REFUGEE CAMP RETICULATION SYSTEM
The summer between my Junior and Senior year at Northwestern (2013), I traveled to Bundibugyo, the western most district of Uganda, and worked with a professional engineer doing clean water development projects. While there, a military situation in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo resulted in tens of thousands of refugees entering Uganda. I participated on the team that constructed the water systems for the refugee camp that was set up.
Takeaways and Skills developed
- Leading a cross-cultural team
- Designing a system based on site parameters
- Working effectively under pressure in a crisis situation
- Coordinating with multiple different organizations and individuals to meet a common goal
Design of a System
The camp for Congolese refugees was created to house 15,000 people. The most vital system to install was the water storage and dispersal system. I helped design a system that involved 60,000 liters of storage and four access points throughout the camp.
The water access points, called tap stands, needed to be constructed for use in the camp. I helped design and build four 14-tap tap stands using brass taps, galvanized iron, and some creative fabrication techniques. Because water access was vital for the health and safety of the refugees, the first stand was built and installed after only a few hours.
At the camp, the engineer with whom we were working was consistently stuck in administrative meetings. As a result, I was put in charge of a team of Ugandan water technicians and day laborers to oversee the installation of two tap stands.
Independent Problem Solving
Due to heavy traffic, an underground fixture of one of the tap stands was broken. A broken stand meant the loss of already limited water so I acted immediately. I helped lead a team to excavate the base of the stand, replace the broken part, address the underlying problem to avoid further damage, and re-bury the new part.
By the end of the week, I had helped install the baseline water storage and distribution system for the refugee camp. Due to our immediate action, we narrowly avoided a water crisis as refugees were entering the camp so fast the existing water resources could not keep up. In the ensuing weeks, additional water resources were added and the camp was able to comfortably provide for the displaced Congolese.