The last task on our biogas list was to get an accurate idea of the mass of animals wastes that were produced by the SND goats, rabbits, pigs, and chickens. This would be necessary to determine the loading rate for the digester, which in turn determines the digester size. Easier said than done, as it turns out! We got a measurement on the volume and density of the goat manure, and then attempted to coordinate a time to observe the rabbit and piggery cleaning. After checking with the farm manager three times, he finally said just to come back in the evening - he was having personnel problems. Then in the evening, we came back to find the rabbit area swept and manure dumped - no measurement possible. We also learned that the pig wastes aren't usually collected and composted at all; they are just flung up on a hill behind the sties. Time for a bit of educated guessing, something that engineers do more often than most people realize.
Our team continued to divide and conquer, with new plans and requests popping up throughout the day. It seemed like the reality of our departure tomorrow was sinking in with everyone, and only a small window was left to share time with us. Sister Juliette told us the pre-schoolers had been preparing a dancing and drumming performance, which turned out to be a priceless half hour that totally won our hearts and drained the batteries on our video devices. She then invited us to accompany her to a destitute villager's home so we could see the conditions that some families face here. Marc, Jackie, and Christina went with her and returned feeling disheartened by the unbelievable impact of poverty and lack of education. Fortunately for the children, Sister Juliette has taken them under her wing by nursing them to health, clothing them, and finding them a place at the preschool.
Ed and Jackie made a presentation to a crowd of fourth through seventh graders about satellites, GPS, biogas, and the engineering profession. Many questions came up from the students and the staff about the upcoming biogas project.
Marc, armed with a flimsy hacksaw, headed towards the site of a failed HDPE water tank determined to cut samples to take home for testing. His background in materials and his connections with labs in Kentucky could help solve the mystery of what caused two tanks to burst in the same location. Erin and Jackie worked to complete the water source mapping and water quality analyses. Christina invested time in tending to the rehab of Sr. Anita's foot. John met one-on-one with Sr. Rita to give her a full summary of the week's findings and to discuss the project outlook for the next few months.
Father Godfry, the leader of the Buseesa Catholic Parish, had also requested some time to meet with our group today. John and Ed were the only ones available in the late afternoon, so we walked up the road with Sr. Rita to a compound that looked like a smaller version of the SND convent. The esteemed Father enjoyed a much greater quality of life than the surrounding villagers, and offered us a selection of sodas and freshly roasted g-nuts (peanuts) as he turned down the TV set and shooed a chicken from the open doorway. He took a genuine interest in our list of projects as John summarized the week's efforts and outcomes. The Father asked about biogas, suggested a location for a future drinking water project, and advised us on how to approach the local political scene. To our surprise, he also inquired if we intended to bring designs of more-efficient wood cookstoves to the village. This was one of our original goals until we received the feedback that these would be too expensive for most villagers. But since Father Godfry was interested in reducing his wood consumption and in setting a good example, we agreed to send him a prototype stove or to bring one with us on the next trip.
Dinner with the Sisters consisted of chicken and chips (potato fries), the equivalent of steak and baked potato to an American, with fresh papaya for dessert. The chicken was probably fresh from the farm, as a couple piles of feathers had been seen earlier. Our final engagement of the day was a traditional drumming and dancing performance in the dining hall. The kids were fantastic, and made any American school choir pale by comparison on energy, volume, fun, and enthusiasm. This was a farewell gift to us and many people repeated the request for us to return soon and continue our work. Erin, Jackie, and Christina handed out a Jolly Rancher to every child and teacher, and we turned in for the night.
With only two days left in Buseesa, today was a day to assess remaining tasks, divide the work, and get down to business. Much of our time has been spent gathering broad information about he community and putting out feelers for future projects, but we recently have focussed back in on the biogas. We need some key information on manure production, site layout, and water supply before we can head home and begin design work. Some stove use questions still lingered as well, and Marc wanted to try solving a problem with "exploding" water tanks. Christina, our medical student from OSU, accomanied Sister Anita to Mubende for the removal of the cast from her broken foot. John and Ed made a rough topo map of the proposed digester site, and thought of a possible new loaction as well. Marc, Jackie, and Christina interviewed Rose, one of the school cooks, who supplied valuable insight into cooking techniques and firewood use. Erin went to map local water sources with GPS and do water quality testing. One of the elder Ugandan teachers, Joseph, age 70, spontaneously invited us to join him in the cafeteria at tea time. He hoped for a chance to just sit and talk with us while there was a chance. He very generously produced two mandaazi (a sweet roll, fried like a donut) for each of us that he had purchased at a shop. He taught local language, local music, and agriculture to grades 4-7. He lived 32 km away and only returned home every other week to "take care of problems". It was nice to slow down briefly and share some conversation with a gentleman. Marc, Jackie, Erin, Christina, and friend Maria planned an evening boda boda trip to Karaguuza to investigate local supplies, and sure, to eat out at a restaurant. They rode with Michael, Moses, and Matea (you can do the math... three to a boda boda except for one) who managed to show them shops that will provide a majority of necessary building supplies only 20 minutes from Buseesa. Shops even had the basic plumbing piping and valves that we anticipate needing. Matea also showed the group his welding shop, where he makes metal doors, and could be a place where more-efficient wood stoves could be produced locally.
The guest house offered a fine breakfast spread for all of the guests around one large table filled with boiled eggs, bread, jam, local honey, and passionfruit juice. After doing some brief shopping for souvenirs at the guest house shop, we departed Kasiisi and drove our rough dirt road in reverse. We only had to stop once to let a baboon cross the road. Viennay, Ankh, and Lauren followed us in a separate car. We immediately jumped into giving Viennay a tour of the SND grounds so he could formulate his ideas of whether the site merited a biogas digester at all, and if so, where the best location would be. This took some time, but finally we all sat down in the coolness of the convent and discussed the project with Sister Rita. Viennay confirmed EWB's views that a digester would work well here, and the farm had ample animal wastes to use, along with the potential for using latrine waste, kitchen waste, and crop waste. While Viennay has built almost 30 fixed dome digesters and is an expert in their construction, EWB proposed working with him to develop a plug-flow design for the site that would be more efficient in terms of gas production. This design would hinge on gathering information on an acceptable method of sealing a flexible membrane top to the concrete digester, and EWB offered to test some prototypes over the next 6 months in Cincinnati. It was a positive conversation that could lead to an innovation for Green Heat. Vianney also shared with us his interest in developing a method of heating very large cookpots with steam from a biogas heating source, so that he could surpass the sizing limits of available Ugandan burners. We offered to bring this challenge back to our stove committee and see if they could assist. Later in the evening, Vianney shared his spreadsheet calculator that he uses to determine potential gas production from various wastes and for digester sizing. This could be a valuable aid as we work together in the future and can compare numbers based on similar assumptions. So far, we have been working with a variety of assumptions and data from differing sources, and our results have been all over the place. Another positive outcome for this trip!
Up at 6 am today to make breakfast in our kitchenette and do final packing for our journey to Kasiisi, just a little bit south of Fort Portal, a 2-3 hour drive west from Buseesa. We take the Toyota Land Cruiser (with double gas tanks) on a short cut that, believe it or not, John B. was able to show Sister Rita and driver Phillip from a Google Map printout he brought with him. This road turned out to be a hellacious (to an American) ride on a narrow rutted track diving steeply down and up again... the ride was even rougher for those riding facing sideways in the rear jump seats or sitting in front squeezed between the driver and passenger. After sailing through two dirt roundabouts along the way and passing many cattle and villagers on foot, we came out on the glorious macadam of the Mubende-Ft. Portal Road. Pavement never looked so good! During a brief latrine stop, John and Marc spoke with some roadside craftsmen selling their solid mahogany bed frames and headboards... most furniture here is made of mahogany since it is such a common local hardwood. Unbelievable to American woodworkers that pay top dollar per board foot for mahogany! Tea crops begin to appear along the road first in small patches and then in huge plantations that sprawl over entire hillsides. Fort Portal is very picturesque with Mt. Rwenzori and the Mountains of the Moon towering near 20,000 feet on the dusky horizon. The source of the Nile River is nearby, where whitewater rafting is offered to tourists. The standard of living is noticeably greater than it was in Buseesa, further "upcountry". Our destination is the Kasiisi government Primary School, with 1000-1200 students, where a Peace Corps program for the Kibaale Forest is based. Our contact, Keith Miller, and staff, offer forest conservation information to the schoolchildren and their families that live on the outskirts of the forest. They have an operating biogas digester on site that is one of the high points of the trip. It is a 16 cubic meter fixed dome unit running mostly on latrine waste with some food scraps and chicken manure, and produces enough biogas to run a large single burner (600 liters/ hour) several hours a day at the guest house kitchen. There appeared to be more biogas potential, as bubbles rose visibly from the effluent in the secondary chamber, and indeed the school planned to add another supply line soon to a set of 3 small burners in the school kitchen. Keith opened the valve at the water trap and biogas roared out of the 3/4" line, also giving us a noseful of what biogas smells like! It certainly does have a barnyard smell, but there is no odor when burning in the kitchen, or any lingering odor around the digester itself... at least nothing noticeable above the integrated latrine house. Chef Paul at the guest house cheerfully demonstrated his biogas burner in a small corner of the kitchen - he had just finished deep frying samosas for lunch, which we soon ate with an avocado salad and lemongrass tea. The guest house offered tasty fare with an Indian bent, a remnant of the days when uganda was a colony of the British Empire and the infrastructure was run mostly by people from India. Our digester education continued with a trip to the school farm a short distance away. There, Vianney Tumwesige, the owner and mastermind of Green Heat Ltd, was working with his crew on constructing a 12 cubic meter fixed dome unit almost identical to the one at the school site. This digester was to take waste from a 3-seat latrine as well as a piggery and create gas for a future guest house for tourist/workers interested in the organic practices being used at the farm. The workmanship was excellent, and Vianney explained that it is better to build a quality product from the beginning instead of returning later to make regular repairs. He explained the digester layout to the full group and answered some of our specific questions well. A South African man named David joined the tour, and explained that he was from a group called Shine Africa that was attempting to promote briquetting technology as a replacement to firewood use. Sister Rita was interested in his information, as Buseesa villagers often grow g-nuts (peanuts) and have the dry shells available for briquetting with a little cassava flour. Now we had a little time to be tourists. We drove to Lake Nkuruba with hopes of seeing monkeys, and were rewarded with the antics of a large troop of Colobus monkeys and a scattering of Vervets. What a noisy bunch! Even though they are fascinating, maybe we are glad to not live alongside monkeys, as they would always be into mischief. The lake itself was one of several local crater lakes formed from an old volcanic crater. Several others were nearby, and we drove to one strip of road that meandered along a narrow ridge between two deep lakes. The sunset pictures were postcard-perfect, and a group of boys proudly displayed their stringer of tiny fish caught earlier. The road was crowded with mostly young people filing back and forth carrying jerry cans for water. Bicycles loaded with matoke bunches were pushed on foot towards town center where buyers piled the local produce onto heaping payloads bound for the city. The evening meal was enjoyed back at the Kasiisi school guest house, in the company of Lauren Haroff (a Fulbright scholar doing microbial research with Vianney), her friend Brian from North Carolina, six volunteers and their leader from West Point, three summer-long volunteers from Harvard and Grinnell Universities, and Vianney's Polish fiance, Ankh. A very eclectic crowd that socialized late into the night. Our accomodations were at the Rainforest Guest House, above average in Uganda but still a bit of an eye-opener for our group that has been enjoying the pseudo-western facilities at the convent. The beds had mosquito netting but the shower water was off, and the latrines were a small adventure. Our hosts were wonderful and very happy for our visit; they announced that because we had come, they could now afford their childrens' school fees. It looked like this location is a good kickoff point for tourists to explore western Uganda, go on safari tours, or climb some high African peaks. However, we were eager to return tomorrow to Buseesa with Vianney and investigate the biogas siting questions with him.
Today we are in for a real African experience. We meet at 7 am in front of the convent and load into the back of a Land Rover truck equipped with a set of bars arching over the bed. Nicholas demonstrates that we will ride standing up, holding onto the bars and using our legs as shock absorbers. Sister Rita accompanies us, riding in the cab, with Phillip driving. Our objective will be to visit some locations of potential projects in the adjoining community. Part of what we have learned about Buseesa is that it is only one of about 60 villages in the area, as shown on BCDC's jigsaw-like map that summarizes Nick's and Casey's explorations into the bush. And of these villages, Buseesa is faring the best economically, because of the presence of the SND Academy and BCDC.
Down the road and past the local bar "The Confort Zone", our first destination is Kaikara and the local health clinic that currently serves 3-5 people a day, usually administering malaria treatments. Malaria is the most fatal disease in the Kibali District, and when SND students return from break every second or third child has the disease. The treatment usually lasts a few days, and is very effective when begun early, so SND students almost always recover. However, most common villagers do not receive early treatment and do not survive. One woman at the clinic is receiving intravenous malaria treatment. Nicholas's idea is to help provide a refrigerator to the clinic, so vaccines could be stored and costs would decrease to the patients. As it is, few can afford to even come to the clinic to get the medicine they need.
Before driving further, we stop briefly to buy bottled water from a roadside vendor. We clean out his stock of 9 bottles... locals never buy bottled water so shops don't stock very much. Then we are off to Kayunga, to see a very proud private school. They have too few students (less than 120) to qualify for a government school, but they have taken the responsibility into their own hands and are running a perfectly acceptable Ugandan primary school out of a typically crude dirt floor, open-air building. Behind the school is a football field (soccer of course) that goes unused for the lack of a ball. Nicholas's idea here is to raise funds to construct a new school building and extend help to motivated people who show such initiative. The whole project would cost about $2000.
Next we move on towards Kakinda. Casey and Nick have to work together to find the track that leads into the bush that they discovered by boda boda only a few weeks earlier. Casey is surprised that the truck can navigate the whole trail, as we discover that the bars that buck and sway around our shoulders also double as brush guards... we duck low under them to avoid the tall grass and low hanging thorny limbs. Phillip shifts into 4L to grind up a hill and gets stopped halfway. He does something tricky with the emergency brake and revving the engine to punch over the ruts and rocks, and we are soon out on top of a scenic ridge.
A group of 25 or so children are out sitting at a table under a tree, and their young teacher greets us warmly. Sister Rita is a terrific diplomat, asking questions of how well the school is doing and what levels they teach. Christina, Jackie, Erin, and Mark discover the excitement that you can generate by filming singing kids on an iPhone (or just a simple digital photo) and then playing it back. It is a stunning experience for kids that probably have never even seen what they look like... no one has mirrors out here. Ed took a look in some students exercise books that every student clutched tightly, and discovered only a few pages had anything written on them. One girl was extremely proud to show her three booklets that had a handful of pages that were perfect scores. The teacher politely asked if we had brought a football, for they too had a sport field that went unused. Nicholas assured us that none of the children and most of the adults had never seen Buzunga (white people) before in their lives. Neither had we ever seen a remote Ugandan village in our lives!
We returned to SND in time for a lunch of posho (corn mush), beans, sauce, and avocado at the school cafeteria, and prepare for a farm tour led by Sister Rosaria and farm hand Jonan. They took us around the many acres of matoke (starchy banana), papaya, mango, guava, avocado, jack fruit, pineapple, sweet potato, cassava, yams, and tomato, and through a small garden of eggplant and a brassica green called sukuma wiki. Most crops were perennial plants that were propagated by removing shoots and suckers from old plants... not many crops were started from seed. The farm is larger than they have labor to keep up with, and some areas, they admitted, were a bit overgrown, and they were struggling with banana wilt in the lower matoke area.
There are many more animals kept here than it would appear at first glance. Jonan showed us their 57 goats, 82 free-range rabbits, 2 cattle, 64 pigs/ piglets, and 500 chickens that lay 7 flats of 30 eggs each day. On a meat menu day for the cafeteria, either 50 rabbits, three goats, or one pig would be slaughtered. All in all, we were pleased with the layout of the animal areas and the suitability for a biogas generator here. The manure supplies looked plentiful, but we still need to resolve the question of using human latrine waste in the digester as well. There are over a dozen latrines dotted around the campus, but none very near the livestock area. Our questions would have to wait until tomorrow, when we are scheduled to travel to a working biogas digester in Kasiisi, near Fort Portal, and discuss design questions with the owner of Green Heat, a Ugandan contractor that installs fixed-dome digesters that are based on latrine waste.
What better way to start a visit to a Catholic mission school than to attend the Sunday morning mass! And what better way to be introduced to the community of devout parishoners than to say hello at the village church? We sat shoulder to shoulder and knee to back with children from the school on low wooden benches while Father Godfry led mass, students sang and drummed, and a special troupe danced up the aisle and back. Ugandans are very religious in general and are predominantly Catholic. The Sisters of Notre Dame are well respected in the local communities and are entrusted with the care and education of many local children. If children can't afford the school fees (often paid in firewood, ground maize, matoke bananas, or farm labor) then they attend the government primary school across the road. There is a significant difference in the quality of education they receive, however, so parents often go to desperate lengths to afford SND.
We were given an official school tour by Sister Bernardi, the local coordinator of the school while Sister Judith is away. The grounds are impressive. Maybe the best gauge of the scale (to an engineer) is that they have 180 tanks in their water supply system. There are 500+ students living here during their studies, and take off 2 months for their longest break. There is a primary and a secondary school, and the Sisters plan to construct an additional 90 student A-level school within the next few years. Along the way, we meet Michael and Tusabe from BCDC who remind us to attend their meeting around noon.
BCDC is the Buseesa Community Development Center, run by Nicholas Smith with a lot of help from local staff like Matea and Winnie, some of his first borrowers. Nicholas is an amazing person who started this microfinance venture four years ago as his PhD project at UCLA. There is much more specific information available at his website. He came here originally when his father was doing humanitarian work in Uganda, and has grown his project by quite adventurously making contact with more and more villages deeper and deeper into the bush, simply driving his dirt bike up narrow trails and gregariously introducing himself to people that sometimes haven't seen a Muzunga (white man) in their entire life. He seems to have won over many villagers' trust and respect with his charisma and energetic personality. Villagers apply in groups (peer pressure ensures a nearly 99% repayment rate) for microloans of about $87 each, and use the capital to make improvements to their homes, pursue entrepreneurial ideas, expand their farms, or add to their livestock, for a few examples.
Our group of EWB engineers were greeted with reverence at today's meeting, and discussed via interpreter some of the needs of different villages. Our goal is to get additional ideas for local projects that we can complete in addition to the SND biogas project and expand our aid efforts as effectively as possible. No one was shy about asking for help... the list of hardships is long, and these were resourceful people with ideas of ways to better themselves. Predominantly, since it is the dry season now and rain is overdue, people asked for help with water improvement projects. Water supply, water quality, and water for irrigation. Some also asked for help with food processing equipment, bridges, and expressed interest in personal biogas units. It was amazing to be face-to-face with people whose reality includes deadly diseases like malaria and yellow fever, who are asking so humbly and sincerely for help. The cost of helping any one person would be trivial, but the cost of helping everyone is substantial. BCDC's goal is to support motivated individuals to achieve their own goals, and attempt to foster a strong and self-reliant community.
Lunch today in the school cafeteria consisted of stewed goat on rice with a sauce. This was a special meal, as meat is served only every other Sunday. Most of our group enjoyed the taste experience, but the goat sat better with some than with others.
Though John Baginski had gone to great lengths to avoid the necessity of any of us travelling by boda boda during this trip, our afternoon excursion was best accomplished by a quick hop on the back of Nicholas's bike, and the bikes of his friend Casey and Matea. We shuttled down to a stream water source in someone's backyard. We observed a stagnant pool of water where a family drew all of its water from and used untreated. A noisy hornbill called from the tree above, and the children from the house gleefully shadowed us along the trail. We soon scooted over to the local maize mill, owned and operated by Father Godfry, to discuss one of Nicholas's development ideas. He felt that by providing a local power source to the mill (it currently runs on "hydroelectric", which refers to the powergrid that is fed far away by a government dam project, but is only available half of the time), the cost of milling maize could be reduced and villagers would be able to sell their maize flour to wholesalers at a slightly higher margin... enough to maybe pay for school fees for a year.
After a final boda boda ride back to the school, and a hike up and over the rocky ridge, we all visited the home of a truly amazing mother. She came trotting out of the brush herding two cows (a significant accomplishment), wearing rubber boots, a work apron, and a pink silk shirt, and smiling ear to ear. As a single mom, she raises her three children, tends livestock, and cultivates 3 acres of crops. She is on her third successful loan cycle, using the latest money to grow an acre of tobacco as a cash crop. Her drying barn was full of the recently harvested tobacco, and Nicholas filmed footage of her speaking proudly about her harvest and how she used her money. Roaming around her hut were ducks, chickens, a sow pig with piglets, and the dog.
We relished the sunset on the walk back across the ridge by lingering on the bare outcroppings and taking photos. Nicholas peeled a native aloe plant spike and offered it to salve anyone's sunburned necks or faces - we have a couple of those!
After a spaghetti meal with goat meat sauce at the convent with the Sisters, we "hung out" with Nicholas, Casey, SND teacher Maria, and Matea at the BCDC office. Talk ranged from prospects of future development plans to local customs to plans for the next day. Tomorrow was to include something even more exciting than the boda boda rides! We returned to the SND site later at night but by curfew, when the gates are locked and the watchdog is set out.
We awoke Saturday morning to the sound of sweet singing and drumming of African children from the nearby morning mass being held at the Pre-School in Entebbe. Roosters and raucous jungle birds added their interjections. We soon were shaking hands with the singers outside, as they introduced themselves in quiet soft voices, told us we were welcome, and asking our names in return (a process to be repeated often during our whole trip). Jay Bayer, his son Joe, and daughters Julie and Olivia served up our "continental" breakfast of jam and fat spread (butter substance) on bread with a side of eggs, and filled us in on stories of their past two weeks spent surveying and mapping two of the SND sites. They energetically assured us that there was nothing to worry about during our stay, be it food or sickness or wild animals.
The Bayers and our group were toured around the Preschool grounds, which included plenty of banana trees, a coffee tree, a cassava patch, and a low wet area that may become an aquaculture pond. Our two groups parted ways, the Bayers off to the airport and us into Kampala to exchange currency and purchase cheap cell phones for in-country use. Our driver, a man named Friday, expertly negotiated the chaotic mixed flow of vans, motorcycles (boda bodas), bicycles, pedestrianbs, and jaywalkers without the aid of pesky painted lane lines. The boda bodas almost always carried a passenger and enough cargo to fill a small pickup truck (couches, set of 4 car tires stacked, a bundle of 30' rebar getting dragged along, sideways acetylene welding tanks). We did get into a traffic jam due to a boda boda accident (to keep the risks in perspective), but luckily the only fatality seemed to be the watermelon splashed across the road.
Open air markets lined both sides of the road, like a single-aisled Home Depot and a Super Walmart that went on for miles. Workers fabricated their goods on location. We passed building materials, water tanks, furniture, produce, slabs of beef hanging from hooks, and aromatic "pork joints" presumably serving BBQ.
We walked past police carrying semi-automatics to a Forex in downtown Kampala guarded by a cherub-faced man armed with a single-shot rifle. One U.S. dollar buys 2500 Ugandan shillings, enough to later buy a chicken-and-chips lunch for $3 and reserve a hotel room for $12.
Departing the city going west, we wound through one roundabout after another, past trash heaps and slums and squatter camps, across papyrus marshes, and finally on the road to Mbende. Endless rumble strips rattled the windows and the teeth, and huge speedbumps forced the van to a crawl through every town along the way. Though our van was like most others on the road, our seven pale white faces drew more and more stares the further we went.
We passed banana groves, sugar cane, maize patches, planted pines, piles of raw clay bricks waiting to be fired, termite mounds, and the occasional cow or goat tethered to graze on the shoulder. Pedestrian and boda boda traffic was steady even on the long stretches between towns. Trenching for a roadside conduit ran for at least 30 miles, broken into segments being hand-dug by different work crews standing waist-deep in the deep red clay earth.
A lunchtime conversation with Friday brought up issues about government corruption that translates into predatory harassment of common people. Ordinary events like renewing a drivers license or discovering a broken headlight become full obstacles to conducting ordinary business until the proper bribe is paid. Civil servants who haven't been paid in 3 months turn to their own resources and use their positions to extort their income from the citizens they are supposed to be serving.
Finally, the pavement ended in Mbende after 4 hours of driving. The rest of the way to Buseesa was negotiated on a hilly, winding dusty road punctuated by rocks, washboard, and washouts. We were greeted warmly at the SND Academy and shown to rooms that greatly exceeded our expectations - the Sisters of Notre Dame build quality into their facilities as well as their programs, and show that their efforts are intended to last. The Sisters and aspirants prepared a terrific pasta dinner including avocado and beans from their grounds. After a short game of cards and a valiant effort to send nighttime email via a solar-powered satellite connection, we retired to our bunks eager for the next day.