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Stories from the field

Meet Sophie Schillings, EU Aid Volunteer in Uganda. "Building sustainable water tanks and friendships"

About the Project
EU Aid Volunteers ACTing against disaster risks (EUAVACT) is an EU Aid Volunteers project. The project is implemented by a consortium of ACT Alliance organisations and involves 38 EU Aid Volunteer placements. The project aims at contributing to more effective (EU provided) humanitarian response, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and resilience in five countries (Ethiopia, Uganda, Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia) through strengthening local NGOs and vulnerable and disaster prone communities members.

Text: Jenni Petäjä

Photos: Gregório Cunha

In Mbale, Mbale District, Eastern Uganda

Sophie Schillings, from The Netherlands, is working as an EU Aid Volunteer in Mbale since September 2017 for the Church of Uganda’s diocese.

  • "My job title could be described as Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Officer. I worked on disaster preparedness and coordination of early response during an internship with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Africa and I have a Masters in International Development, including natural disasters. I applied for this position because I was really interested to deepen my skills and knowledge about the issue", Sophie explains.

One of Sophie’s main tasks is to train area’s disaster community teams.

  • "The training is on the Church of Uganda’s disaster risk management policy: it’s guiding principles, objectives and response plan for each disaster and how the policy can be implemented. Right now I have trained around 125 people in total", Sophie tells.

The Mount Elgon region sees many disasters, because it has highlands and lowlands: there is flooding, landslides, hailstorms, drought and diseases.

  • "With trainings we try to put in place practices for different churches on what to do in case of disaster, where it is safe to go in case of landslides etc. I have learned how resilient people are even when living in disaster prone areas: they help each other, are motivated to work in disaster preparedness and have an amazing attitude", she describes.

The diocese employs in total eight personnel and countless volunteers while working in the area of health and education besides DRR for example.


Bright ideas lead to practical solutions

Besides the trainings, she is writing the Mbale Diocese Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. She has achieved very practical things as well: she has come up with an idea of new sustainable water tanks.

  • "The idea came when I met a Peace Corp volunteer, Michal Matejczuk, who was building this type of tank at a local school in Mbale as part of The Ichupa Upcycle Project; I figured why couldn’t build it too?! Normally the water tanks are made of plastic but our new Upcycle tanks are made of water bottles, sand and cement. They last longer, they have bigger capacity and they are easier to fix and patch with cement than the plastic ones. In addition, the new water tanks are a more environmental and economic option", Sophie says.

Sophie is currently constructing three tanks with the total capacity of 30 000 litres. In the future the church and the surrounding community can benefit from free water instead of paying for it.

  • "For now everything has gone very well in this pilot phase and I hope that this model will be duplicated to other churches and schools."


Active life with new friends

At the beginning of her employment, Sophie tells, her life in a new place was a little bit lonely when she didn’t know anyone. As in every new place, one needs to find out things that are ordinary in life back home, such as where the market is.

However, it didn’t take long before she had built her new social network of other NGO workers in the area. Besides helping each other in work related questions, they go hiking in the mountains, watch football, have dinners and sometimes spend weekends in the pool.

  • "I’m really happy about my life here. The best thing about my deployment is meeting new people and it is really nice to get appreciation about your work from the communities", Sophie says smiling.

Sophie is grateful for her experience in Uganda.

  • "During the assignment I have come more into myself and become more confident that this is what I really want to do", she sums up.
Building sustainable water tanks and friendships