EWB Member Bios
After going to Bbanda in July, 2009, members of the EWB talked about the experience they had in Uganda, and how they had been changed.
I notice a lot of things now that I’m home. No one is outside (in the suburbs). And there are a lot of excesses that I’m not… ambivalent about, anymore. As a person, I feel calmer and more confident, and I want to do more around my own community. I think what is awesome about EWB is that it puts you in a very different context and has you try to be as good a person and engineer as you can be. This helped me to think critically and to look at issues from another context. I think what I realized the most about was how I function in a group and how I could work better with other people.
“Today you are not going to school. Today you are going to fetch water.” In Bbanda, these are sentences that children hear too often from their parents, grandparents or guardians. As if these children don’t have enough problems with overcrowded schools and a shortage of books, they have to spend hours each day hauling heavy jugs of water from the wells to their homes. There is only so much that good teachers can do when their students come to school sick, overworked, undernourished, or don’t show up at all because they’re home hauling water. Are we going to be able to help these people? I certainly hope so. We met so many bright, hardworking, motivated people on this trip. But they all spend so much time dealing with the mechanics of survival that they have little strength left for improving their situation. Having spent a couple of weeks in the village, my sense is of a community poised on the edge of brighter days. With a little outside help, they can begin to transform their daily tasks from a focus on surviving to a focus on living. And with that shift they will begin to have the capacity to develop themselves and their children and will be able to chart their own course into the future.
That’s the miracle of EWB.
My experiences in Uganda affected me in a way that is hard to explain in writing. It is something that you have to see for yourself to really understand. Over the past few years I have read innumerable books about third world countries and talked to people that have spent extensive amounts of time in areas similar to Bbanda. I had heard how many people get their water from sources which animals drink out of or how children walk miles to school every morning, and I thought I understood. I had no idea. It takes seeing a little girl carried up the road and into an unstaffed health clinic bleeding from the head because she was hit by a boda boda on her walk to school, or talking to a seven year old boy who should be in his P4 class right now but instead is carrying a twenty liter jerry can a mile to his home so that his family can eat today. These villagers live in poverty, yet life goes on. They still manage to be the happiest, most welcoming and generous people I have ever encountered in my life. It is truly inspiring.
During the assessment we were constantly reminded that water is a critical missing component for so many developing areas. Education fuels development, and when the children had to collect water instead of attending school, they miss an important opportunity. Time spent boiling water to kill bacteria also wastes time better spent. On top of that, the obvious effects of contaminated or insufficient quantities of water were evident. We saw their system work, but it was clear that they spend so much of their day just doing what they need to survive, that there is just not enough time to work on other things in need of improvement. I was very impressed with Uganda; they have plans for development, ambitious goals for healthcare and education, and people willing to put plans into action. Similar to most of the world, however, Uganda doesn’t have money to bring every person up to the standard of living necessary to function productively. Something that made an impression on me was that when we visited the health clinics, there were records, when we went to government offices, they produced development reports and a census for us. It really made me hopeful when I saw these indicators that people have been acting to address problems of development in the county. There is a ton of work to be done, and problems with official corruption exist, but progress is evident. I had anticipated a significantly lower level of government involvement in the rural area where we work. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the government was actively involved in healthcare, and funding various agricultural projects. For all their good intentions however, government aided water projects in the area have a high rate of failure. The villagers were very warm, welcoming, and friendly. We were invited into homes numerous times and treated with incredible kindness everywhere we went. Due to their welcoming nature, interest in community meetings, willingness to voice their opinions, and desire to share, I felt that I was afforded the opportunity to experience their culture on a more involved level. On EWB trips I always learn a lot from the people we work with, one of the many lessons this time was the importance of community, and especially when challenges arise, how important it is to rally together to accomplish important goals. They involve the entire community regardless of religion or ideals, recognize the strength of a united effort, and most importantly understand that each individual is an integral part of the group and must contribute. One thing they made clear was that they’re ready to go; I hope that we’re able to rise to that challenge, and work together with Bbanda to establish reliable access to clean water.
I’ve seen poverty in Jamaica. I’ve seen it in Mexico, I’ve seen it in the foothills of Vermont…under bridges in Boston, or in back alleys in San Francisco. There was the slums of Atlanta…and the Bronx in New York City. It was less evident in Rome, but I saw it there still, and I told off beggars in Athens. Poverty is everywhere. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen a lot of the world for a twenty-year old, but I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced anything like rural East Africa. We might refer to the people that inhabit these rolling hills and sprawling plains as the “bottom billion” or the “poorest of the poor”…but I’ve never met a happier, more gracious society; a people more concerned with the smile on their neighbors faces than whether or not the day’s work had been completed. Even the very sick smile, even the very poor give everything they have to a stranger, especially a white man visiting their home. One of my most memorable moments of the trip came when a young girl of about three or four years handed me three eggs simply as a token of gratitude for giving a health survey to her family, thus allowing their voices to be heard in any project decision we eventually made. We hadn’t yet done anything for this girl, and these eggs were probably her dinner that she would now go without, and yet she gave them to us simply for showing up. This left a deep mark on me, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of her smiling face… it only inspires me to work harder to develop a system for this village so that I may possibly return someday to implement it. I think the most important lesson I took away from this trip was the fact that water is the source of the majority of the problems that the world’s poor face each and every day. I went to Africa thinking that if only these people had an education, they might be able to develop their own systems and further their own societies, and thus why wouldn’t we start with schools? While this is the case, it simply cannot happen in this order. Children around the world miss millions of hours of school each year due to either illnesses resulting from a lack of clean drinking water, or simply because they spend so much time fetching water for their families they have no time for school.