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Nicola Adams

Nicola Adams, 27, started RedR active service three years ago with a four month stint in Albania. She is at present a civil engineer in Arup's infrastructure division, working on utility supply at Canary Wharf, London.

I didn't join RedR after becoming an engineer so much as become an engineer to get onto RedR.

When I went to Albania in 1998 I was looking after water collection and supply in preparation for the arrival of refugees from Kosovo.

The Department for International Development provided tankers to transport water from collection points to camps and villages where many of the refugees were put up.

I was involved in assessing rivers, springs and lakes - locating the collection points and designing distribution routes.

Land ownership was the big issue there. There is no land registry in Albania and it is common for three to four people to have claims on a piece of land. A lot of negotiation with owners was required for siting of collection tanks - you might get one person to agree and the next would object.

There was also extensive negotiation with the Albanian military and local politicians.

We were using NATO plant for a lot of our site work, so close liaison was required there as well.

My contract was extended beyond the normal RedR three month period to maintain continuity during the period when repatriation of refugees was taking place. I knew the local government and military people quite well. A lot of the work in the last month involved converting emergency infrastructure for long term use, mainly by relocating collection tanks to benefit local villages instead of the camps.

A year later I was sent to Mozambique. Around 80,000 people had left the town of Chokwe when a wave of flood water came down the Limpopo Valley from Zimbabwe. They waded along the road until they got to high ground and stopped right there. Oxfam and RedR were involved in setting up a displaced persons camp.

To begin with we had tankers bringing water in from a nearby town. We then set about providing boreholes on the site. A few were drilled by hand - they were not very deep but the supply was effective. There were also a couple of 100m-plus deep holes sunk by Oxfam. Finding someone who could do the deep drilling work was very difficult. We had to get a contractor in from South Africa, and it took a month to mobilise him.

At the same time we were digging trench and pit latrines.

There was no complex infrastructure - we were not there long enough. But the operation was highly successful in that there was no cholera outbreak. That is a major achievement.

Both assignments gave me a huge amount of responsibility. You know that if you fail to do the work nobody else will, and that gives you freedom to make decisions that will make a real difference.

Assignments are a matter of being resourceful and doing what you can, rather than setting yourself unrealistic targets.

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