This year Engineers Without Borders Ireland ran their first ever international placement. Mark Kenny, a Trinity Engineering Graduate discusses some of the highs and lows of his experience volunteering for a Ugandan NGO.
This year I had the opportunity to volunteer in Uganda through Engineers without borders Ireland. I was working with a water and sanitation NGO, the Busoga Trust, researching well construction methods to determine the most effective methods for Uganda in particular.
Initially I was observing the day to day operations that the technical team were conducting. I travelled with the team to visit various regions where wells were being constructed and sited. At the sites which we visited, there were many wells at the various stages of construction. This allowed me to gain an understanding of the current methods used for construction and siting so that I could compare them to alternative methods during my research.
Most of my work was based in a town, Jinja. I travelled to some different and more rural areas of Uganda to assess the similarities and differences between construction methods in each region. This allowed me to see how other organisations approached the challenges associated with the provision of improved water sources and sanitation. It also highlighted the varying effectiveness of some methods due to the differences in each area such as soil types and the average depth of the water table.
The placement was an amazing experience both professionally and personally. I was introduced to an extremely different culture and working environment. The placement really highlighted the importance of the social and cultural aspects of a project. It was incredibly important to speak with the people in the villages who were going to be using the wells after construction. Occasionally they could determine the feasibility of a solution much more accurately. Engineers are sometimes tempted to recommend the technologically superior solution without considering all the factors. Many seemingly appropriate solutions were dismissed due to cultural or practical reasons after a brief conversation with the locals.
This particular internship was research based and as a result the outcome was a report detailing best practices for well construction in Uganda. The report was successful in answering the questions which were outlined at the beginning of the project. These answers either confirm the effectiveness of current practices or offer suggestions to improve. It was a challenging research project and it was incredible to have the support of Engineers Without Borders and other professionals during the placement. Overall it was a great experience and any future placements will be an invaluable experience for engineering students and graduates alike.
Mark Kenny, EWB Ireland Placement Volunteer