A Student in Uganda Makes Water Safe to Drink

Thursday, May 3, 2012
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In 2011, during a service trip to Lukodi, Uganda, Kayla Mineau was just starting to test one of the community wells when cows came up and began drinking from it. That every day act, so typical of village life in the rural countryside, is just one of the problems she and other members of UNH’s Students Without Borders faced while trying to bring safe drinking water to the area.

“A lot of the people know there is a problem with the water because they get sick when they drink it, but they don’t know why,” says Mineau who is preparing for her second trip to the East African nation to help address its water problems. “We saw people drinking from rivers that were glowing with contamination.”

Students Without Borders is the local group of Engineers Without Borders, an organization that does development work nationally and internationally to help disadvantaged communities meet their basic human needs. All of the work done by the UNH arm is water related. Mineau is president of the group.

Lukodi is a village of about 5,000 in Northern Uganda that was the site of a massacre by the Lord’s Resistance Army in 2004. People live in mud huts with grass roofs. There is a market and a school where skills are taught.

a child getting water in Uganda

Mineau, an environmental engineering major, became involved with Students Without Borders in 2008 when she was a freshman. Last summer she traveled to Lukodi with Tom Ballestero, associate professor of civil engineering, and Alex Pape, also a member of SWOB, to assess the water situation in Lukodi. On May 27, she will go back to begin work on a new well.

The initial assessment involved testing various wells and reaching out to the village community to teach them how to keep the drinking water clean. Only two of 13 wells tested were safe to drink from; the other 11 were contaminated with E. coli and coliform.

“We need to get the current wells clean and functioning,” Mineau says of the upcoming trip. “The people don’t make the connection between sharing their drinking water with animals. The wells have only a tiny little fence around them.”

That means that even after the unsafe wells have been shocked clean with chlorine, they aren’t likely to stay that way. During this year’s trip, the team plans to drill a well and install a hand pump. They also will work to repair broken wells, and to create better well protection. In the process they will educate village members.

“Hopefully, we can get them to form a water committee to teach them about keeping the wells clean, and how to make repairs,” Mineau says. “It’s important to make these efforts sustainable.”

When SWOBs goes to a country, they make a five-year commitment to ensure the projects will thrive. Engaging the people of the area is a large component of that success. The work in Uganda has been community driven, Mineau says.

In addition to the well work, other SWOB projects include designing a drip irrigation system to be implemented in the future, designing a biomass press to make fuel pellets out of native grass, and building a windmill out of spare car parts.

“Everything we design can be built in country,” Mineau says. “That way, if something breaks, they can fix it themselves.”

Of her work with SWOB, Mineau says, “The fact that I can take what I’ve learned in class and apply it to help people is really incredible. Working with Students without Borders has definitely become a huge part of who I am.”

Originally published by:

UNH Today

Written by Jody Record, UNH Media Relations