Christopher Lê, an Aviation Architectural Designer for Mead & Hunt, graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Master of Architecture degree in 2017. Lê has traveled to Uganda frequently with the Gibbs College of Architecture to work with the OU Center for Peace and Development.

In 2015 and 2016, Lê went to Zambia with GCA, where he helped design a primary school. During this time, Lê was a graduate student researching rainwater collection systems in Zambia and Uganda. As part of this work, he got to know Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Catholic nun and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014. Sister Rosemary is a director at Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Centre in Gulu, Uganda, and is recognized for her humanitarian work.

“In 2017, I presented some of that [rainwater collection] research to the U.S. State Department in D.C. It was on its way to becoming a full-blown diplomacy project in the Office of Water Conservation, but the department’s budget was cut and so was the program.”- Christopher Le

Lê returned to Zambia in 2018 to do a post-occupancy report on the school he helped design in 2015. He also coordinated a fundraiser that raised $12,000 for the Center for Peace and Development. Lê has since returned in 2019 to St. Monica’s to aid in OU’s support activities. He introduced OU students to his contacts in Uganda, which included architects, non-governmental organization (NGO) directors, artists, and entrepreneurs.

For Lê, the most impactful experience in Uganda has been the personal relationships and friendships he has made with the locals. His experiences have humbled him greatly, he said, and he has helped one of those friends get into college.

According to Lê, the biggest challenge of these experiences has been balancing expectations versus the actual work accomplished. For example, the agenda in one circumstance was to add boreholes to be able to access water, yet the reality was that they ended up collecting data to possibly help NGOs and their network. This can be frustrating to the communities who were hoping for new boreholes.

For Lê, seeing the impact and importance of his work has been incredibly powerful. The Grassroots Peace Conferences and OU’s role in logistics has been beneficial in helping the women of Uganda build capacity to hold these conferences. The future goals of the conference revolve around the women of Uganda fully taking the responsibility, making it a truly Ugandan conference for and by the local women.

“Being able to support both OU and the women’s groups was extremely gratifying, even more so because soon they will be able to do it on their own.”

Lê recommends other students getting involved with this program as well because it is truly a life changing experience that builds empathy and valuable life experience. Lê says that the experience will change your outlook on life for the better and develop empathy.

This experience has contributed to Lê’s professional career in many ways, especially though networking and the experience gained in Uganda. He found a company that supports his efforts in Uganda, and they eventually hope to support OU in their efforts by sending a team that consists of Lê and his co-workers to aid in supporting new projects.

“They [Mead & Hunt] gave me additional paid time off and supported the Grassroots Conference with supplies – notebooks and pens for all the conference-goers [100+ women] to take notes. “

While he acknowledges that it is a transformational experience for the U.S.-based students and professionals involved, Lê says the core goal is for the impact to be lasting for local communities.

“If you’ve never been outside the U.S., you are in for an experience … The empathy you experience changes you, and for the better.”

Photos provided by Christopher Lê.