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Engineering for Humanity

Clean water. Hot food. Safe roads. These are everyday necessities. But for many people, they are still out of reach.

RedR UK has embarked on an innovative partnership to support exciting humanitarian engineering innovations looking to meet some of these challenges. This is in collaboration with the Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE) and the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) at Makerere University, and made possible thanks to generous donations from WSP, Ramboll, and The Royal Academy of Engineering.

First, our Humanitarian Skills for Engineers training course strengthened the capacity of engineers in Uganda to lead such a project. Then, participants were awarded a microgrant of £3000 to enable them to practice the new skills acquired in the training, in partnership with a local NGO, for the benefit of a local community. Read on for the transformation brought by four different projects completed across Uganda.

Annet Nsiimire: Clean Energy and new life in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement

The Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement in South-western Uganda is home to more than 78,000 people. Most are women and children, who have fled over the border from the conflict in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwamwanja had an urgent need for clean energy. At the Mahani reception centre, residents with specific health issues receive cooked meals. The clean energy system used by the residents was, however, in disrepair and difficult to use.

Annet Nsiimire was able to use her microgrant to bring change. She began a partnership with NGO Advance Africa to renovate twelve cooking stoves at Mahani, allowing the residents to cook with clean energy. The installation also included dimmer switches to allow heat to be regulated, greatly improving the cooking experience.

The project team after a successful demo.
The project team after a successful demo.

For Annet, it was a significant priority to empower the women and girls in Rwamwanja to use clean energy. Almost all households sampled in Annet’s community engagement exercise use firewood as a primary fuel, taking women and girls a minimum of two hours per day, every day, to collect. “It takes not less than six hours to collect firewood and get back home”, said one respondent. The women in Rwamwanja explained that in such daily journeys, the women and girls who go risk violent attack and sexual abuse, as well other threats such as snake bites. “Many times”, explained another respondent, “children are abused and beaten by landowners when looking for fuel, which may include agricultural residues and dung. Running away, they are cut by barbed wire.” Another respondent revealed that “the energy crisis is worse for refugees, because trees in settlement zones are marked, and no refugee is allowed to cut any tree. Members of the host community cut them.”

“Collection and use of fuels is a life-threatening activity”, says Annet. The use of clean energy, however, liberates women and girls from this dangerous daily labour, which causes conflict and degrades the environment. Annet has already seen the impact of repairing the clean energy stoves.

“Immediately after the project,” she says, “new arrivals came in, two mothers among them and gave birth. Because of the easy access to clean fuel, it was very easy to fix quick meals and access warm water to bathe the newborn babies. When I heard of this it was really fulfilling to my heart. Our project was making a difference in the community, supporting the babies’ first moments along with their mothers at such a significant time.”

Annet is now a Trainer on the Humanitarian Skills for Engineers course, passing on her skills and experience to new cohorts of humanitarian engineers, and multiplying the impact of her expertise.

Demonstrating the new stoves to residents
Demonstrating the new stoves to residents

Oryem John Speke: Access and empowerment in Iyer Communities

The rural access road to the Iyer village communities in Agago District, Northern Uganda, is often submerged. During the rainy season, residents are forced to travel an extra ten kilometres for basic services. No vehicles reach them. Humanitarian Skills for Engineers participant Oryem John Speke met members of the Organisation for African Social Development (OASD) at a RedR UK event in Kampala. With RedR UK microgrant funding, they planned a project to install culverts and drainage systems under the road, to transform the lives of people in the three Iyer village communities.

Previous culverts installed to draw water away from the road were not effective – they had been laid as part of political campaigns, without professional guidance. John’s team reinstalled this old material, along with a new bridge, so that the way to markets, employment opportunities, and health and education facilities would never be cut off by floodwater. The new culverts were tried and tested during the rainy season in April and May, where they swept away flash flood water without affecting the new bridge or the road.

Newly installed culverts
Newly installed culverts

At the heart of the project's success lies community mobilisation. John and the dedicated OASD team collaborated tirelessly, engaging local and district leaders, stakeholders, and community members with the right message. “There has been an increase in the community’s awareness of their role in community development”, says John. The people of Iyer were mobilised to provide local resources, including finance, tools, and labour. “The project has also promoted unity in the community”.

A significant achievement was the participation of women and girls. John took care to ensure they contributed to the decision-making process and planning, as well as implementation. “I helped them to know that they can do anything the men do, from setting out project site and masonry, to clearance of the site, and the reinstatement of the environment”, shares John. “I had to give them opportunities to show what they are capable of”. 20 women and girls worked on the installation of the project. “Thus,” explains John, “women have come to learn and participate in the community at large, and they are seen as valuable. When it started, people in the community would say that women cannot do this job. But during implementation phase, they were seeing the benefits!”

The Iyer communities still face many challenges, including the most pressing – no access to safe water during dry seasons. OASD has introduced a social development plan to community members. They will continue to work with them in the coming months, opening an office at Iyer Tekulo to implement more life-changing projects.

John and OASD have already jointly written a proposal for water supply, irrigation, and a solar powered water pump, and they are now looking for a sponsor to help provide clean water year-round for the whole Iyer community, as well as installing additional culverts for other access roads.

Site clearance with local community members at the Iyer swamp.
Site clearance with local community members at the Iyer swamp.

Swaib Semiyaga: Water and welcome at Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement

Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Madi-Okollo, northwestern Uganda, houses more than 130,000 refugees. Most of them have fled conflict in South Sudan.

Engineer Swaib Semiyaga, a Humanitarian Skills for Engineers participant, used a RedR UK microgrant to bring change for new arrivals to the settlement, partnering with the Arua District Water and Sanitation Association (ADWASA).

Two refugee reception centers in the Rhino Camp Settlement did not have easy-to-use handwashing points. Swaib explains, “a WASH project in a refugee setting requires regular maintenance to ensure that channel blockages and leakages are worked on. Pipes and valves are always vandalized.”

Working with ADWASA, Swaib coordinated the installation of four new water points, with reduced energy needs from previous models. The ease-of-use system eliminates valves at the user end point. They have improved the handwashing practice in the reception centres, encouraging new arrivals to use the taps in a safe and non-destructive way. 

The team’s vision is to expand this successful initiative to other humanitarian settings, enabling more communities to benefit from improved WASH practices. Through their dedication and innovation, they have proven that small changes can make a big difference in transforming lives in even the most challenging of settings.

The header tank installed at Ochia refugee reception centre that supplies the two handwashing points.
The header tank installed at Ochia refugee reception centre that supplies the two handwashing points.

Taban Denis: Protection for young girls in Kira, Bweyogerere

In the heart of Wakiso district, engineer Taban Denis partnered with the Teenage Mothers and Child Support Foundation (TMCSF), to bring about a life-changing project - the construction of a community spring well.

This initiative aimed not only to provide safe water for thousands of households, but also to protect girls from teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

Prior to the project, the local community relied on a shallow and contaminated ponded spring for their water needs. The spring was often polluted by runoff surface water during rainy seasons, and littered with plastic. For 3,500 households, this meant compromising their health and well-being on a daily basis.

The community water source before the project.
The community water source before the project.

The success of the project lay in the collaboration between TMCSF and the local community. Welcomed warmly by the community, TMCSF had an already established presence, and a relationship of trust that is so crucial in such a project. As Taban explains, “There were fears of being asked to pay for the water after the construction works, but the community was assured that fetching water from this spring well will be completely free, and they would only be required to do some minor maintenance works around the spring well would be required.”

Over community training sessions and Community Sensitization Workshops, more than 200 participants learned how to use and maintain the new well.

So far, the impact has been momentous. The time spent at the well for young girls has reduced, reducing the risk to them. A readily available water source has led to a general improvement in public hygiene. Handwashing was a low priority for the community when the nearest water source was far away and costly. The clean water will reduce the spread of waterborne diseases. There has also been an economic benefit. The new well is free of charge, and the community now uses the money elsewhere.

Plans are already underway to assess further needs and develop additional project proposals for funding. As the journey continues, the hope is that more funding partners will join in this cause, expanding the reach and impact of their humanitarian efforts.

Opening the new well.
Opening the new well.

Joining humanitarian and engineering expertise, these projects have assisted communities to respond to disaster and prepare for upcoming risks. Affected communities are empowered to safeguard their local environment, their health, and their economic prospects.

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