Documentary debuts in Coffman

U students helped bring drinking water to a Ugandan village.

Adam Daniels

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, âÄúDid you mean: mulberry?âÄù But for a group of University of Minnesota students, Mulobere is where they learned to âÄúslow down and see what really matters in the large scheme of things.âÄù The village of Mulobere is located in the rural Masaka district of southwest Uganda and has a population of about 500. The documentary âÄúWater for Mulobere,âÄù 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 filmâÄôs 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. âÄúI thought maybe it was somewhat clear like our lakes,âÄù Anderson said, âÄúBut some of the water I saw people getting was actually really dirty looking âĦ and there are all kinds of bacteria in it, so it isnâÄôt safe water.âÄù 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. âÄúI donâÄôt think you can really prepare yourself for an experience like this,âÄù said fourth-year civil engineering student Katheryn Hope. âÄúWe learned as we went. Next time IâÄôd remember to bring more duct tape.âÄù The project also included health education focusing on malaria prevention. More than 1,000 mosquito nets were distributed to people in the village. âÄúIn the village, we were staying with a family thatâÄôs involved with running the schools, and so we were living life the same way they do,âÄù University civil and environmental engineering student Brian Bell said. âÄúDrinking the same water and experiencing how people live was a great life experience.âÄù A majority of the questions at the premier were about logistics and finance. âÄúI canâÄôt believe it,âÄù said Colleen Langford, whose daughter is a second-year public health student. âÄúThey just went to Home Depot and then to Uganda and changed the way people live. ItâÄôs amazing.âÄù 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 âÄúWater for MulobereâÄù more exposure, even talks of showing it on PBS. âÄúBringing attention to this issue is really important,âÄù Anderson said, âÄúand this documentary gives us that opportunity.âÄù Bell chose to help in Mulobere after spending November 2007 helping in Haiti. âÄúI was interested in engineering that would have more impact on peopleâÄôs lives and something a bit more adventurous,âÄù Bell said. âÄúThis project created a passion in me and definitely something I want to make a career out of.âÄù