Building Access to Clean Drinking Water

During the summer of 2017, David Ouma '20 interned with Jibu Company in Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya. Jibu is a company that builds a network of locally owned franchises that enhance access to clean drinking water within communities. David worked with the corporate and engineering/tech teams.

by David Ouma '20, Class of 1966 Named Intern

I spent the first part of my internship in Kampala, Uganda, where Jibu Company is quite established and has a big market presence. While there I was trained by the in-country Jibu engineer on the ultra-filtration equipment used by the franchises. During the training, I spent a considerable amount of time studying the water purification process, the chemicals used and how to assemble a model of the machine they were using.

While in Kampala, the company housed me and I lived with another employee, an American who would become a friend and a guide as I traversed the city. The company was using a franchise business model—all the equipment was owned by the corporate company—so they had to run maintenance.

I spent the mornings training with the in-country engineer and other members of the Jibu corporate team, leaning about the machinery the company was using in the franchises to produce clean drinking water.

In the afternoons, I accompanied the in-country engineer to the franchises responding to emergencies, troubleshooting, and checking to ensure the quality of the water being produced was up to standard. In this way, I got to understand the business model that Jibu was using and the reasons for the success or struggles of the franchises that I visited.

All transportation was done by motorbike and I was glad to have had the safety talk by Dickey Center staff—I used a helmet from my host.

At the franchises, we encountered problems ranging from leaks in the piping, pumps failing to activate, sediment in the water and wear and tear in the filters. Working with the technicians and the engineer we would fix what we could or replace the faulty components. It was a great opportunity to "get soil on my hands"—work on the machines and understand their operations. We also advised on other things like sales and safety and standards requirements for water production.

I was also tasked with setting up and maintaining a wiki page where any relevant tech/information I had encountered during my time at the internship would be posted. The goal of the wiki page was to provide a resource for low level tech employees at the franchises to refer to in case of minor problems with the machinery that they could easily fix. I collected material relevant to the problems I encountered during maintenance checks and emergency calls.

While in Nairobi, Kenya, there was no in-country engineer, so I assumed the role of running the tech team and coordinating with other technicians to run maintenance checks and troubleshoot whenever challenges arose at the three franchises in Nairobi that were already set up. I was also assigned to assist with the build out of a new franchise—so I designed its appearance, and installed a new purification system at the franchise

During my time in Uganda, I also started working on a wiki page that would contain information that a low-level technician could use in case of emergencies to troubleshoot the machines. I was best poised for this role because I came into the organization with a fresh pair of eyes and having never learnt anything about the systems and processes being used for the water purification. I then spent the remainder of the internship working at the Jibu office in Nairobi, Kenya. Jibu Kenya was going through a build out phase, looking for ways to expand its network of franchises in Nairobi.

At Dartmouth, I am studying engineering and so this gave me the technical base with which to approach the tech/machine difficulties that I faced. I spent most of my time at the internship interacting with the machine in one way or another and I feel this will contribute to making me comfortable with working with machines during my studies and eventually in my career. I really enjoyed working in the field and fixing machines, so the internship was helpful in cementing the idea of what kind of career I want. There was just so much joy in both getting to see a broken purification system work again and the relief in the franchisees faces.

I feel this internship has made me aware of the many opportunities for invention, business and social change out there in the world, and in Africa especially. It was touching how many people's lives were being changed by the opportunity to do business selling such a basic commodity like water. Through the innovation of simple purification systems and machines that could be operated by almost anyone, the communities that I worked with were finally getting access to clean drinking water. Because of this experience, I want to be a part of something similar after I graduate.