The Sisters of Notre Dame partnered with the Greater Cincinnati Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to install a biogas system at the site of their mission in Buseesa, Uganda and improve the local community’s water supply.
EWB became aware of the sisters’ mission in Uganda via Erin Cummings, a volunteer engineer and alumna of Notre Dame Academy in Covington, K.Y. Cummings and a small group of EWB volunteers traveled to Buseesa three times in three years. According to a blog post by Cummings on the CH2M HILL Foundation website, the team’s initial goals were to “verify the feasibility of implementing and sustaining a biogas system at the school; and second, to determine the greatest engineering need of the community in the greater Buseesa area.” During their second trip the team collected more data, met with local contractors, determined site locations and secured construction materials. The projects were completed during their final trip in March of 2015.
“The kitchen at Saint Julie Model Primary Boarding School services the students at Notre Dame Academy Senior Secondary School, the nursery and all of the teaching staff, maintenance workers and farm workers, which is about 500-plus people every day,” said Sister Mary Paulynne Tubick, current principal at Saint Julie.
The biogas project will make food preparation at the sisters’ mission more sustainable by supplementing the wood-burning stoves in the existing outdoor kitchen that demand a near-constant supply of firewood. EWB volunteer John Baginski led the installation of the biogas system.
“Our goal is to create enough biogas with this unit to at least cut in half the amount of firewood now used as fuel at the school,” Baginski wrote via email.
The construction team built a brick mixing tank that feeds manure (collected from the animals on the sisters’ farm) and water into a flexible bag that can hold up to 50 cubic meters. The bag works like the human digestive system, transforming food into heat, gas and waste. The gas flows through a small tube from the top of the bag to the kitchen where it can be used to cook food on gas burners.
“The cooks at the school will retain the ability to cook with wood as fuel. But in mid-May, when school is back in session, they will have the added capability to begin cooking on three new biogas burners. It will be a new experience for them,” Baginski wrote.
The greatest engineering need in Buseesa is clean water. Water must be collected by hand from springs, streams, marshes and shallow wells and it is often unsafe to drink. The team of EWB volunteers tested the available water sources and found them all to be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. When those sources disappear during dry seasons, community members must walk further to collect water. The Sisters of Notre Dame are used to collecting rainwater in large tanks on their property and treating it with chlorine so it’s safe to use.
“Typhoid and malaria are an issue because at home they [the students at Saint Julie and Notre Dame Academy schools] may live in mud huts. We purify all water but at home that’s not always the case,” said Sister Maria Bernarde Derichsweiler, who has served in Uganda since 2001.
The EWB volunteers used funding from the Sisters of Notre Dame in Covington, K.Y., and support from the Buseesa Community Development Centre (BCDC) to build a new well in the village center. Then, a water committee was elected to operate and maintain it.
“We will continue to monitor both projects and start working on new projects based on the community’s highest needs,” wrote Cummings via email.