Fresh Boundaries Bring Hope to Bugala

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Setting out for a ten-day field project, the minivan carrying twelve of us with our luggage and surveying equipment bumped along for two hours on narrow, dusty, rutted out roads. We were headed for the village of Bugala in the Nakaseke District of Uganda, located approximately 30 miles north-northwest of the capital city of Kampala. I have to admit, that in the days when I was studying and training for a career in land surveying, I never imagined practicing outside the continental United States, let alone boarding a plane for a 26-hour flight to survey in Africa.

Onboard the minivan were three civil engineers, two architects, an urban planner, a land surveyor (me), and volunteers and eMi EA interns from the US and the UK. We were members of a design team mobilized by Engineering Ministries International East Africa (eMi EA) to provide preliminary planning for a Campus Master Plan for a project called Hands of Mercy.

Engineering Ministries International East Africa had been contacted by Amazing Grace Christian Assembly (AGCA) of Uganda in seeking help for their Hands of Mercy project. AGCA had created the project to respond to the growing problem of children orphaned due to AIDS, malaria, and other causes, as well as promoting AIDS prevention and women’s education.

Hands of Mercy had purchased approximately ten acres of land in Bugala. Our team’s objective was to determine a long-term master plan. This required a topographic survey of the existing ten-acre site, and development of an architectural master plan and a utilities plan to include rain water collection, water distribution, and sanitation and wastewater disposal.

The amenities and comforts that we take for granted simply do not exist there. Roads within the village were no more than a foot path like cattle would make. Our diets consisted of pastas, meats, fresh vegetables and fruits. It was a well-balanced diet that allowed me to lose more than 15 pounds. Our living quarters had concrete floors and walls, unlike our neighbors’ dwellings that had dirt floors and thatched roofs. Nobody had indoor plumbing, running water or electricity. The nearest public electricity is located in the village of Kigege, located about a half-mile from the site. Water is collected from rainwater or pumped from bore holes. There are no flushing stools. Plans for the future include a combination of public electricity and solar generated electricity, additional bore holes and rainwater collection systems, and flushing toilets for the orphanage, schools, and a few other select buildings. Pit latrines and composting toilets are proposed for the sanitary needs in other proposed buildings.

Boundary Lines to the Future
The site to be surveyed was 10.6 acres that was irregular in shape. A traditional Ugandan village hut with a thatched roof was located at the southeast corner of the compound. Existing concrete markers and boundary trees defined the boundaries of the property. The topography spanned a vertical range of about 23 feet, from approximately 3,707 feet above sea level to 3,730 feet. Small fields of sweet potatoes, beans, maize, and other various crops were separated by dense vegetation.

Our survey crew consisted of three to five local villagers who served as local ambassadors and "jungle whackers", Jean (an eMi intern from the UK) and Brent (a volunteer engineer from California) who served as instrument operators, and me, the project surveyor and rodman. The villagers spoke limited English and Jean was hearing impaired. Although our communication was potentially challenging and our technical experience was limited, our survey crew turned out to be surprisingly efficient and a complete pleasure to work with. We collected data using a donated Sokkia Set5 and an SDR31 data collector, then downloaded the data to my personal laptop per the approval of my employer.

The field project consisted of three long working days with another two days spent on the drawing and contouring of the land. In my own estimation I know enough about AutoCad to be dangerous, and I had never contoured a project until then. It was challenging to work on the survey plat with no direct access to e-mail or technical support, but I found the help tools within the software to be of much assistance.

No amount of office planning could have prepared me for this job. As a team we donated over 1,500 hours (valued at more than $80,000 USD) to aid in the development of this facility. Eventually, the Hands of Mercy campus will include: a medical clinic to provide lowcost treatment for school children in the community, a school (preschool through secondary) free to orphaned or very poor children, an orphanage for victims of the widespread AIDS epidemic, a church to provide a central place of worship, a Bible college with classrooms and dormitories, and a vocational school that will provide instruction in carpentry, tailoring, iron or metal works, as well as instruction in arts and crafts to provide vocational opportunities to the many widows that have been left to provide for the children.

Muzungu Meets Susan
We also had the opportunity to spend many hours with the local villagers and their children. Our eMi team, with the addition of some local church members, enjoyed a futbol (soccer) match against the local club. As a father of two young children, I knew that candy would be a special treat for the children. It was common to be surrounded by children asking for a "sweetie from the Muzungu [white man]". One young child regularly brought me kiwi fruit and jackfruit picked from his family’s trees to thank me for the candy and for helping his village.

Wildlife provided another fascinating angle to our trip. The experience of a lifetime came one morning at 4:30 a.m. Upon making an early visit to the latrine, I heard what sounded like someone dragging their feet in the gravel as they circled outside the building. Exiting the latrine to investigate the sound, I came face to rump with a threeton hippopotamus that the villagers had affectionately named Susan. Apparently a frequent visitor, Susan is no one to mess with. We had been warned that these beasts, if startled, will run over anything in their path on their way back to the water. Quietly and cautiously I put as much distance between Susan and myself as possible. Upon conclusion of the trip we spent two days on an African safari viewing lions, baboons, elephants, crocodiles, kob, cape buffalo, giraffe, and warthogs in their natural environments.

The opportunity to serve as a volunteer with eMi was the most rewarding experience of my life both professionally and personally. By lending our skills and our time, we helped to make a difference for a people and a village desperately in need.

Engineering Ministries International (eMi) is a nonprofit Christian development organization made up of architects, engineers, land surveyors, and design professionals who donate skills to help children and families around the world step out of poverty and into a world of hope. For more information, visit

Adam Teale is a Principal Owner of Midland Surveying, a company with offices in Maryville and St. Joseph, Missouri.

A 1.477Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE