Taking advantage of being in Uganda, I combined my speaker engagement at the Africa Travel Association's World Summit with a trip to local projects run by our global charity partner, Just a Drop. Just a Drop currently receive 1% of all our online sales. The experience was inspirational, humbling yet shocking and, despite the abject poverty, I came away with a sense of hope for the future of these communities.
Uganda is predominantly a rural economy with 84% of the population living in rural areas and the levels of clean water and sanitation are not adequate to meet the needs of local communities where 33% of the population do not have access to safe water and 52% of people are without sanitation. The current situation was further exacerbated by the civil war in the 1980s which destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and created a lost generation with grand-parents looking after grand-children. High population growth of over 3% per year puts further strain on the limited resources available.
Just a Drop works with a local partner, Voluntary Action for Development (VAD) to put in place an integrated community managed water and sanitation improvement project. Just about 20 miles from the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Kampala, we turned up a dirt track covered in potholes to Namakonkome.
Help the aged
There I had the honour of meeting Alice who has reached the grand old age of 103, which I congratulated her for. Alice has spent her whole life without adequate sanitation facilities, and has spent her life using the bush for open defecation. Alice is looked after by a lady who is also elderly so we have two demographic senior groups depending on each-other.
Seeing Alice lying on a mattress on a cold damp concrete floor was heart-wrenching especially because she had recently been knocked over by a cow and was very frail and weak. She is waiting for a latrine to improve her quality of life and it beggars belief that such basic facilities are not a given, particularly for the old and sick. A drying rack has been constructed which one of six basic provisions that Just a Drop provide (including latrines and hand-washing), but there is still much to be done to improve the living conditions of the elderly like Alice. In the UK, old age folks homes allow for economies of scale in looking after the sick and elderly. Sharing resources and facilities would help enormously.
Heart of the matter
We visited a source of contaminated water with the stagnant water a breeding ground for malaria, dysentery and diarrhoea amongst others. This was contrasted with the new shallow wells that Just a Drop/VAD have constructed, with Viktor the engineer explaining the pump system was constructed to extract water. Previously the children had to walk for over 2 hours to fetch water, the pump now stands at 1.5kms from the village which has reduced the time taken. In Namakonkome, Just a Drop have built five shallow wells and 1 spring tank that has directly benefited 3080 people.
A child collecting water from the contaminated source; the new village water pump; a hand-washing device
Best days of their life
The absolute highlight of my trip was visiting the local school, St Achileo Nursery and Primary School, Buwabmo where I met the headmaster, Mr Nalumsoso Vicent, teachers and the children so full of joy and desire to engage with their new visitor. The school has a roll call of 326 pupils.
So far the school has received cement and iron from VAD to build a block for the older children. However, the younger children (primaries 1 to 3) are taught in a ramshackle shed under papyrus leaves for a roof and classes are cancelled when it rains. The school was built in 1930 however it was completely destroyed during the war. The school uses the toilets at the church next door, however hand-washing facilities were missing.
To celebrate my son's birthday the school kids and us all sang 'happy birthday' followed by 'how old are you now?' which is a memory that will stay with me forever as it was truly touching.
I distributed gifts that Cat Dix, Euromonitor's CSR Manager had kindly organised. The kids enjoyed lining up and choosing which coloured pencil they would like which everyone knows is a serious decision to make. We handed out about 8 boxes of lead pencil, 6 boxes of coloured pencils and 3 packets of erasers along with sweets and biscuits. Some of the children sang a song and did a dance performance which was amazing to watch, with so much personality and warmth shining through.
The Water User Committee members met with the Water Monitoring Committee to discuss issues and progress. However, the most pressing question that the parents requested is for a well to be located right next to the school and church so that the children can have access to water during the school day and boost their attendance levels.
I never realised that there were different grades of sanitation/hygiene levels, ranging from latrine sanitation 1 to 6 which are a step up from open defecation, but are still below par, whereas any provision graded 7 or over is adequate. Education is also a critical part of the programme, especially the need to boil water before drinking but also rinsing one's mouth.
At Bibbo village we had lunch with the local women's cooperative that progressively included men. Lunch included rice, baby aubergines and the national dish of matoke (made from mashed bananas). The women's group cultivate a type of cereal grass, refine it and bag it up for sale which means that they're able to be self-sustainable. Bibbo is involved in the water programme and each household saves over UGS 90,000 per month for repairs and maintenance, along with health programmes for malaria and HIV/Aids.
Hard to say goodbye
When I left the school, the kids were so excited that the were jumping in the air with delight. My last words to the headmaster were that we must work harder to raise more funds. I hope that I can count on you - my friends, family and colleagues - to raise awareness for Just a Drop's invaluable cause to provide safe, clean water and sanitation facilities to the most deprived communities in countries around the world. The essential work being done in Namakonkome is but a drop in the ocean, however with a very wide ripple effect that will help spread positive change.
To find out more, please contact Just a Drop, Caroline Bremner or Cat Dix