development together engineering volunteers calvin kress

Developing Sustainable Solutions to Alleviate Poverty in Uganda: Calvin Kress’ story

Under-graduate students tackle key sustainability issues in local Ugandan communities with two basic Engineering designs.

There are currently 24 million people living in Uganda who have limited access to a clean water supply.  This is scary when you consider the fact that Uganda has a total population of 45 million. It’s an odd concept for someone in a first world country to have to walk many kilometres each day to a well, just to get water to bathe or cook your meals with, but for over half of the Ugandan population it’s a reality they face every day. Diseases such as typhoid – where symptoms include fevers, weakness, stomach pains and sometimes even death – are a common affliction due to the contaminants in the water. Access to adequate water is also seasonally influenced as there are very heavy rains at certain times of the year, and sometimes near drought conditions at other times.

Fortunately, there are organizations working to address this issue. Development Together have teamed up with Seeds of Hope Integrated Ministries Uganda (SHIMU), a not-for-profit group that, among many other poverty alleviating efforts, is helping to provide access to clean water for local people. Development Together facilitates the placement of Agriculture, Engineering and Environment volunteers from around the world. In partnership with SHIMU they identify and implement sustainable solutions to current water, sanitation and hygiene problems in Eastern Uganda.

Enter Calvin Kress, a third-year engineering student from the US, currently studying as an international student at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. Calvin was tired of simply observing the world’s problems and decided to do something about it. After a little bit of online research, he found Development Together and decided to join their volunteer Engineering team for a water storage project in Uganda.

“A lot of people complain about their life, but … they don’t change it. I was one of those people and I decided to accept this challenge, you know, to make a difference in the world. So, I got out of my comfort zone. I did some research on the internet … and I found Development Together.”

Calvin and a small group of inter-professional students arrived on a farm in the town of Masafu, in Eastern Uganda and were faced with a “primitive” way of living.

“There’s no electricity, there’s no toilet [facilities] … they get water from a bore hole, they don’t have the same water [quality] as we do in the first world”

The Development Together volunteers investigating the local piggery. Photo courtesy of C.Kress

They began by talking to local families about the problems they faced, and this was followed by discussing possible solutions with them. They identified a major issue for the Masafu residents was a lack of a decent water supply. Locals who kept pigs were having to travel large distances several times a day to an unsanitary soak (groundwater that has seeped to the surface) in order to retrieve water. They were unable to expand their piggery business’ due to not being able to access sufficient water supplied, and therefore severely limiting their capacity to increase their incomes.

The existing piggery at the SHIMU farm was also unable to expand due to having limited water supplies. Another issue was the larger pigs at the farm were roaming free and eating the chickens (another source of income) in order to stay well fed. This reduced SHIMU’s opportunities to conduct more poverty alleviating efforts, including providing micro-loans to female local residents.

Several projects were taken on by Calvin and his fellow Development Together team mates – including the design and construction of a new piggery to help house the increasing number of pigs, an underground water tank to store water for the pigs, and a pump for the water tank. The newly designed piggery included a tin roof with gutters, allowing rainwater to be collected and stored in the tank.

The team drew inspiration for the water pump’s design from Rus Alit, the creator of the “Rus Pump”. This pump would ensure that the water would be easily accessible. The most triumphant moment for Calvin and the team was, after an initial test of the Rus pump ended in failure, a solution was found, and water began flowing out of the underground water tank.

“People could see the water coming out of the underground water tank. That was the happiest moment I ever had on the trip. Especially when I saw David (who works with SHIMU) smiling seeing the water coming out of the pump.” Calvin recalled.


Calvin and some of the SHIMU and Development Together team in front of the completed piggery.  Photo courtesy of C.Kress

Now that their piggery has better access to a year round water supply, the SHIMU farmers should be able to raise more pigs to sell on the market. This will mean that SHIMU can provide increased levels of support for the community by being able to better fund their other poverty alleviating projects.

Celebrating completion of the new underground water tank. Photo courtesy of C.Kress

Calvin’s stay in Uganda was not all work and no play. Every morning he would enjoy getting food such as bananas from the guest house they were staying at, wandering down to the farm and feeding the goats, which happen to be his favourite animal.

Development Together also organized a few trips for the team, including a visit to Sipi Falls, a look into the local coffee production process, and a trip to Jinja to see the source of the river Nile. During their down time Calvin also enjoyed simply hanging around the town, and David from SHIMU showed them a few local places. “[David] took me to the Church, since everyone is Christian and really religious. I wanted to see their praying because they had a really tough life, but they still have faith. They keep moving on.”

The Development Together volunteers hiking at Sipi Falls. Photo courtesy of C.Hughes

What’s next for Calvin? “I plan to work again as a volunteer, my next destination will be in South America … I want to keep helping people.”

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