Getting a call from the BBC might be common practice if you work in the media in London but as an architect in Uganda it comes as quite a surprise when the phone rings.
It was late last year when I heard about Operation Health for Comic Relief. Putting aside the obvious question "How on Earth did they get my number?" I was immediately paralysed by the size and the timescales of the project. Renovating a dilapidated health centre in rural Uganda in just nine weeks sounded ambitious, but I was immediately sold and knew I had to be a part of it.
2013 had been a tough year. My father died after a two year battle with cancer and I took over the running of our business - Linear Consultants, an architectural and engineering consultancy firm in Kampala. Healthcare and access to medical treatment had been such a common topic of conversation in our family for so long that it seemed almost poetic when this building opportunity came knocking at my door.
I have a passion for community projects and if my workload permits I try to find at least one opportunity each year to work with less fortunate communities or people in need. Twice I have volunteered my time at Salaama School for Blind Children, one of the most rewarding initiatives I have ever been fortunate enough to be involved in. During my father's illness however, I'd been forced to shelve this type of work so the timing of the BBC's call was just perfect. I was excited and motivated to find out more. I wanted to be involved. I had to be involved.
My first trip to the proposed site was in November 2014. Even before I had set sight on the clinic in Iyolwa I had read report after report on the appalling standards and inhumane conditions. All of this was compounded the second I stepped through the gates. This was a nightmare of a place. On the day I visited, the health centre was attended by over 100 patients. They were everywhere. The larger "training room" was full. The narrow corridors were full. Outside, on the shed and under the trees there were patients waiting their turn. Mothers, children and babies were on every available piece of space. A quick look through the two small buildings and it was clear that this was not a small renovation project. The floors were cracked and damp, the plaster on the walls was coming off, the ceiling was torn and hanging precariously and the stench in the buildings was so bad I could still smell it days later. Wasps, hornets, rodents, lizards - the place was teeming with wildlife. The whole place needed to be torn down and a new structure built!
The timescales would have to be moved, there was no way it could be renovated in just nine weeks.
Little did I know about 'Red Nose Day'. March 13th wasn't a date plucked out of fresh air, it was crucial that the build was completed to coincide with the UK's iconic fundraising event. "It's pure madness," I explained to Lenny Henry, but he just laughed the maniacal way he does and I knew we just had to make it work. The community was in dire need of a functional medical centre, there was no other option, it literally was a choice between life or death for so many babies and mothers and I wanted to be a part of the team to make that happen.
With Red Nose Day just weeks away the good news is the build is well underway. Not without its fair share of trials and tribulations of course. I have worked on lots of projects that have presented a series of challenges once I've started, but this is the first time that I have taken on a deliberate challenge. I knew this would push me to the limits even before we broke ground.
One of the most satisfying achievements of the whole experience though is that 95 per cent of the workforce comes from the local community. Masons, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, they all live close by to the clinic and their dedication to delivering a fully functioning health facility for the community is like nothing I have ever witnessed before. This is one of the best teams I have had on build project. I have also made sure that all supplies and materials are sourced from the local hardware stores and the surrounding villages. This includes all cement, sand, bricks, nails and timbers, thus ensuring that the local economy is also benefitting from the build.
So it's the final stretch of the project and there's still much to be done. Tiling, painting, ceilings, doors, solar panels, even as I type this list the enormity of what's left to do is pretty overwhelming. There's debris, dust and dirt everywhere but there's also hammering, chiselling and drilling in every single corner of the building. On average 80 workers are on site at any one time making sure that the countdown clock doesn't get the better of us.
The best thing about life on site however is the energy. You can practically feel it. Despite how much needs to be done there's laughter, singing and dancing, alongside all the hard work.
The impressive red roof can be seen from the road, the walls are now plastered and the grass is getting greener by the day. Finishing on time often seems impossible but I have utter faith in my team. The thought of the finished product keeps us going. It's not overstating it to say that this clinic is going to be life changing for thousands of people. Midwives will no longer have to deliver babies in the pitch black, worried about rats on the floor. This clinic will be somewhere safe for the community to seek medical treatment when they are at their most vulnerable and in need. The impact it will have on this lovely community is enough to keep us going night and day.
This has been an amazingly, wonderful, challenging, hair-pulling experience and it's not over yet.
For more information about 'Operation Health' or to make a donation, visit rednoseday.com/operationhealth