sure if he was named after me or we just share a common name, but his father seemed very proud to tell me that his wife had just “produced” and that the boy’s name was Joshua.  Either way, I’ll take it as a complement and enjoy the moment:


(Me holding little Joshua at his house)


(My friend Byamaka, his wife, and little Joshua)


(The little guy getting a little sleepy and ready for an afternoon nap)


I really enjoyed sitting with my friend and his family, asking questions as to what they thought he would be when he got older (the most common answer was doctor).  It was fun to be able to hold his little body and play with his miniature toes and just sit with the family for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Heavy Rain and Heavy Hearts

So it doesn’t escape my thoughts that I live in a rainforest.  It’s just sometimes I remember it more than others.  So the past two weeks we have had a deluge of rain and not the 5 minute afternoon rain shower variety – I’m talking the all night thunderstorm where the lightning feels like it’s in your bedroom and you wake up to find out that the water is in your bedroom.  This happened to one of our mission houses this weekend. 


(Chrissy modeling the gumboots in the house look)


It turns out that the water level outside the house was about 4 inches above the soil line at the back of the house which created a not so good situation hydraulically with the shower soak pit allowing water to backflow into the house via the shower drain.  Beyond house flooding, the rains have made one of my other occasional tasks – air traffic controller – significantly more difficult.  About a week ago, I spent the entire day coordinating with MAF Uganda to get a plane in and out of our airstrip under less than ideal conditions. 


(The MAF pilot did an AMAZING job landing through the mud)

The whole day was definitely an adventure and when the pilot stepped out of the plane and asked, “hey, did you get that on video,” it pretty much affirmed to me that it wasn’t every day you land in that kind of mud. 


One of the harder things about these rains has been the whole climate of this region this year.  This past dry season in Jan-Feb was MUCH drier than normal (it didn’t rain once for over 35 days!).  This really affected the food gardens that so many people rely on here.  The drought caused local food to run out quickly and people here quickly ran out of money to buy imported food.  This has affected all of life and many students haven’t been able to pay school fees for the second term as a result (I believe that Christ School Bundibugyo, the secondary school that WHM runs, had only received about 33% of student fees a week before the term ended – it’s really left our mission trying to scramble to keep the school open by paying the Ugandan teachers salaries and have food for the students.  It’s pretty much on crisis fundraising mode just to be able to open up again for the final term of the year in August. If you would like to help out the school, it might be one of the best ways that you could use your money: http://www.whm.org/project/details?ID=11024)

In March the rains began coming regularly, and we all rejoiced in what we were hoping would be a bountiful local harvest about 3-5 months later (depending on crops).  The problem has been that the rains, which should have slowed to about 1/week in June/July, haven’t stopped.  In fact, they’ve increased.  The past two weeks have been completely overcast with a major rainstorm about once/day.  I have a friend whose garden was washed away in a combination flood landslide that happened this weekend. 


(This is the view from above my friends food garden.  He lost all of his g-nuts and beans, and some of his bananas)

I went with him to his garden just to mourn the loss with him.  Many others I’ve talked to have suffered the same thing or had what was left in their gardens slowly stolen by thieves (who are likely neighbors who had their crops destroyed).  It makes life here heavy sometimes as we move from crisis to crisis.


The newest crisis to come to Uganda is a new Ebola outbreak (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/07/31/157647569/as-ebola-cases-rise-in-uganda-health-workers-seek-to-contain-virus?ps=sh_sthdl).  I’ve known about it for a week now (or maybe it seems like a week as a few days can seem like a long time).  It’s sad and hard.  People here remember so freshly when Ebola was in Bundibugyo in 2007.  I remember how it affected my missionary friends and how we lost a really good Ugandan friend I had worked with during my summer internship.  Here, we are praying for those in Kibaale district and for God’s protection and isolation of this highly infectious and deadly disease.


I would love your continued prayers for me and for Bundibugyo.  I haven’t even been able to get into the details or frustrations on the water project, or how I pulled a muscle and/or bruised a rib last week (and it still hurts), or how my truck is still delayed in Kampala, or how 3-5 people come to my door per day looking for food/work/money.  Ministry is hard here and it is so easy to become weary.


“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust,’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

Psalm 91: 1-4