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Inspired into a way of life

Robert Hodgson was one of the first engineers to sign up to RedR. 'I was finishing off my masters [in soil mechanics] and didn't really know what I'd be doing afterwards, when I saw the article in NCE.' In October 1980 he was posted to northern Uganda, where thousands of people were dying of starvation. His job was to make rural roads passable to food trucks during periods of heavy rain.

Roads had been neglected because grading machinery was either broken or had been stolen by the army. He set to work organising the cannibalisation of machines in order to effect repair. 'There was great excitement when we got a grader working as they hadn't been operational for about 10 years, ' he recalls.

Using local technology, the compacted earth roads were restored to achieve the bearing capacity required for the trucks.

Where roads crossed streams or rivers Hodgson designed concrete slab structures of up to 75m, some with short piled walls.

He admits that his most frightening experience was in 1987 while working in Chechnya.

The Russian army attacked capital city Grozny while aid charity Merlin was trying to restore the power and water supply.

'Electricity was down, water supply and sanitation were not operational and food supplies were not secure. And Chechyans and Russians were fighting around us, ' recalls Hodgson.

He is still going on missions, and most recently visited Sri Lanka following the Boxing Day tsunami.

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