Monday, April 20, 2009

No Water

"Do you have a jerry can?"
"" I replied.

I have been living in a small building behind the house of a local pastor for 3 days now, and everything had been great up to this point. It's small, but comfortable and has everything I need. However, when I got home this afternoon and went to draw water to cook some beans (they take forever!), nothing came out of the tap. Uh - I hadn't expected that. I waited an hour, but still no water. Finally I asked if the front house had water, and I was told that they did, but that this was probably because of the water storage tank (that my building is not connected to).

Turns out that even out here, about 1.5 miles from the center of Mbarara, there is city water supplied to homes. And sometimes it goes out, just like the electricity. That would explain the storage tanks placed on 12ft high platforms that I have seen around homes. And so without city water, I was given a large bucket of water. I can boil it and then use it for cooking and cleaning, and I have a UV purifier for drinking water (I will do a separate post on that later - it's great!). As long as the outage doesn't last long, it's no big deal. But it's an unexpected, first-hand look at what I imagine I'll be seeing a lot more of in the next few months.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Designing a World of Hope

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to visit the construction site for a project designed by Engineering Ministries International, a Christian organization that brings together design professionals to work on projects in the developing world. This particular project is to be a primary school for orphaned and low-income children who participate in a choir that tours the United States, Canada and Europe.

The project is being built to the highest standards, but that doesn't mean that it's being built like a western building. The walls are constructed of brick and mortar, with concrete columns to support the weight of the roof and provide rigidity (yes, there are earthquakes in Uganda!). The tin roof will have a dropped ceiling to support light fixtures and provide good acoustics (a brief tangent - this is important because the buildings here are very echo-y. The exposed concrete is needed to keep the building cool, but it comes at the cost of bad acoustics). Additionally, all doors, access ways and ramps will be ADA-compliant. The high ceilings will stratify the air, and the open ceiling will let that air out through the top of the building, allowing fresh air to enter through open windows at ground level.

The project is also good experience for the Ugandan construction team because they get the opportunity to work on a high-profile (and well-funded) project. It also is an opportunity to see a modified and improved method of construction. It's a method appropriate for long-term maintanance, comfort and safety.

More photos

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Development Quandry: Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi is a beautiful, peaceful lake in Uganda near the border with Rwanda. Steep terraced farms fall down towards the water in a patchwork of greens and browns, dotted with the shiny reflections of tin farm house roofs. The deepest lake in Uganda at 6,500 ft, it has a series of islands dotted throughout.


Until about 15 years ago, there was nothing in the area but the farms and the fisherman who scoot about the lake in their powerboats. But in the mid-nineties, a group of Chrisitan missionaries started a small camp for tourists on one of the islands. Over time, the camp became a modest tourist attraction, and other entreprenours took notice. Today, there are now more than 10 different resorts hugging the hilly edges of the lake. Each has their own piece of the market, catering to backpackers all the way up to posh full service cottages.

The tourist economy created by these resorts has brought a lot of good things to the area - jobs at the resorts, supporting jobs such as transportation, and a market for local handicrafts. These things are "sustainable" in that they don't need outside input to keep the development moving forward (other than tourist money of course, but every industry needs its investment source). Sustainability is an important goal in development work because it means that the people being helped are now capable of supporting themselves, so that development money can be spent elsewhere.

However, this success has its downsides. The resorts have pushed up the value of the land around the lake, meaning that as the population grows young farmers do not have enough money to purchase land to start their own farms and raise a family as they always expected to do. Tenant farmers could be forced off their land. And that valuable land? It's likely to be purchased by foreigners (muzungu's) to start a new resort or build a fancy vacation home. Clearly, every change has positive and negative ramifications. Less clear is the net benefit the resorts have brought to the Lake Bunyonyi region.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I confess that I've seen the Steve Miller Band in concert not once, but twice. A big name in the 70's, a lot of people probably wouldn't know them today. But regardless, I was humming their hit "Jet Airliner" over and over in my head as the plane took off for Uganda on Monday:

Big ol' Jet Airliner, don't carry me too far away, big ol' jet airliner, 'cause it's here that I've got to stay

The song goes on about leaving trusted friends behind until returning home. I know I'm leaving many trusted people behind to see what international development looks like in real life. At this point it's an open book.

I arrived today in the early morning, then spent the entire day trying not to fall asleep so I could beat the jet lag as quickly as possible. It's funny how the head can more or less completely understand what's going on with the body being totally confused. And in the end the body usually wins no matter what the mind wants.

Hopefully I'll be back to normal by Monday when I will be meeting with ACTS to learn more about their work in Uganda and what a partnership with them might look like.