Gem Project Gallery

EMI Project UG-0268 — The Gem Foundation, 2022

Note: The Gem Foundation is a home for children with special needs. In June, a small team from EMI Uganda spend a week at Gem designing the next phase of developments. While coaching a first-time project leader, I got a first-hand look at a campus designed and built by EMI.

Located about an hour outside Kampala, the Gem campus is far different from their previous rented space in the city. EMI designed and constructed these buildings which are now home to 47 Gems.
Inside one of the bedrooms, I enjoyed the way these windows bring light and playful interaction to the room.
Staff architect Brian has been involved with the design and construction at Gem for about five years as managing architect for the project.
These two Assisted Living Homes had just been handed over to Gem the previous month. They are intended for adult Gems who need full-time caregivers.
Two of the Gems will age out of the homes and begin living here next year. For now, their home functioned as our team accommodation and workspace for the week. The cabinetry, doors, and windows were built by EMI’s Workshop.
This is the last thing you would expect to see on a thorny tree which otherwise looks dead.
Volunteer architect Phyllis enjoys a laugh during design programme meetings with the Gem staff.
Hannah is a landscape architect and was leading a project team for the first time. She planned different activities for our team to engage with the Gems one afternoon. For this group, Hannah collected things from her garden with different textures and scents for the Gems to engage with.
For this group of Gems with more severe conditions, our engagement was simply presence and touch. Here Lead Nurse JB shares about one of the Gems with Elly, our team’s electrical engineer.
At this home, the Gems were working on drawings of the playground they would like to have. Many of these children were nameless when they came to the home. Gem gives them each names.
There is no question that the quality of work achieved through EMI self-performed construction and through Workshop production of built-in components is superior. The workmanship and attention to detail are now signatures of EMI Uganda.
Two days before we arrived there had been 48 Gems. An 8-year-old passed away suddenly due to rapid kidney failure. In less than ten years, the home has lost 15 Gems — most due to severity of their conditions. But no one had expected to lose this little boy.
Emma is the founder of The Gem Foundation and legal guardian of these kids. Her husband Josh is the head of operations. They worked with our design team through the week with the recent funeral heavy on their hearts.
These gentlemen come periodically to adjust the Gem’s wheelchairs to ensure fit and support as the kid’s bodies grow.
The staff dance and sing joyfully at Thursday morning children’s church in one of the homes. The chapel our team designed will enable the group to fit more easily, allowing Gems to be closer to the action.
Staff civil engineer Hedina confers with the construction plans for the wastewater system of the recently constructed Assisted Living Homes.
As someone with a civil engineering background, it was satisfying to see this rainwater harvesting tank. It was correctly plumbed behind a first-flush pipe, which drains water through a small hole in the cap. A tiny engineer’s fountain.
Managing EMI’s construction work at Gem has been life-changing for Paul. He shyly introduced me to his bride-to-be who works in Gem’s finance office.
Hedina got only a modest showering on her birthday — which we learned is a Ugandan tradition. Brian had gotten soaked to the skin a few days earlier.
One of the many reasons that design work has to be on paper is for engagement with people. Here, the head social worker quizzes our volunteer architect Alex, while her baby poses for the camera.
After the presentation meeting, there was popcorn and cold drinks for staff as they toured the architect’s display tables. Apparently intern architect Nobert’s explanation of his pavilion design is being met with some skepticism here.

June, 2022. All photography by author.

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MJ Coffey

Matthew J. Coffey is a writer with a background in civil engineering. He spent much of his adult life in India serving with EMI.