UGANDA Grain for gain

In the Autumn of 2014 I was lucky to get the opportunity to travel to Uganda with the charity Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD) to work on their project Grain for Gain. This remains one of the most positive experiences of my life and certainly my favourite project as a Civil Engineer. This is my story of an amazing two weeks in Uganda.

Ready to go...

Like most adventures this story started back home. More specifically, it got going when my cousin told me about a friend of hers that had been to Uganda with EFOD... it wasn't long before I was also an EFOD volunteer...

But it wasn't as simple as jumping on a plane... there was over two years of fundraising and design work that had to be done first.

EFOD Tour de France fundraiser

As well as designing the grain store EFOD volunteers were responsible for raising the money for its construction. This was largely done through fundraisers such as the Tour de France 130 mile cycling fundraiser (following the 2014 Tour de France grand depart from Leeds to Harrogate) and the Keswick to Barrow 40 mile hike.


Myself and my colleague Anneka flew to Entebbe, Uganda in August 2014. After a hand over meeting with the preceding team in Entebbe we then had a 6 hour drive to our site just outside Mbale. Luckily we had time to break this up with a trip to the Mabira Rainforest.

Mabira Rainforest

And the scenery en route was amazing...

Once we got to Mbale we were straight to work. We were managing weeks 11 and 12 off the build and so most of the walls were already built. Our main job was to get the roof on and fit the doors and windows.

The final touches before the roof goes on
The first roof panel going on

Whilst on site it was great to be working in the local community and it was common to get visitors from the village to our site.

Local woman collecting a boulder excavated from our site

And we also visited them. Here I am at the local borehole being ably assisted collecting water for the site.

The purpose of the grain store was to create a safe and secure storage facility for a cooperative of windowed women. By employing local labourers from the community we were also able to provide short term employment opportunities for local men.

Workers widening the access road

This allowed us to improve local construction knowledge. The project utilised interlocking soil stabilised blocks (ISSB's) which were hand pressed on site. These are seen as more sustainable than the commonly used clay fired bricks, which are poor quality and have several negative environmental impacts.

A worker prepares an opening for a window

A major goal of ours was also to improve knowledge and understanding of Health, Safety and Welfare. I was amazed when the workers used their own initiative to create this sign.

It was common for motorcycles to use this road when accessing the village

All of the building materials were locally sourced.

The timber mill

Although some of the locals were more interested in what we had bought with us...

John liked my iPod / speaker

Obviously we had to learn a few new techniques too. With no power tools or heavy machinery tasks like compacting the road had to be done by hand.

A worker compacts the road with hand tools

But by the end of the first week the internal doors were in.

The doors were cast in on the last day of the week to allow them to cure

And we were treated to a thrilling thunderstorm that night too.

That weekend we took a trip to Sipi falls a couple of hours from our hostel

Sipi falls

And stayed in an amazing resort

Our accommodation for the weekend.

You had to be careful near the waterfall though

As well as visiting the falls we also went on a coffee tour

Freshly brewed coffee

The coffee Tour ended with some great views across the plains

There was plenty to see on the coffee tour

But some people were more interested in us...

Anneka shows some children her photos

The next day we went to see the waterfalls

Sipi falls is a series of 3 major waterfalls

And ended up abseiling down the main falls...

It was back to work on Monday...

An almost complete roof

But our driver John was a little late on Monday morning...

I was honoured to meet John's new born son. This is the first photo of him.

....turns out he had spent the night in hospital. John didn't have a camera, so I took thier first family photo and arranged for a framed print.

Back on site work was progressing well

In the second week we finished the roof. To signal the completion of the works most dangerous stage we had a traditional 'dropping of the hammer' ceremony.

Workers passed the hammer from the roof down to Forman Robert.

Once the foreman dropped the hammer work stopped for the day.

We had a few drink and relaxed with a game of footy with the local kids.

Even Pastor Robert got involved

When we got back to the hostel they had also decided to have a party.

There was a tribal dance on at our hostel too.

With all its colour and life Uganda was a truly beautiful country...

"For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life - bird, insect, reptile, beast - for vast scale -- Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa"

Winston Churchill

Our last job onsite was to add the external doors.

We left the grain store looking like this..

Grain for gain as we left

Before we left some of the guys asked for a photo with me. This is one of my favourite pictures of the whole trip...

I bonded with several of the guys on site through lunchtime football games

And then it was back to Entebbe where we said goodbye to our driver and guide John.

A goodbye picture with a good friend.

But the story didn't stop there...

...First we won an AECOM excellence award for best corporate social responsibility.

AECOM Excellence award winners

Which led to me being asked to write a post for the AECOM impacts blog

And then we won a special commendation at the Institution of Civil Engineers North West award ceremony.

Getting our special commendation from the ICE

But most importantly the grain store is now operational for the women of the mam riang women's cooperative.

The Mam Riang women's cooperative
Created By
James Birchall

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