Brick by Brick Uganda School Program Coordinator Max Ssenyonga


Max Ssenyoga is a Mzee. (Pronounced Muzay) In Buganda, the major tribal community of central Uganda where we do most of our work, a Mzee is a trusted elder. Max began his work with Brick by Brick as a community volunteer in 2010. He is a man of Rakai, born and raised in Kalisizo, where Brick by Brick began back in 2003. Max befriended our young Peace Corp volunteer, Jonathan Blanchard, who had an idea about creating a social enterprise, a construction company utilizing Interlocking Stablized Soil Bricks (ISSBs) that help preserve forests and wetlands in sub-Saharan Africa. In time, Max became our first full-time Program Coordinator, helping us to successfully expand our School Program and making Brick by Brick Construction, a profitable social-enterprise with 14 employees. Even when traveling to the most remote villages in the Rakai District, there seems to be not a soul who does not know our Mzee. So when you need the support of a local village chief, or a partner in the district government, there is no one you would rather have at your side than Max!

Several weeks ago Max was in the office working on a report on our recently completed construction projects at three primary schools. Collaboration is a part of Brick by Brick’s culture so for Max to request the assistance of our intern James was not unusual, but the fact that Max was half-crawling across the room to ask his question certainly was! Max and our staff immediately recognized that he was having a stroke. Of course, a stroke is a life-threatening emergency anywhere in the world but even more so in our region of Uganda.

Our staff immediately responded to get Max to one of the best hospitals in Uganda, Nsambya Hospital in Kampala, the capital city. By the time they arrived in the hospital it was very late on a Friday night. James and our driver Aklam Kalule, stayed by Max’s side until his very high blood pressure was stabilized and he was resting comfortably. From the time that Max’s condition was recognized until he was out of danger, our entire staff worked together to ensure that Max was getting the best care possible. The three physicians on our staff, Executive Director, Dr. Dan Murokora, BAMA Clinical Director Dr Eleanor Nakintu and myself, were all in communication to ensure that everything that could be done was being performed in a timely and correct manner. A job well done!

Max is now recovering at home, engaged in a vigorous schedule of physical and occupational therapy. Despite persistent weakness on his left side that has slowed him down a bit, his only complaint is that he can’t return to his job. On a recent visit with Max at his home in Kalisizo, we reminisced on how far we have come since 2010. “Max, can you imagine, just seven years ago, you were our only paid employee.” Max had a wide smile on his face as he said, “I am so happy for all we have accomplished and I am so grateful for my life with Brick by Brick.”

As I sat with Max and his wife Teddy over a traditional Ugandan lunch, I thought of how grateful we all our to have Max with us. How much we all appreciate the many staff who pulled together to support Max. They say “it takes a village to save a child” and this month it took the entire Brick by Brick team to save a life and to show our love and appreciation for our Mzee.

Warmest regards and as always we thank you for your support,


Max with Brick by Brick Intern James Murduca and family


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Ugandan children carrying water


The problem?

In Uganda, like most of sub-Saharan Africa, women and children's days often begin with the drudgery that is fetching water. Before starting the mile long walk to school, Frances is up before sunrise carrying a 20-liter jerry can weighing 44 pounds on her head, gathering water for her family. Before Brick by Brick partnered with her primary school, she would arrive with her classmates, and be sent off again to fetch water for the school. Day after day, year after year, precious class time is lost due to the lack of access to clean water. Sub-saharan Africans spend about 40 billion hours per year collecting water. That's equal to the work performed by the entire nation of France! This burden, which is carried disproportionately by women and girls, is more than a waste of time. While walking miles on remote rural paths to collect water, women and girls are especially vulnerable to rape and other acts of sexual harassment and violence.

Every year 1.6 million people die around the world due to diarrheal illness. In the time it will take you to read this newsletter 12 human beings, mostly children will have died, not from some mysterious or hard to treat disease but simply due to the lack of access to clean and safe water and sanitation. 1.1 billion people and over half the world's primary schools around the world lack this access. How is it possible that this problem has gone unsolved year after year, decade after decade, not for the lack of a solution but rather that of political will and smartly invested resources.

Brick by Brick is determined to be a part of the solution.

Since we began our work in 2004 in the Rakai District of Uganda, we have been focused on providing access to safe and clean water to our partnering communities. In everyone of the six universal primary schools that we have rebuilt we have constructed rainwater harvesting systems that ensure adequate clean water for all students and teachers. In partnership with the Peace Corp and other Ugandan NGOs, our social enterprise, Brick by Brick Construction Company has built over 90 such systems throughout Uganda, providing clean water for 100,000 people throughout the country. A 30,000 liter rainwater harvesting tank, which can provide adequate water for a school community costs $2,000. Now the good news.... if well maintained our rainwater tanks have a life span of 30 years or more, that's 18 cents per day to provide water for 500 students! 

What can you do to guarantee clean water as a human right?

Over 12 million people in Uganda lack access to clean, safe water, so we still have a way to go. Brick by Brick is nothing without our powerful partners both in Uganda and here in the U.S. So here are a few ideas:

  • Throw a Water Party Fundraiser with a goal of raising enough money for Brick by Brick to build a rainwater harvesting tank. You can save money by serving clean, cold water as your beverage of choice!
  • Start a Crowd Sourcing project to provide clean water for an entire school of 500 students. We can provide pictures and great stories to get you started.
  • You can partner with us in ensuring access to clean water for all children by clicking DONATE

Frances draws clean water from a Brick by Brick rainwater harvesting tank

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Brick by Brick Construction Company Masons - Photo by Jon Wallen When we started Brick by Brick Construction in January of 2011, our ambitions were very modest. At the time, our only program involved partnering with free Universal Primary Education Schools to rebuild crumbling classrooms, water and sanitation systems. So when Peace Corp volunteer Jonathan Blanchard and local community leader Max Ssenyonga presented the idea of creating a small construction company utilizing an innovative and environmentally sustainable technology to make bricks (Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks), it seemed like a good fit.

Five and a half years later, we have gone farther than we could have imagined in those early days. We have completed 90 construction projects throughout Uganda. Our rainwater harvesting systems are now providing clean, safe drinking water for approximately 100,000 people. While we are all very proud that we have been a profitable enterprise in each of our first five years of operation, the financial bottom line does not really tell the whole story. From the beginning, we have been committed to creating a new model for business that sees social enterprise as a catalyst to improving the health and economic wellbeing of our communities. Our mason staff has been steadily employed for the past four years. We have established a profit-sharing plan, distributing 15% of net profits to our highly skilled workers. We meet regularly with our employees, who have significant input into our company policies. As we have implemented new quality assurance systems, our masons have provided valuable input to ensure success and full partnership.

In the past several months we have expanded our product services beyond the construction of houses, schools, water and sanitation systems. While our masons often lack higher education, we are blessed with a highly skilled and intelligent staff, with real world experience not taught in a traditional classroom. Last month, we facilitated a highly successful weeklong training in solar systems installation attended by our masons and construction management team. This month we will install our first solar system at the Kirumba Primary School, providing electricity to this school of 500 students for the first time.

Late last year I attended a staff meeting with our skilled masons. Profit-sharing distributions were on the agenda but before discussing this I asked our masons a question.

“In a typical business, who keeps the profits?”

All were in agreement and answered almost in unison, “The owners.”

“So, who gets the profits from Brick by Brick Construction?”

“ The profits go back to the community to build schools and water tanks.”

“And where do the rest of the profits go?”

There was a minute of silence before our Chief Mason Sunday Kimera stood and said, “They go to us, the masons.”

“So, who owns Brick by Brick Construction Company?”

The 12 assembled masons began to laugh with recognition of their newly discovered ownership, “We do!”

Brick by Brick Construction Company is forging a new path for social enterprise in Uganda. We have much to learn. This year we began to implement a marketing plan, with the first of our radio ads hitting the airways. Building a successful construction business is not easy and its not without its pitfalls, but if our 13 years working in Uganda has taught us anything is that persistence combined with a willingness to learn from our mistakes pays off in the end, and not just in terms of money but in improving the lives of our employees and the communities we serve.

The Power of the Sun

Brick by Brick Construction Company Staff at Solar Energy Training Brick by Brick Construction Company is a social-enterprise committed to the "Triple Bottom Line", People, Planet and Profit. So it should not come as a surprise when we decided to expand our services to include the instillation of solar energy systems. Facilitated by our newest intern Elie Bou-Gharios, a third-year student at the McGill University Faculty of Engineering, our mason and senior engineering staff participated in a week long training led by staff of the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC). This is an organization, founded in 2001 and affiliated with Makerere University College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, whose mission is “To enhance access to modern types of energy through research, training and consultancy in East-Africa.”

The training was attended by ten of our skilled mason staff, as well as by our Construction Manager David Mutesaasira, and Engineering Intern James Murduca. Our staff worked along side the CREEC Trainers and learned the basic theory behind solar energy systems appropriate for our communities, as well as the skills needed to install these systems for homes, schools, health centers, etc. Our mason and senior staff worked side by side since we were all beginners when it came to acquiring this new knowledge and skill. The training was a complete success and we have already begun planning our first solar project. installing a solar energy system for Kirumba Primary School!

Engineering Intern James Murduca, Senior Mason Charles Kabagabo, Construction Manager David Mutesaasira


DR. DESIRE PATAULI Brick by Brick is partnering with Dr. Lisa Nathan of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in sponsoring Dr. Desire Patauli in his training to become an obstetrician-gynecologist. Upon completion of his studies in Uganda, Desire will return to Kibogora Hospital in western Rwanda, where he will work for the women and children of this underserved community.

St Tereza Primary School Construction Underway

Classroom Building Construction at St. Tereza Primary School Our construction of a multi-purpose hall with our environmentally friendly interlocking stabilized soil bricks at St. Tereza Primary School continues! Students and teachers will soon be able to study and learn in this new building. We expect to complete construction by November 1st.


New Classroom Building at Nakasoga Primary School A classroom and library building at Nakasoga Primarty school which has been in construction for the last two months was finished. The building encompasses one classroom for over 50 students, a library which can accommodate over 100 students and a storeroom. We are grateful for the partnership of the Nakasoga parents, who contributed 25% of the value to complete this project.


Health.MyPadsTraining.9.9.15 Brick by Brick staff Suzan Kyambadde and Robin Rentrope are traveling through Uganda in August and September to conduct 5 more My Pads trainings of teachers at Peace Corps Volunteers' schools. Last week they headed to Fort Portal to work with the teachers of Saints Peter and Paul Primary School - site of Peace Corps Volunteer Madeleine Oulevey. The teachers learned how to make reusable menstrual pads and lead engaging lessons and discussions about sexual and reproductive health. They even had the opportunity to inform teachers about good nutrition, especially foods high in iron for those students suffering from fatigue and anemia during heavy flows. And also about cognitive behavior therapy exercises such as journaling through worst fears, practicing deep breathing, and doing yoga stretches and meditation as ways for teachers to help calm students struggling through episodes of anger and anxiety.

These trainings are part of Brick by Brick's strategic plan to expand on our successful programs through a Training of Trainers model throughout Uganda. Thank you Peace Corp Uganda for your partnership!!

Providing Safe Drinking Water for Ugandan Students

Water.PEAS Arua Tank.22.7.15 Construction of two 30,000 liters tanks was finished last week at PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) Akoromit High School. The school administration has commended the company for the way the masons are committed on doing their work. Two more tanks are to be constructed at PEAS Appeulai High school by the end of this week.

HI PEP Program Up and Running

HI PEP Peer Educators We couldn't be more proud of our HI PEP Peer Educators who have become confident, well-educated, exemplary role models at SEED Secondary School! In their most recent workshop on Prevention Methods they exhibited a strong understanding of the subject material and comfort teaching. They have come such a long way from the shy students we started working with several months ago. Three Peer Educators have even volunteered to form a committee to continue the program next year!

Progress at Nakasoga Primary School

Brick by Brick Masons Construct Classroom at Nakasoga Primary School We have reached the wall plate level on the Nakasoga Primary school Classroom/ library block. We shall be finishing the roofing and plastering this week. The building has been constructed using our Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks which has made it look very lovely. The hope is that the library will increase literacy level at the school.

Building the Capacity of School Libraries in Uganda

Education.LibraryProject1.AaronTraining.8.4.15Our Library Capacity Building Project Has Begun With a Bang! The preliminary workshop with multiple representatives from all 5 schools was a great starting point for the upcoming project. All schools shared their ‪goals‬ and ‪plans‬ for organizing and ‪integrating‬ classes into their newly developed ‪libraries‬.Education.LibraryProject.UMEA.8.4.15

Reading Makes a Difference

In every school community that Brick by Brick partners with, we have created lending libraries. This year we are establishing a Library Working Group to improve the quality of the five school libraries we have established. In each school, we will work with teacher and students to improve  their libraries, establish a Dewey Decimal System and ensure that all students have the greatest access to their books. In addition to establishing teacher-student committees to manage each library, we are partnering with Word Possible, which will allow each school to have an Intranet, providing students the ability to learn critical computer skills and perform independent research. You can stay updated on this project by following this blog and Facebook.

HI PEP (HIV Intervention Peer Education Program) Is Launched

Today is World AIDS Day. Brick by Brick will be launching a new HIV Intervention Peer Education Program (HI PEP) in 2015. Led by Brick by Brick Intern Jeremy Brecher-Haimson and Community Health Educator Susan Kyambadde, this innovative program will train secondary school students to serve as peer educators, promoting healthy choices amongst their schoolmates.Health.HIPEP.Training.2.12.14.SK

Thank You John Trimmer!

For the past three years Brick by Brick has been blessed by having ‪Peace Corps‬ Volunteer John Trimmer as a part of our family. This past Friday John ended his extraordinary service to the people of ‪‎Uganda‬. With his high level of knowledge and unwavering commitment to ‪#‎excellence‬, we have been able to expand Brick by Brick Construction to a company with a national scope. John is moving on to complete his Masters in Environmental Engineering and plans to pursue a PhD. John will be missed by all who worked with him but we know his time with Brick by Brick will prepare him well to continue to bring ‪‎sustainable‬ ‪‎development‬ to the world's poorest communities. Webale-Nyo John! Thank you so very much!Staff.JohnTrimmerFarewellParty.10.11.14.MS

Brick by Brick's Expanding Mission

[portfolio_slideshow id=1995] For the past five years Brick by Brick has widened the scope of its work with partnering communities in rural Uganda. Since our founding in 2003, our focus has been on improving the quality of education by building sound infrastructure for free Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools. With the success of our social enterprise, Brick by Brick Construction, which employs 12 skilled masons and has turned a profit in each of its four years, we began to realize the value of a more holistic approach to development. Brick by Brick has a unique opportunity to partner with local communities to promote sustainable development. Over the last three months, our Board of Directors has been developing a new 5-year Strategic Plan. After receiving valuable feedback from both Ugandan and US staff and stakeholders, we will now expand our work to partner with communities to address the following critical needs:

  • Access to quality health care: Brick by Brick will now work to address critical gaps in health care delivery, focusing on improving the physical infrastructure of health centers and hospitals and the knowledge and skills of providers.
  • Health Education: We will continue to expand on the success of our My Pads Program, which educates young women about reproductive health, while teaching them to fabricate their own reusable menstrual pads. In 2015, we plan to launch a new program, an HIV Peer Education Program    (HI PEP) for secondary school students.
  • Water and sanitation: Brick by Brick has already built water and sanitation systems throughout Uganda and we will continue to implement community-based solutions in this critical sector.
  • Economic Opportunity: We will continue to expand Brick by Brick Construction Company, which provides good paying jobs and training for our communities, while providing revenue to support our programs.

As our new Mission Statement affirms Brick by Brick will:

Create partnerships that improve education, health and economic opportunity in East Africa.

Together with our Ugandan partners, we have accomplished much in the last eleven years. We look forward to even greater change in the future!



Nearing the Finish Line at UMEA Primary School

We have begun one of the last major steps towards completing our partnership with UMEA Primary School, a Sister School of Kennedy-King Elementary School in Brooklyn, New York. This valuable partnership has thrived for over five years. Kennedy-King has helped UMEA to complete the steps necessary to reach a level of infrastructure that qualifies as a Brick by Brick Standard UPE school. This current project involves the renovation of a two classroom block with an office in the center. The renovation will cover the removal of the old iron sheets, plastering, flooring, installing the verandah, painting the walls, as well as shuttering the windows and doors.

As you can see in the pictureEducation.UMEA.Construction.8.9.14.JB, the roofing has kicked off our construction in order to prevent the upcoming rainy season from interfering with future construction. We plan to complete the full renovation in just under a month. The UMEA and Kennedy-King partnership has been incredibly productive and we couldn't be more excited to finally complete all construction plans to reach all appropriate standards of infrastructure.

Lessons Learned at Ndeija

We have finished our pilot tank project with British NGO: PEAS: Promoting Equality in African Schools. They contracted us to build one 30,000 L tank for the Ndeija School they funded near Rukungiri. We have learned a lot from this project due to some unforeseen difficulties. Due to poor quality, thicker soil during the construction process, our tanks had some small leakages for the first couple weeks after construction. This was the first time in our short but busy history that a tank suffered any problems similar to this upon completion.Water.PEAS. Ndeija.4.9.14.MxS Our commitment to excellence ensured that we followed up consistently with our stakeholders in this project: the construction manager of PEAS as well as Comrade, the director of the Ndeija school. We sent a crew of masons to plug and repair the leaks and worked closely with Comrade to alleviate any concerns about the tank that still remained. The experience was invaluable in proving our positive partnerships with clients and consistent efforts to provide the quality of work that has grown to be expected of us throughout Uganda.

100 and Counting!!

Executive Director Marc Sklar meeting with Ugandan staff: Max Ssenyonga, Prossy Nakayiba, and Susan KyambaddeIt was a sunny, warm afternoon in Kalisizo, Uganda and a very cold morning in Brooklyn as Brick by Brick celebrated a landmark worthy of celebration. For the past 100 weeks we have held our weekly staff meeting on Skype, reviewing our work and establishing our goals for the future. For some, this may seem like only a modest accomplishment but for our staff both in Uganda and in the US we took a moment to acknowledge each other for a job well done.

Two years ago, in a thorough analysis of our strengths and weaknesses our U.S. Board of directors identified our lack of clear lines of communication between our Ugandan and American staff as a major threat to our work. It took some time and an investment in training, a few laptop computers and a USB modem but it has paid off. Almost two years later, we are still meeting every week, led by our Kalisizo-based Program Coordinator Max Ssenyonga. The meetings allow us to share ideas, set targets and goals and keep our work moving forward. But the meetings are not all work, as laughter, the sound of neighborhood children and the occasional goat or rooster are often heard. We are all looking forward to the next 100 staff meetings and a year filled with good work performed together.