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  • Courtesy photos from UNH's Engineers Without Borders.

    University of New Hampshire student Alex Pape holds a vial of water during tests in Lukodi, Uganda last fall. Pape was one of several UNH students that took the trip to help provide sustainable clean water solutions to the village, and another group of students are going again in May.
  • Courtesy photos from UNH's Engineers Without Borders.

    University of New Hampshire students Alex Pape, left, and Kayla Mineau stop near a family compound in Lukodi, Uganda. The students took the trip to Africa in August to help give clean water to the village, and the group is going again in May.
Thursday, April 19, 2012

UNH students working to bring clean water to African village

Cameron Kittle

Clean water in the United States is taken for granted, but it’s a luxury in places like the African village of Lukodi, Uganda.

Several engineering students at the University of New Hampshire hope to change that, as they complete an eight-month volunteer project with a trip to the village at the end of May.

Seniors Kayla Mineau and Dave Kurtz and junior Annie Sager will implement their student-designed project to create an effective and sustainable source of clean water for the village.

“It will be cool for us, after working so hard on this project, to see who it affects,” Kurtz said. “We’re not just sitting back at UNH.”

The students are part of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit volunteer group at UNH that brings engineers together to use what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real-world problems. The UNH chapter of the national organization started in 2002 and has completed three other projects in Thailand, Niger and Indonesia.

Two members of the chapter and one faculty mentor traveled to Lukodi in August for a preliminary assessment.

Mineau, of Plainfield, Conn., said 11 of the village’s 13 wells and springs tested positive for E. coli and other harmful bacteria. Men and women in the village were constantly sick from water-borne illnesses, she said.

“At the health clinic, the line outside never really stopped,” Mineau said.

The group will gather more information in May and try to make implementation of the project effective and sustainable. The students also hope to help with water storage and treatment, and other projects like irrigation design and improvement of the health care facility.

The students plan to stay in mud huts with the rest of the community, which creates a bond and sense of respect, Mineau said.

“We built lot of good relationships even though we can’t speak the language,” she said of the first trip. “They were really happy to have us there.”

Lukodi is a famous village for infamous reasons. It’s one of the sites where Joseph Kony hired child soldiers and massacred or displaced thousands of villagers. It was also at the heart of the Ugandan civil war, which happened over 20 years and only recently ended in 2006. The village population isn’t exact, due to the large number displaced after the wars, but it’s around 1,000 to 3,000 people, Sager said.

Engineers Without Borders at UNH has developed a partnership with ChildVoice International, a non-governmental organization based in Durham that has a rehab center in Lukodi for victims of the war. The group of UNH students hope to continue that recovery by improving the supply of clean water in the village.

“The idea is really to have sustainable projects, not just give people new technology and leave,” said Kurtz, a mechanical engineering student from Hopkinton. “It’s way more interesting than regular work. The whole project is entirely start-to-finish run by students. It’s engineering in practice.”

Mineau said the experience in Uganda is unlike anything else. She wants to continue work in Third World countries after graduation, even if it means a lower-paying job.

“It’s awesome to see the rewards you’re giving to people,” she said. “It’s a different experience than anywhere else.”

Sager, of Nantucket, Mass., said the opportunity to travel is great, since it can be hard to study abroad with a busy schedule of engineering classes.

“This is kind of my way to go abroad while I’m in college,” she said. “What we’re doing is a lot of fun, and we get to see what we’re doing in class and helping other people out with it. It gives us that real world experience.”

With projects that make such an impact, word of the group has spread around campus. The chapter has doubled in the past year, with about 35 active members and 15-20 people attending weekly meetings.

“There’s quite a number of people getting excited about it on campus, which is fantastic,” Kurtz said.

Engineers Without Borders has fundraisers coming up in the Seacoast area, including the “UNH’s Best Dance Crew” competition on campus April 25 and a silent auction in Portsmouth on April 28. The students raised $15,000 for the trip in May, but they’re planning another visit in January that will require about $30,000 for eight students.

As a student organization, the group gets a lot of help from faculty members, as well as others in the engineering department. They pointed to engineering faculty Robin Collins and Tom Ballestero as key members who help the group.

The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph. Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CamK) on Twitter.