In case you missed it, on January 1 we announced the exciting shift in course Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) is undertaking to increase our impact across the globe. The key to this new field-driven approach to international development is expanding our country office presence. We’re already up and running in Guatemala and Nicaragua, and are laying the groundwork to open a third field operation this year in Uganda.
Below, EWB-USA’s Managing Program Director, Chris Bleers, answers questions about our country office choice and what it means for the organization in 2018 and beyond.
Why was Uganda chosen as the site for EWB-USA’s next country office?
Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world, with enormous needs for small-scale infrastructure at the village level. These needs range from water supply and sanitation to schools, roads, health clinics, bridges, alternative energy and food security. All of these can be effectively addressed by EWB-USA’s wide-ranging engineering expertise. We also already have a significant footprint in the country, with 47 EWB-USA projects currently at various stages of implementation in Uganda; this is one of the highest concentrations of programs in our organization.
Over the past year, more than 1,000,000 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in northern Uganda seeking protection after fleeing civil war. This huge influx has not only generated a great demand for water and sanitation services on the part of the refugee communities, but has equally placed a similar strain on the capacity of Ugandan communities in border regions that host their new refugee neighbors. To compound this scenario, the country is also currently grappling with the effects of climate change and the drought conditions affecting the rest of the Horn of Africa.
In terms of safety and security for EWB-USA staff and volunteers, the government of Uganda allows operational access to all corners of the country with no required travel authorizations beyond a visa. The U.S. State Dept. has no travel alerts or warnings currently issued for Uganda. Still, the extreme border areas with the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan would still be considered no-go areas for projects until International SOS, the medical and travel security firm EWB-USA utilizes, lifts its high-risk rating for those areas.
Finally, the Ugandan government is unique in its policy on refugees. It is very progressive and gives two acres of land to each refugee head of household, guarantees them freedom of movement across the country, and allows these populations to enroll in school, seek livelihoods, and even seek Ugandan citizenship. This compassionate policy has attracted the attention of the international community and great efforts are underway by the government, the United Nations and numerous nonprofit agencies to make this opportunity a success and a model for other refugee situation around the world. Large investment is being made to meet the needs that are present and to support this favorable work environment, and EWB-USA is uniquely positioned to provide the engineering expertise that is not currently available among NGOs working in Uganda.
What are the benefits of having a sustained presence in a country?
EWB-USA aligns with international norms in our belief that development aid should go to the neediest. The nature of the needs of these vulnerable communities can change very quickly or even rapidly deteriorate, leaving little time to react and adapt programming. With a country office staffed with development experts, we can ensure results-driven program strategies and the timely delivery of assistance. EWB-USA’s field operations also offer extensive support to our thousands of volunteers and grow opportunities for maximizing their unique skill sets.
As our offices in Guatemala and Nicaragua continue to provide evidence, shifting to a field-based approach will improve EWB-USA’s accountability to the communities with which we work, to our donors who support our mission, and to the betterment of our organization.
Where will the office be located?
EWB-USA’s 47 projects in Uganda are mostly concentrated southwest of the capital, Kampala, or to its northeast. EWB-USA would first open a country office in Kampala to support the majority of these projects and for representation with government agencies and potential NGO partners.
After the first office is established, our intention is to open a small field office in the far northwestern city of Arua. This locale would focus on programming for the Ugandan communities affected by the refugee influx and the South Sudanese refugee community.
When will the office officially open?
We are currently navigating the legal processes of opening a Uganda office in Kampala, with a goal open date of mid-2018.
In the meantime, if you’re an EWB-USA member interested in working on a project in Uganda, check out our 5 open programs!