Hi from the Field! - Ces
Blue Tap Field Visit West
Hey everyone. Tom, Becky, Jon and I are out in Mbarara at the Development Studies Centre (DSC) for most of September. Thanks to grants from the Centre for Global Equality and National Geographic, we’ve got the chance to build and install our water purifier here in Uganda.
After 14 hours of flying and 7 hours of driving, the team arrived at the DSC just before dusk on Monday 10th September. We’d bought with us two suitcases full of plumbing equipment to set up our test rig in Mbarara. Worrying that we wouldn’t be able to find the correct size components, we’d pretty comprehensively sourced everything we thought we needed back in the UK before departing. We also brought with us a water testing kit, weighing 10kg and looking suspicious in a black box with a lithium battery… we wondered if they would let us through airport security with it in hand. No problems on that front, but there were at least four occasions when I nearly forgot the box across various continents.
At 7am on the first day at the DSC we woke up and began assembling the test rig. The team fits the Blue Tap project work into their free time when not studying for their degrees, so we’re used to long days and intense work. We’d quickly gathered a small crowd of onlookers, interested in what we were building. By lunch time we had 90% of the test rig up and running, ready to pump water through the purifier to see how it would work. Of course, despite rigorous packing in the UK, there were a few connectors and pipes that we’d forgotten. Luckily, Mbarara is pretty buzzing, and there are fully stocked hardware stores in the city. Having access to a hardware store was something I missed most when I was working as a water engineer in South Sudan.
We got the test rig up and running and Tom began testing the purifier with the new parameters set by the real-world water supply systems. Blue Tap has funded the installation of a rainwater harvesting system and tank at the DSC so that the students can have a back-up water supply and greater water security in times of drought. Our initial plan was to test our tech with the rainwater harvesting system, but Tom’s got a feeling it may work pretty well with the municipal water supply and the water tower, so we’re first testing with the water tower.
While Tom and Jon got working on the chlorine injector at the DSC, Becky and I made a plan to start building some relationships with the local academic community. We decided to walk to the University of Mbarara, a couple of kilometers down the road. It turns out, a couple of kilometers in 36-degree heat feels like a couple thousand kilometers. Becky and I pretty much deliriously crawled to the university.
Once we arrived, we had a wander around and walked into the office of a Professor of Gender Studies. After telling her about Blue Tap, and having a great chat on feminism in Uganda, we set up a meeting with the Dean of the Development Centre to see if we could partner with some students. One of the goals of our field visit is to validate our business model, and we think that is best done by the people that have lived in Uganda for their whole lives, not by us. We want to know what the needs are of the local community in Mbarara in terms of water access and we want to find out if we can use our skills to support those needs.
On our way out of the university a sign catches our eye with an arrow on it - ‘CAMTech’. Becky and I follow the sign to a small office at the back of the University. As we walk in, the first thing we see is a 3D printer. It turns out CAMTech is a start-up accelerator for cleantech/social enterprises spinning out of the university. The team running the accelerator tell us that the 3D printer there is the only one in West Uganda. The chance of stumbling upon it was pretty slim, so we’ve been super lucky! We agree that we’ll bring Tom back on our next visit to CAMTech and discuss collaboration on 3D printing to get more people in the area trained with 3D printing skills.
The first few days of our field visit have been jam-packed. We’ve made so much progress already, everything feels super exciting. Over the next few weeks I’ll be keeping you updated with blog posts from the field, and you can also check out our ‘projects’ page where you can watch our vlog from our field visit. Plans for the rest of the week include coordinating a ‘plumbers’ training’ to see how local plumbers respond to the water purifier and doing everything in our power to stop Tom getting sunburnt. Catch you later.