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UCU’s treatment plant turns waste water into treasure

By Kefa Senoga
Waste from water to flush toilets, take a shower and do laundry is not a waste at the main campus of Uganda Christian University (UCU).  It hasn’t been wasted in 17 years. It’s recycled and used to educate students, primarily those studying engineering. 

UCU constructed a $300,000 wastewater treatment plant in 2006. Two-thirds of the cost of the plant, the first of its kind for any institution in Uganda, was funded by the Diocese of Sidney’s Overseas Relief and Aid Fund of Australia.

About UCU’s treatment plant

The aeration chamber of the plant
The aeration chamber of the plant

Wastewater that is generated from various daily activities is toxic to both humans and the environment, hence the need to purify it, before it’s released into the environment. Wastewater is treated in 3 phases: primary (solid removal), secondary (bacterial decomposition), and tertiary (extra filtration).

According to Arnold Mugisha, a demonstrator at UCU’s department of Engineering and Environment under the Faculty of Engineering, Design and Technology, the wastewater treatment plant that was developed by Prof. Steven Riley, uses a biological process to treat the sewage and clean the water so that it is safe enough for disposal into the environment.

Mugisha says that the plant uses an activated biological sludge water treatment process, where microorganisms are used to break down the organic matter, which would otherwise be hazardous to the environment.

The plant has several sections, with the first having screens, where paper, pads and other similar waste are removed. The screened waste water then drops into the equalization chamber, from where the microorganisms break down the fecal matter. The water is then pumped into the aeration chamber, where more oxygen is supplied to the microorganisms, to enable them break down the waste completely.

A view of the wastewater treatment facility
A view of the wastewater treatment facility

“The waste is broken down by absorption, where the microorganisms eat the waste, and adsorption, where the organic waste sticks onto the body of the microorganisms,” Mugisha explains.

According to Mugisha, this is the most important step of the plant because that’s where most of the biological oxygen demand is reduced.

At the clarifier stage, solid particulates or suspended solids are removed from the liquid. At this point, the deposited sludge settles at the bottom and the clear water remains up, says Mugisha. The sludge is used for both manure and decomposition by anaerobic bacteria to produce biogas. At the time of installation, the plant was able to treat about 350 cubic meters of water per day.

Robert Muhumuza, a plumber, operating the facility
Robert Muhumuza, a plumber, operating the facility

At the chlorination chamber, chlorinated water is used to kill extra organisms that are still in the water. Mugisha says that if waste water is not treated properly, it can pollute water sources, cause illnesses and damage natural habitats. The treated wastewater is used for irrigating flowers, grass and plants in the university compound. People who would want to use the sludge for manure in their gardens are always granted permission to pick it from the facility.

Okot Innocent, a fresh UCU engineering graduate, says the facility provides a platform for engineering students to put their classroom knowledge into practice, learning in practical terms how the processes work. 

“Some of the students who want to become water engineers have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the equipment and the systems used in the treatment process,” Okot noted.

In Kampala, the Bugolobi wastewater treatment plant is the largest in the country and serves about four million people per day. The plant is capable of processing 45 million liters of waste daily.

Students marvel at innovation

UCU Robotics Students Spark Innovation at Ntare School in Mbarara

By Irene Best Nyapendi

On June 24th, students from Uganda Christian University (UCU) in the Department of Computing and Technology in collaboration with Google, through the UCU Google Student Developers’ Club, paid a visit to Ntare School in Mbarara to inspire secondary students with their impressive innovations.

The Ntare School Robotics Colloquium saw the participation of at least four secondary schools: Bweranyangyi Girls Secondary School, Mbarara Secondary School, Nyamitanga Secondary School, and Kigezi High School.

During the colloquium, UCU students showcased several projects aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These projects aimed to address various community issues through innovative solutions.

One of the UCU Robotics team members exhibits one of UCU’s homemade robots. to Ntare students Photo/Irene Nyapendi

The exhibition not only allowed the UCU students to demonstrate their practical skills but also provided a valuable learning experience for the Ntare School students.

Students’ Thoughts on the innovation expo

Rachel Mbeiza Isooba, a student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, was thrilled to participate in the exhibition and inspire her fellow students. She shared, “Being able to showcase our projects to the Ntare School students and witness their enthusiasm was incredibly rewarding. I hope it encourages them to explore their own innovative ideas.”

Joseph Miiro Luutu, another UCU student specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics, recognized the impact of such events on students’ growth. He stated, “It was an honour to be part of the exhibition and share my knowledge with the Ntare School students. By introducing them to robotics and technology, we hope to inspire them to pursue their passions and make a difference in their community.”

The Ntare School students were captivated by the innovative projects presented by the UCU students. The practical demonstrations left a lasting impression, igniting their curiosity and motivating them to delve deeper into the world of robotics. With the guidance and support from innovation-driven institutions like UCU, the students are poised to unleash their creativity and drive positive change through technology and innovation.

Other voices

Martin Kubona, a tutor in the Department of Computing and Technology, explained that their participation in the exhibition was intended to inspire young people to leverage innovation in solving problems within their communities.

He emphasized the significance of exposing their students to different communities across the country, allowing them to gain a broader perspective on various issues. He stated, “At the department, we emphasize project-based learning, allowing our students to put what they learn in class into practice and exhibit their work to the community.”

The event served as an enlightening experience for their students, as they witnessed how other young individuals were tackling problems through innovative projects. “Inspiring the younger generation aligns with our department’s goals. When secondary students observe UCU students exhibiting their projects, they are motivated to explore and see if they can achieve similar or even better outcomes,” said Kubona.

He further highlighted the uniqueness of the exhibition, specifically how secondary students aligned their projects with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He noted that while many people come up with projects, often those projects fail to address any specific problem.

Wilson Ndeze, the Deputy Head Teacher of Ntare School, expressed gratitude to UCU for providing hands-on technical knowledge to his students. He explained that since the government transitioned from a knowledge-based to a competency-based curriculum, the UCU team’s involvement in skilling young innovators held immense significance.

“We are extremely grateful to UCU for sharing practical knowledge with our students and inspiring them to embrace innovation as a means to solve problems within their community,” Ndeze said. He emphasized that these learners reside in societies facing numerous challenges, and exhibitions like these help open their minds to innovative solutions.

Joseph Twinomugisha, a senior three student from Ntare School was inspired and motivated by the UCU team to embark on his own projects. “Today I’ve learnt from the UCU team that if you have an idea, you need to involve other people so that they can advise and finance you to grow your project,” Twinomugisha said.

He adds that he is so grateful to UCU because robotics has been a silent element of endeavour in the study of sciences, at their school. “We appreciate UCU for bringing us samples of their work and helping us get ideas of projects to work on,” Twinomugisha said.

Robot innovators

How UCU Students Created a “Blue Light” to Enhance Road Safety

By Irene Best Nyapendi
A personal, grim reality inspired Uganda Christian University (UCU) student, Anei Agany Mabui, to invent a robot to curb road crashes. 

Students explain “why” the innovation

“One time I took a patient to Mulago hospital, and I couldn’t get a bed for him because most of the beds were occupied by patients from motorcycle accidents,” said Mabui, a South Sudanese student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. “I decided that I needed to do something to think of a solution to reduce the risks of road accidents.”

With the help of two coursemates, Mabui developed the model robot to alleviate collisions at traffic junctions. Mabui, Marvin Kauta and Gary Mathew Nkuraija developed the prototype with equipment that UCU Partners donated to the university’s robotics laboratory.

According to Dr. Olivia Kobusingye, an accident and emergency surgeon, more than 40 per cent of the financial budget allocated to the hospital’s trauma center is spent on treating victims of motorcycle crashes. 

“Our aim is to reduce motorcycle accidents at traffic light junctions in Uganda,” Mabui said.

He observed that at the traffic lights junction, accidents are a result of the mad dash after the lights have turned green for the motorists to go. “There are three colours on the traffic lights, whereby red signifies stop, orange means get ready to move and green signifies move. When the green lights go on, it allows both motorcycles and vehicles to move at the same time, but because of the huge volume, it causes collisions.”

The students reasoned the solution to avoid collisions was adding a fourth traffic light, which is the blue light. “So, when the blue light goes on, it signifies that only motorcycles can move, to avoid congestion of both cars and motorcycles moving at once,” Mabui said.

The project gives a basic idea of how to reduce traffic accidents on major roads and road junctions with traffic lights. The Uganda annual police crime report 2022, registered 20,394 cases of road accidents. Of those, 4,534 died, 15,227 had serious injuries and 1,712 sustained minor other injuries.

The students also derived inspiration for the project from the 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) set by the United Nations to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Emmanuel Isabirye, the students’ instructor in charge of innovation, said UCU has a dedicated practical training program and research laboratory for robotics, data science, artificial intelligence and mechatronics. 

One of the robots was developed by the Computing students based at UCU.

“I am so proud and happy to see my students innovate and create an impact in the community,” Isabirye said. He said Mabui, Kauta and Nkurajja hit two birds with one stone: that is the 9th and 11th SDG. The 9th SDG aims at building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation.

“We appreciate Uganda Partners for their timely intervention through the donation of equipment,” Isabirye said. “The students have been wanting to experiment with their ideas, but they didn’t have the equipment to make the prototypes”. Isabirye hopes innovations will become a culture for university students before they graduate.

Student innovators are grateful to UCU Partners

UCU Partners donated an assortment of items including sensors like infrared sensors, ultrasonic sensors, led bulbs, batteries, Arduino boards, breadboards, jumper wires, glue and servo motors. The project was entirely a brainchild of the Department of Computing and Technology students. 

“We are implementing what we learnt last semester and through that knowledge, we have come up with something impactful,” Kauta said.

Nkuraija said during their study, they looked at the Kampala-Jinja Road as their case study because of the high number of accidents on the carriageway. During heavy traffic, cars and motorcycles follow each other so closely, many times resulting in accidents. He said with automation, it is possible to ensure a certain level of safety on the road.

“We are basing on improving the traffic light system through using automation to reduce stampedes and accidents on the road,” Nkuraija said.

He called on motorists to embrace the project once it is offered to them, so that the road is safer for them, their passengers and other road users.

The student solution to end fatal crashes on the road is a significant step towards the integration of technology and electronics in pursuit of optimizing limited resources.

Innovation

Hanze University, UCU innovations reducing unemployment in Uganda

By John Semakula

High graduate unemployment rates in Uganda

After grappling with raising school fees for years, it is every parent’s dream for their son or daughter to find a good job after university graduation. However, with over 53 universities churning out at least 30,000 graduates every year in Uganda’s mainly subsistence economy, this is a pipe dream.

The unemployment rate for Uganda’s post-secondary graduates is 80%, which is one of the highest in the world, according to BrighterMonday, a recruitment and HR platform.

Why UCU Partnered with Hanze University..?

The government’s effort to meet the challenge through startup capital handouts to millions of unemployed youth is far from yielding results. As a result, many unemployed graduates live a desperate life of admiring school dropouts in the informal sector who can put food on the table for their families.

It’s this situation that has brought Uganda Christian University (UCU) and Hanze University of Applied Science in the Netherlands together to find a solution. With support from Hanze University, in 2020, UCU started the School of Business Incubation Hub to offer entrepreneurial training and incubation services to students to counter the high graduate unemployment.

Elsie Nsiyona, the Associate Dean of the UCU School of Business, says the idea of the Incubation hub was hatched in 2018 as a maiden step towards the realization of the bigger dream of skilling students.  

“This was after we visited the Hanze University’s ‘Cube 50’, the equivalent of UCU School of Business’ Incubation Hub, a centre where students’ entrepreneurial skills are guided and nurtured to fruition,” she says.

Armed with the idea of starting something similar to what was in the Netherlands, Nsiyona says they set off by revising the existing entrepreneurship curriculum offered by the then Faculty of Business and Administration at the diploma and degree level to inculcate a more practical element in the reviewed curriculum called the ‘Intra-skills training’.

“In line with the new curriculum, in teams of four or five, students are required to generate a business idea to solve a community challenge, and work with the market to identify solutions, develop prototypes and test them with the community and market through exhibitions,” she says.

School of Business establishes an innovations hub

In 2020, the UCU School of Business successfully established a Euros14,600 (about sh60m) incubation hub that has since been used to skill dozens of students to use their university education in innovative and practical ways, creating new products. Since then,  the UCU School of Business has not looked back.

According to Florence Wanyenze, the manager at the UCU School of Business hub, the training given to students at the hub is comprehensive and practical in nature that besides enabling the learners to develop feasible business ideas that are tested and turned into functional businesses, it also focuses on sustainability.

“The curriculum covers mindset and attitude changes, business idea development, prototype and feasibility check, plus implementing the business idea based on a business model,” she said.

In the process of revising the curriculum, Nsiyona says they were aware that Uganda ranks among the most enterprising countries and at the same time it tops the list of countries whose enterprises collapse before celebrating their first anniversary. This helped them to draft a curriculum addressing the challenge.

Aston Aryamanya, a trainer at the hub, noted that the facility has made significant progress in the area of entrepreneurship and the creation of jobs for youth in Uganda.

“We have taught aspiring business owners how to be creative and develop market solutions that address today’s problems,” he said, “We have also assisted these young people in realizing their capacity to create work rather than look for employment.”

Victor Ssenabulya, a third-year student of a Bachelor of Entrepreneurship and Project Planning is one of the proud beneficiaries. Last year, after attending one of the exhibitions organized by the UCU School of Business Incubation hub, Ssenabulya started adding value to his rabbit project.

“I had learnt that when mixed with manure, the rabbit’s urine could serve as a fertilizer,” he said, adding, “That’s how I started making the liquid fertilizers.”

So far, he says, he has sold 500 litres of the fertilizer mainly to his close family at Shs10,000 (about USD2.7) per litre. Ssenabulya says his plan is to increase the scale of production of the fertilizer in the near future, especially after school.

Formerly, he only dealt in selling meat products from the farm at Katabi in Wakiso District, Central Uganda.

Ssenabulya’s success story is just one of the many told at the hub. Such achievements multiply daily because of the eight-year partnership between UCU and Hanze University. In February 2023, the partnership attracted the Hanze University President, Dick Pouwels to visit UCU. The UCU Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, visited Hanze University in mid-April, 2022.

Hanze President visits UCU

During his visit to UCU, Pouwels commended the university administration for the initiative geared towards finding a solution to Uganda’s high graduate unemployment. Pouwels also participated in a number of activities geared towards bolstering students’ innovation including the unveiling of the proposed structure for the UCU School of Business Incubation Hub at the main campus in Mukono.

He noted that Hanze University had been working with UCU in different fields such as business, engineering, and social sciences for the last eight years and that he feels the commitment to strengthen the partnership even further in a bid to promote original business ideas.

Turning to UCU students, he said, it was important for them to just look around and focus on building their talents to come up with new innovations. “Entrepreneurship can be very good where you develop your own talent and strength,” Pouwels said.  

In his remarks, UCU’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mushengyezi, commended the partnership between the two universities and urged his administration to ensure that the projects benefit not only UCU but Uganda in general.

The Dean of the UCU School of Business, Vincent Kisenyi, noted that the proposed structure for the UCU School of Business Hub, which was unveiled would widen the scope of the University’s operation in training and empowering students besides creating an avenue for engagement with the outside community.

“We have registered a massive number of students and as well have made entrepreneurship a course unit across all the schools,” Kisenyi said, “This means that the space we have at the current hub is not enough, which is why we are collaborating with Hanze University to create more space.”

The move to address graduate unemployment in Uganda through innovations speaks to UCU’s Vision of being a centre of excellence in the heart of Africa. Already, dozens of UCU students and staff have benefited from the partnership between the two institutions through the exchange programme that allows them to go to the Netherlands every year for a study period.

Robot

Revolutionize agriculture with UCU’s groundbreaking soil humidity robot- A new era in sustainable farming

By Jimmy Siyasa

Uganda Christian University (UCU) has always been at the forefront of technology and innovation. The latest development from the Department of Computing and Technology has students and faculty excited about the potential impact it will have on the environment and agriculture industry. A team of students from the department has developed a robot prototype that tests soil temperature and soil samples’ humidity with accuracy.

This innovation is a result of a long-term project that aimed to create a device that would address the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. The device is equipped with sensors that detect the amount of water in the soil and send the data to a central database, which can then be accessed by farmers in the region. This data can be used to determine the appropriate amount of water that crops need, thereby reducing the amount of water that is wasted in irrigation.

One of the robots developed by the UCU Department of Computing and Technology. Courtesy photo.

The lead developer of the robot, Felix Kennedy Akorimo, who is now a Teaching Assistant, explains how the device works in a video posted on the UCU YouTube channel. The robot moves on wheels, with a metal arm that extends into the ground to take measurements of the soil humidity. The device is powered by a rechargeable battery, making it easy to use in remote locations.

One of the most significant benefits of the soil humidity robot is its potential impact on the agricultural industry in Uganda. Farmers in the region struggle with water scarcity, and the high cost of irrigation systems often make it difficult for them to keep their crops hydrated. With the robot, farmers can make more informed decisions about the amount of water their crops require, reducing water wastage and maximizing their yields.

In conclusion, the soil humidity robot developed by UCU students is a significant breakthrough in technology that has the potential to address the challenges that farmers face in Uganda. As the device is continually improved for efficiency, it is anticipated that it will become an essential tool in the fight against climate change and in promoting sustainable agriculture. UCU remains committed to driving innovation in technology and nurturing the next generation of leaders in the field.