Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer

A journey of discovery

Birds settling in three tops in Masaka at sunset

Assisting talented but economically disadvantaged students from some of the world’s poorest countries is the key aim of the University’s Equity and Merit Scholarship programme. David Gennard travelled through Uganda and Tanzania to see how these Manchester graduates have transformed their communities.

It’s close to midnight and we are looking down into the valley at the town of Masaka. Its lights shine through the drifting charcoal-smoke and mist.

Marabou stork sleep, silhouetted in the trees as the moon rises. A log fire spits and crackles and a dog paces around, agitated by the howls of others in the distance. It’s been a long day spent travelling.

We’ve walked, driven and sailed through Uganda on a mission to discover how electricity has been brought to Bugala Island by a Manchester alumnus. Our legs are tired, our minds groggy and we’re in need of sleep. But the view, like the awe-inspiring graduates we have so far met, commands our attention. Since it began ten years ago, the University’s Equity and Merit Scholarship scheme has given more than 200 exceptional individuals from Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Bangladesh the opportunity to obtain postgraduate degrees in subjects not available in their home country.

Founded by the University’s then President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Gilbert, because “producing graduates who will be responsible global citizens is now more critical than ever”, the scholarships are jointly funded by the University and its donors, whose generosity equals their impact.

“Manchester is providing courses not available in the scholars’ home countries and finance that they’d struggle to access,” explains senior international officer Joanne Jacobs. “Other Universities have scholarships tied to marketing – we’re doing something special by tying ours to social responsibility.”

To celebrate the tenth anniversary, the University has made Equity and Merit one of the signature social responsibility programmes. This core goal of social responsibility is unique among UK higher education institutions – placing making a difference as a priority alongside research and teaching and learning. Professor James Thompson, Associate Vice-President for Social Responsibility, said: “Equity and Merit will continue into its next ten years, building on Alan Gilbert’s legacy, ensuring the University continue this distinctive commitment to international, accessible education.”

The scholars have made a huge difference to the economic and social development of their home communities. Their stories are inspiring…

I want to find innovative solutions for preventing the spread of diseases.

Ann Auma

MSc Immunology 2013 and Sear Equity and Merit Scholar
Mulago Hospital, Kampala

It’s mid-morning and we’re slowly cutting our way through the traffic clogging Kampala’s main arteries. We’re headed north through the city to Mulago hill. In the 1800s King Suna II kept ‘Omulago’ here – a type of medicine used for protection against spirits.

Coincidently, it’s now the location of the largest hospital in Uganda. Here we’re meeting with Dr Ann Auma, a researcher who is using education and medicine to protect people from a much more serious threat – infectious disease.

A couple of inquisitive boys follow us as we walk through the hospital grounds. Ann points to the mangos they’re munching on: “There’s a myth that if you eat mangos you’ll get malaria. During the rainy season, mosquitos breed in the stagnant water that collects. When it rains heavily it knocks the mangos from the trees. The kids sit and eat the mangos where they’ve fallen next to the water and then, of course, they get bitten by the mosquitos.”Malaria remains the second deadliest disease among children under five in Uganda. It claims 42 lives daily, according to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011.

“One of my earliest memories is of suffering from malaria when I was a child. In my lifetime frontline malaria treatment has changed only twice – this is not enough.

“I’ve worked in the eastern part of Uganda. We had children suffering from cerebral malaria, severe hyperglycaemia and anaemia. It has a big impact on their development at such a young age. “The malaria parasite is very cunning, it’s constantly evolving, constantly finding ways to invade the immune system. As researchers we need to be looking forward 20 years. We need to figure out where the malaria parasite will be and how we can eradicate it at that point.

“Malaria is a major global problem. But it’s a major problem within African countries because poverty interferes with us providing quality health care. It also has a huge impact on our economic development. It’s a burden to our country. “Because of this, I was inspired to study a master’s in immunology at The University of Manchester. I want to find innovative solutions for preventing the spread of diseases. I want to create new vaccines and improve the treatments that we have right now.”

What I’m most proud about is sharing this innovation with the locals, because people here struggle to own a house.

Andrew Amara

MA Global Urban Planning and Development 2013 and Alan Gilbert Memorial Scholar
Nabweru slum, Nansana

Corrugated tin roofs punctuate the verdant landscape. Between the brick-built buildings and wooden shacks there are narrow meandering tracks. Littered with rocks and stones, these streets resemble a dry stream bed, with grooves and channels running through them.

Andrew Amara navigates us through the hillside slum. “When it rains you have floods in many of these streets because the water has nowhere to go. There are no sewers and the roads aren’t wide enough,” he explains.

“Most of the settlements like this one, around towns or cities such as Kampala or Jinja, have developed in a haphazard manner.”

Up a tributary-like track stands Andrew’s low-cost concept house. It’s the first and most important part of his masterplan because it proves it is possible to transform areas like this.

“The family who live in the house consist of a father and mother who have seven children. Initially they were sceptical that we could build a house within a particular price. But they were also enthusiastic at the process with lots of ideas. Especially the mother and the children, who had a vision of what their dream house could look like.”

As we walk around the modest brick-built building, Andrew continues: “I wanted to help the local governments and communities develop their settlements in a much better, much more sustainable way.

“I brought together a team of colleagues: engineers, planners, economists and sociologists to form an organisation called Town Build. We chose our first project area as Nansana and this slum in Nabweru. Our aim was to create a new masterplan for this neighbourhood.

“What I’m most proud about is sharing this innovation with the locals, because people here struggle to own a house. Now it’s rewarding that a man who’s selling fish or a lady who has a market stall here can not only build a house, but also build it in a responsible way. There are now opportunities to manage your waste better and harvest water instead of having to connect to the national water grid. If your roof is inclined in the right manner you could get solar panels and get power easily.

“It’s rewarding that the locals here can now find a way out of their dilemma.”

Winnie Nassolo

MSc Medical and Diagnostic Virology 2010 and Equity and Merit Scholar Scholar
Kampala Capital City Authority, Kampala

A dental clinic in Kampala is not so different to one in Manchester. There is that same air of quiet anticipation. People sit in the waiting room nursing their cheeks, pondering the work they’re about to have done. Now, like in Manchester, they’re less likely to worry about contracting an infectious disease from their visit. This is largely thanks to Dr Winnie Nassolo.

“HIV/AIDS is very prevalent in the whole of Uganda, especially in the Kampala city area. “The people who are not HIV-positive are worried about getting infected from the dentists because of the invasive procedures we do.”

Winnie has just finished performing a routine scale and polish on a patient. Her colleague, Nanjego Margaret, a dental nurse, performs a thorough clean of the surgery and its equipment before the next patient arrives.

Winnie explains the process: “After a patient has visited we disinfect the dental chair using 100% absolute ethanol, which kills almost 99.8% of bacteria. We wash the equipment with liquid soap, but then also soak them in chlorhexidine gluconate for 30 minutes. We then clean them and put them in the autoclave at 134°C. So even if it’s HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis B, the whole procedure kills all of the organisms.

It makes me so proud to know I can help the everyday person.

“In some dental practices up-country, infection control is not as good. The next patient is at risk of getting an infection. We also used to connect to the tap water. But during the rainy season we used to get outbreaks like cholera. Now I’ve introduced the use of purified, distilled water.”

Now the dental focal person for Kampala capital city authority, Winnie oversees all the dental services in the city centre both public and private and has introduced infection control, which she learned in Manchester, to them.

“I wanted to pass on my skills to my colleagues to see how, together, we can cut down the risk of one dental patient passing on HIV to somebody who doesn’t have it. It makes me so proud to know I can help the everyday person.”

Kenneth Kahuma

MSc Electrical Power Systems Engineering 2015 and Palo Alto Equity and Merit Scholar
Bukuzindu hybrid power station, Bugala island

Turn off the Kampala to Masaka highway, drive for an hour down a crater-filled, sun-baked mud road and you arrive at Bukakata Port. Yellow flashes – weaver birds – glide around the reeds and the waiting vehicles. A marsh harrier casts its shadow onto the concrete landing stage jutting out into Lake Victoria.

The largest of the Ssese Islands, Bugala Island sits across the calm waters. In this remote location it’s easy to see why the island only had six hours of power a day – until Kenneth Kahuma came along.

Kenneth, who graduated in 2015, has overseen the installation of a hybrid solar and thermal power station.

He explains: “We’re looking to improve rural areas using the power infrastructure. The challenge Uganda is currently facing is limited access to power. Over 80% of the population has no access to electricity. This means health care and education are affected.

“Diesel generators used to supply power to the island for a limited time each day. Now the health centre can be open for longer. Before, nurses had to deliver babies by torchlight.

“The school system has improved as well. Children can now study for longer; they’re not restricted to daylight.”

The power station has also improved the ferry system, roads and water system, and business is booming as consumers and holidaymakers are attracted to the island.

Kenneth has had a great impact on people’s lives. He remains unassuming and softly spoken, but is clearly driven with more ambitious plans for the future: “Using the knowledge I gained at The University of Manchester has helped me to be the person that can kick-start solving things. I’ve learnt that one person can make a big difference. I no longer see problems, I see challenges.”

Ray Kileo

MSc Management of Projects (Construction) 2014 and Rowland Equity and Merit Scholar
Dar Rapid Transport System, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

A huge container ship slips off the Indian Ocean into the fourth largest port in East Africa.

Under the shadow of the harbour master’s tower and beside peddlers selling everything from mangos to shoes, peanuts to swordfish, a bendy bus swings into bustling Kivukoni terminal.

One of the people responsible for the Dar Rapid Transit system becoming a reality is Ray Kileo, who graduated in 2014. “It was my dream to be a civil engineer since I was in secondary school. After my bachelors degree I came to realise Tanzania wasn’t very good at managing construction projects. Because of this a lot of projects, big and small, were being led by people from outside of our country. I had a dream as a citizen of Tanzania, as an engineer from Africa, to manage our own projects using our own expertise.

“As the capital city of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam has a big problem with traffic and the movement of traffic. So we came up with the solution of constructing a bus rapid transport system – the first in East Africa.

“The roads were very crowded, very congested, very frustrating. Four million people live here. There was a lot of chaos. It was so tough for people to get from one place to another. People were losing a lot of time, spending a lot on fuel and not getting into the office on time.”

It’s easy to see what the impact of the buses has been. Though the roads are still busy with all manner of vehicles – including the overflowing but brightly decorated dalla-dallas (minibuses) – dedicated bus lanes allow the Dar Rapid Transit buses to carve through the city at unrivalled speed.

“People are very excited by the project. It has already shown a big improvement in terms of the movement of people and traffic within the city.

“At the beginning of the project there were challenges. There were a lot of traffic accidents because people were not obeying traffic regulations. But as time goes by people get used to the buses and now it is moving very smoothly.

“A lot of people are now using the buses, students, workers, they’re now leaving their cars at home. It’s very affordable, as you can see people from all walks of life use the system.”

The biggest impact of the scholarship scheme is that it doesn’t just help the people who have secured a place to study at Manchester. The knowledge gained at the University benefits society for the better. As we sit on the bus and speed past the traffic, Ray looks around at all the people using it. “I’m so proud to be part of this project, but now I’m looking forward to sharing my construction project management skills with other engineers.”

Find out more about the scheme: Follow on Twitter and Facebook. Discover how your donations can support our Equity and Merit scholarship scheme: