Nothing could have prepared me for the challenges I faced working in such a remote area. There was no access to mechanical plant or equipment, a lack of standard building materials and periodic access to water. The residents of Kumi speak an African dialect called Ateso, of which I could pronounce only hello and thank you. With this in mind it was often problematic to communicate effectively with the labour on site. Sticking to budget was also more difficult than anticipated. The cost of the materials, transport hire, petrol, drivers and unloading and offloading must all be considered separately. The price that western tourists are charged is often much higher than the real price, making it hard not to go over budget.
From conception to completion, the project took 18 months to complete. The majority of this time was spent in the UK undertaking design work, planning and programming and fundraising in order to raise the £10,000 funds required to construct the project. The team also worked closely with the hospital staff to produce user-friendly waste management procedures which will assist the hospital in safely managing and disposing of their waste in the long term.
The project duration on site was 8 weeks of which myself and one other member managed the first two weeks of construction. Our works included site set-up, excavation for the foundation slab and construction of the slab. We sourced the materials for our works and also for future groups to ensure we had as much available as possible and would not run behind programme. This included basic tools and construction equipment, the constituent parts of concrete, steel columns, refractory bricks and mortar and steel plates for the incinerator. Most materials are not widely available and we travelled for many hours to the surrounding towns of Soroti and Mbale, along uncomfortable bumpy dirt roads, to transport the materials back to Kumi.
Kumi Hospital Waste Incinerator
In the summer of 2012 I spent two weeks in Uganda taking part in voluntary construction work for the North West branch of Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD). This charity is run by groups of young, enthusiastic engineers and professionals from the construction industry. The project brief was to design and construct a waste incinerator for Kumi Hospital in the Eastern region of Teso in Uganda. EFODs primary objective is to deliver projects which improve the health, hygiene and education of poverty afflicted communities in developing countries. In line with this, EFOD supports the development of its members by exposing them to a multi-disciplinary engineering scheme which broadens their skills and offers experience working in unfamiliar environments.
My two weeks in Uganda were a difficult but remarkable experience. We worked long days in extreme heat and had to think in a completely different way when dealing with unavoidable and unexpected change due to local factors. A local workforce, unaccustomed to health and safety practices, with an entirely different cultural background, only made the process more challenging. Although the work was tough, I hugely enjoyed my experience. I gained an appreciation of construction in an extraordinarily different environment and learnt so much from the project.
The cement, sand and aggregate for the concrete slab were located in different towns, long journeys away. When we finally had all of the material on site we hired a cement mixer to mix the 15m3 of concrete. This, predictably, broke down, forcing us to mix by hand. I was involved in every aspect of the project including setting-out, managing labour, sourcing materials, controlling the budget and I even got involved with hand-mixing the concrete (of which I was least successful!). After two long and hard weeks I completed my section of works on time and to budget. We handed over to the next team who would erect the steelwork and start construction of the brickwork incinerator and storage buildings.