When searching the Internet for information on the Ugandan city of Mulobere, there is not much to be found. No official website, no maps, not even a Wikipedia page. In fact, Google asks, “Did you mean: mulberry?”
But for a group of University of Minnesota students, Mulobere is where they learned to “slow down and see what really matters in the large scheme of things.”
The village of Mulobere is located in the rural Masaka district of southwest Uganda and has a population of about 500.
The documentary “Water for Mulobere,” which premiered Tuesday at the Coffman Union Theater, focused on a team of students who helped bring clean drinking water to the village. It was filmed by Institute on the Environment multimedia producer Beth Anderson.
Last June, 12 engineering students, two public health students, one professional mentor and Anderson traveled on behalf of Engineers Without Borders from the University to Hope Integrated Academy, a vocational college, high school and community resource center, to implement a solar-powered water supply system.
The project was funded with almost half of a $50,000 grant given to the student-led group by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment last spring.
150 students, faculty and parents attended the film’s screening. The premiere began with a performance from Hayor Bibimma African Dance Company and concluded with a question and answer session with Anderson and three of the student participants.
“I thought maybe it was somewhat clear like our lakes,” Anderson said, “But some of the water I saw people getting was actually really dirty looking … and there are all kinds of bacteria in it, so it isn’t safe water.”
The group determined that the school and community would greatly benefit from easier clean water accessibility. The group built two storage tanks that would hold enough for each person to get 15 liters of water a day.
“I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for an experience like this,” said fourth-year civil engineering student Katheryn Hope.
“We learned as we went. Next time I’d remember to bring more duct tape.”
The project also included health education focusing on malaria prevention. More than 1,000 mosquito nets were distributed to people in the village.
“In the village, we were staying with a family that’s involved with running the schools, and so we were living life the same way they do,” University civil and environmental engineering student Brian Bell said. “Drinking the same water and experiencing how people live was a great life experience.”
A majority of the questions at the premier were about logistics and finance.
“I can’t believe it,” said Colleen Langford, whose daughter is a second-year public health student. “They just went to Home Depot and then to Uganda and changed the way people live. It’s amazing.”
Prior to this trip, two students and a professor went to Uganda in August 2007 and assessed what needed to be done. Then, after two semesters of research, design, project planning and fundraising during the 2007-08 academic year, construction began in June 2008.
An initial six engineering students and two professional mentors installed rainwater harvesting and dry composting sanitation systems for Hope Integrated Academy.
Anderson said there are many plans to get “Water for Mulobere” more exposure, even talks of showing it on PBS.
“Bringing attention to this issue is really important,” Anderson said, “and this documentary gives us that opportunity.”
Bell chose to help in Mulobere after spending November 2007 helping in Haiti.
“I was interested in engineering that would have more impact on people’s lives and something a bit more adventurous,” Bell said. “This project created a passion in me and definitely something I want to make a career out of.”