A course in humanitarian engineering organized by Fontes Foundation for Engineers Without Borders Norway was a great success.
What does it take to carry out a successful engineering project in an African context? This was the key question of the “Humanitarian Engineering in Practice” course carried out by Fontes Foundation in early May this year. A group of eleven engineers from a wide area of fields such as civil engineering, water and wastewater engineering, ICT and marine technology participated in the ten-day field course held in southwestern Uganda. The overall goal of the course was for the participants to gain skill in how to work with engineering projects in emergency aid or development projects. Facilitated by Andreas Koestler, Director of Fontes Foundation, and Luke Dokter, Director of EWB Norway, the team faced the task of installing a solar power system and a new water intake for the safe water supply project in Kashaka fishing village.
Although the technical solution is not complicated in itself, implementing it under these particular circumstances is not that easy. The real challenges of implementing or improving a water system in rural Africa lie in the adaptation to social and cultural values as well as the rules of the respective society, which differ substantially from European approaches. Already in Kampala while preparing for the field trip the course participants quickly realised the crucial importance of drawing on local knowledge and resources.
In Kashaka, after a cultural briefing from the Fontes Foundation staff, the EWB team was first required to complete both technical and socio-economic assessments to get an overview of the situation in the village. With a view of informing the people of Kashaka about the purpose of the visit and ensuring cooperative collaboration, a community meeting was held to officially introduce the visitors from Norway. The involvement of the local population is crucial to develop a sense of ownership for the project among the beneficiaries. For this reason, the EWB team was actively involving the local community into the entire construction process of both the solar panels and the water intake.
After a week of hard work the water intake and the pump were firmly installed in the lake bed. At the same time the solar panels were installed providing the much-needed power to run the water pump properly. The big benefit of the solar panels is that there is no more need to pay for fuel for the pumping of the clean water. The team also installed a new fence around the pump house and the tanks to protect them from unauthorized people, playing children and animals such as hippos. The successful implementation was largely possible thanks to a very motivated and interested EWB team and the hardworking local population.
The “Humanitarian Engineering in Practice” course was a great success. Not only was all the intended hardware installed, the participants learnt a lot about working in an African setting and gained important insights into Ugandan culture, especially in rural areas. The post-course evaluation revealed that the engineers’ perception and understanding of sustainable, long-term development aid changed substantially during the ten days spent in the field and thus one of the main goals of the entire project was achieved.
The importance of considering the circumstances under which engineering projects take place was one of the main lessons learnt for EWB. The course for “Humanitarian Engineering in Practice” was also an important event for Fontes Foundation and its entire team, with great personal and professional relationships formed. As many of the participants want to work in the field of development assistance in their future careers, Fontes Foundation was able to contribute to the building up of new capacities and the promising professionals in this sector.