Olivia Beale: “Conducting research in Uganda was an extremely useful and thought-provoking experience”

Olivia Beale is a third-year BSc (Hons) Geography and Environmental Management student at UWE, who travelled to Uganda in the summer of 2014 as part of the UWE Global Water Security Project.

Olivia interviewingThis summer I took part in a six-week voluntary research internship in Kanungu with Volunteer Uganda. This was an amazing and invaluable experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to conduct the research, but I was also able to play an integral role in deciding on how to collect this data, analyse it and present the findings. Our research team included two research coordinators, five researchers, and nine local college students from the Great Lakes Regional College in Kanungu.

A multidimensional poverty survey index research programme that ran in 2013 in Kanungu highlighted water as the third biggest indicator and issue surrounding poverty. In order to gain a greater understanding of the issues relating to water in the Kanungu district we set out to answer the following question: ‘To what extent do primary and secondary schools in the Kanungu area enjoy adequate water quality, access and sanitation?’

We started by creating a questionnaire, made up of 50 bespoke questions, and then conducted interviews with senior staff in 30 different schools. This was followed by a focus group where we were able to open up questions to a larger group of non-senior staff and record their responses. Samples of water were also taken from schools which had treated water available for staff and student’s consumption and these were later tested for contamination. This qualitative and quantitative data allowed us to gather a large and varied data set.

Volunteer Uganda has been working in the Kanungu area for five years now and has conducted research for two years. This water research will be used as a foundation for a future intervention to better the water quality, access and sanitation in schools in this south westerly region of Uganda.


This experience enabled me to be totally involved in understanding, creating, conducting and presenting this extremely important research. It has allowed me to question and alter my dissertation ideas, which I have found to be a very important process when preparing such an extensive piece of work. My knowledge of data analysis has also expanded as a result of my internship. We took part in data analysis workshops whilst in Kanungu and held classes for the Great Lakes students, to educate them in methods of data analysis using programmes including Excel.

Conducting research in Uganda was an extremely useful and thought-provoking experience. It has meant that I have all of my dissertation data collected and I have been able to analyse this data ready for my third year. It has not just been an important experience with regards to my dissertation but also for the final year of my degree. The experience has shown me the very raw and real importance and power of how research can, and hopefully will, have an impact. Some of the results we found were completely shocking – for instance: of the 26 schools which provided treated water for their staff and students consumption, 22 actually had contaminated water – that’s 84.6%!

I am so thrilled I was able to take part in what became the best experience of my life so far, and I hope the research we conducted will have a significant impact on the Kanungu area.