December 02, 2013

Rebuilding Uganda

Ugandan villagers build stoves made from brick

For five weeks this summer, Robert Lind, assistant professor, Mechanical Engineering and Technology, traded in his teaching tools for a series of bricks and built stoves in Uganda.

Lind and his wife were part of a group of volunteers responsible for constructing stoves, which consist of pre-cut bricks strategically placed upright and tied together, for local villagers. The cooking devices use between one-third and one-half the amount of smoke than their traditional, open-pit Ugandan counterparts, and they require half the amount of wood.

The journey to Uganda began after a conversation with Associate Provost Charles Hotchkiss. “I was speaking with [Hotchkiss] and he told me of an NGO (non-governmental organization) that conducts relief work in Africa. He put me in touch with the director and I was soon making plans for northern Uganda,” Lind said.

The director Lind speaks of is Peter Keller. Keller’s group, Aid Africa, afforded Lind and his wife the chance to spend six weeks in Uganda this summer, five of which were spent working in local villages.

Despite their improvement over their predecessors, however, Lind believes that the stoves can be even more efficient. To test this theory, he tasked his students this semester to come up with new designs for the stove. The design deemed most efficient would be used to mold new bricks in Uganda, pending approval from Aid Africa.

“We’re hoping to make a rapid prototype of the brick molds here at Wentworth,” Lind said. “It’s a great way to involve students in a project-based, external learning experience.”

Uganda is currently rebuilding itself after a lengthy civil war that left thousands dead and severely disrupted the country’s infrastructure. While the war has ended, many areas are without clean drinking water and other amenities. Aid Africa sends in volunteers to dig water wells (as a solution to polluted surface water), build stoves, plant trees (fruit and other varieties), and distribute medications.

Because war was waged for 20 years, current Ugandans lack the finances to rebuild, as well as the experience, since so many of the country’s previous generation were killed in the war. Despite these setbacks, though, things are looking up for the English-speaking country as oil was recently discovered and some of that money has been used to build roads and other infrastructure.

Lind related that he witnessed a great deal of positive energy in the residents he met. “We met several people who wanted to start their own businesses and move forward. People are in high spirits and they don’t want war,” he said.

Lind also recounted motorcycles and cell phones “everywhere,” as well as vans. “The Japanese government donated thousands of used vans to Uganda, so many residents drive them, especially for taxi service,” he said. “You’ll get into a van with about 15 other people and the driver will take you all over for about one dollar.”

Lind remains in touch with several Ugandan residents through email, and he is eager to return to Africa to continue the work that he started this past summer.  “The country is culturally great and we saw some fascinating things,” he said, “things we’ve never seen in other places.”

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