Uganda, June 2018

Water to Thrive Executive Director Susanne Wilson is spending two weeks before our Climb for a Cause visiting partners and projects in Uganda. Despite intermittent Internet access, she is sending reports back whenever she can. This report is from her first full day in Uganda. 

We met with our partner, Mityana Uganda Charity, at their offices in Mityana. After a quick tour and introductions, we learned they are currently working with 309 sponsored children who receive food, school supplies, uniforms, and medical attention for a sponsorship of $180 per year.

Their school program is offered to families who qualify. We were informed that while education is supported by the government, many times the classrooms are extremely overcrowded with more than 100 students, and teachers aren’t always paid or aren’t qualified. Private education offers a better chance for children, especially those who are marginalized.

Our day in the field was highlighted by a visit to one project site called Butebe, which was funded by Elanore Decker and her family. Elanore is with us on this trip and was moved to tears as she met the people who now have water as a result of her gift. The well she funded serves 447 people and was just completed in May.

Mityana Uganda Charity has developed a series of training materials that use visuals to teach about hygiene, dish washing, latrine building, and the connection to germs and diseases. We found that posters promoting hygiene are posted in the villages and at the water points, enforcing the training delivered to each village.

Each water committee is comprised of 10 people – five women and five men. The women serve as the treasurers, as their community culture has proven that they are better financial managers. In addition, the women are the ones who carry the water and suffer with the hardest burdens and therefore will be more conscientious of safekeeping the user fees collected from each household to maintain the wells as repairs are needed.

At one of the water points, we were welcomed by drumming, dancing, and singing. The dancers wore unique color belts of fabric and animal hair, and used their hips to shake the belts which is similar to a colorful male bird who ruffles his feathers in order to gain the attention of the female bird.

Our day ended with a conversation around US politics and then the history of Uganda politics and the corruption of elections and the good and bad of past and current leaders. The discussion was held over a delicious dinner of tilapia as we watched the beautiful Ugandan sunset.

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Water to Thrive Executive Director Susanne Wilson is spending two weeks before our Climb for a Cause visiting partners and projects in Uganda. Despite intermittent Internet access, she is sending reports back whenever she can. This report covers her second and third day in Uganda. 

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The work of water is not just about providing clean water, but is also about providing training on sanitation and hygiene. On the second day of our trip, after our well visits, we saw two model homes that feature aspects of sanitation and hygiene that are part of disease prevention.

The model homes included dish drying racks, used to keep the dishes off of the ground. There is a place to wish the dishes and a soak pit under that portion of the racks. The back part of the racks are for drying the dishes.

Pit latrines are also an aspect of the hygiene and sanitation training. The beneficiaries are taught to cover the pits, to use natural materials or paper for wiping and to have doors on the latrines for privacy. Another crucial part of the hygiene aspect is the tippy tap, an ingenious hand-washing setup, and one of the homes also had a shower stall, which was basically a private area where a person uses a bucket of water to wash, with a soak pit for absorption of the soap and water.

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The beneficiaries are taught that all of the components for the homes can be constructed using basic materials and that they don’t necessitate purchasing anything.

On the third day of our trip, we visited a very special spring project.

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This was the old water source for the local area and its more than 2,000 residents. The new well serves the entire community, including three schools. One of the schools has a new pit latrine and the other schools are hoping for similar facilities.

We were pulled into a celebration of dancing, singing, and poetry by the students, who expressed their thanks for the clean water they are now drinking.

After our final day with our partners at Mityana Uganda Charity, we were treated to lunch by our partners. One of MUC’s initiatives is sponsoring schoolchildren. One of our travelers was so moved by their work that she decided to sponsor a child. The highlight of the day was her choosing which student to sponsor and then getting to meet her. “Precious” is indeed an appropriate name for this sweet little girl, who now has an American sponsor with a heart for children.

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Abby Fate is a summer intern who began her work for Water to Thrive with a huge plate of banana pancakes upon her arrival in Uganda and then found herself immediately plunged into the vital work of partnerships and planning. A fortuitous connection with a public health research team from Duke University will bear fruit for Abby’s work and for Water to Thrive for some time to come.

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It’s been a whirlwind week here in Uganda! Before coming here on my first trip to subsaharan Africa, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Being here has been simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating, and the rest of the team here has made sure that, as one of the babies of the group, I’m well taken care of.

I’m excited to be working as a summer intern with Water to Thrive, and, after returning to the States next week, I’ll be spending the rest of the summer working on an impact study on program effectiveness, looking at both “hard” research (data and statistics) as well as “soft” (first person stories from my time here as well as stories from Susanne, Dick, and other staff members and donors).

Luckily for me, while in the Mityana region we were lucky to have the chance to meet with a team of Duke students who have been conducting research in Mityana for the past 10 years. Tiff, the student we met with, shared some of her findings with us. Essentially, through several studies they found that water was more contaminated in home than it was at the actual water source. This was due to the recontamination of water through storage containers (jerrycans), as well as sanitation and hygiene issues within the home (children putting their hands in the water, etc.).

Duke’s research findings back up the core strategies of Water to Thrive, which emphasize community training on sanitation and hygiene in addition to sustainability and well maintenance. I’ve been struck by how many rusted and empty wells we’ve seen along the road as we drive along, built by well-meaning organizations but unsustainable without community training and support.

Here, I’ve learned the difference between “hardware,” or the actual well equipment and construction, and “software,” or community training. They are closely intertwined, and both are necessary for a successful and sustainable water source. And the research that Tiff shared with me only backs this up – that just providing clean water isn’t enough, and won’t be successful without the complementary training.

In the past week, I have been frequently challenged and exhausted and carsick. I have also been exhilarated, dancing and laughing and singing, getting impromptu lessons in everything from weaving to drumming to carrying a jerrycan. But this time has only make me more passionate and excited about the mission of Water to Thrive, and I am so excited to continue my journey this summer.

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Friend of Water to Thrive Rebecca Buell joined executive director Susanne Wilson on the Uganda vision trip that took our travelers to visit projects and partners throughout our service area. She shared these thoughts near the end of the journey.

As we ride down the bumpy Ugandan dirt road clothed in a blanket of stars, I can’t help but think back on the 11 villages we’ve visited visited over the last two days. Visit after visit I am humbled by resilience, strength, and grace. Growing up in an American culture where “abundance” means an excess of material things, I am struck here by this new version of abundance encountered on this trip to Uganda.

Here, I witness people giving thanks for walking 10 minutes for water instead of the four hours they used to walk before the new well. Here I am aware of how I take the gift of clean water and a running faucet for granted. I am stunned and awed by the gratefulness I experience, the man who says “our old women are crawling on their knees happy for the gift of water” and the woman who said “I lost my job four years ago, but I thank God today that I have the gift of life.”

Abundant. What does that mean? Jesus said, “I came to give you life and that more abundantly.” Does that imply the excess of shoes, designer purses, or exclusive zip codes…or does it mean something deeper, something beyond humanity and closer to the spirit? As I drive home among mud huts, warmed by blazing African bonfires with a blanket of stars warming my soul, I am left pondering the meaning of abundance. I think of the celebrations of the gift of water today…and I think perhaps my abundance paradigm has been missing the mark all along.

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Water to Thrive Executive Director Susanne Wilson has spent two weeks before our Climb for a Cause visiting partners and projects in Uganda. Despite intermittent Internet access, she is sending reports back whenever she can. This report covers her final days in Uganda. 

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Today marks the end of Water to Thrive’s vision trip to Uganda. I prefer “vision” to “mission” as our trips are more about developing the future for the people we serve.

 

 

 

 

Our vision is that everyone will have access to clean, safe drinking water. The vision is seemingly simple at the base level, yet far-reaching as I travel across the countries of Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania and learn of the depth and breadth of the impact that clean water can have.

The stories shared by the women sometimes make me cringe, even make me angry. I can’t believe how they are suffering, and there is a part of me that wants to do more. I know about the long hours they spend collecting water and the time it saves them when Water to Thrive places a well in a village, but it’s the other stories I hear that make me realize the farther-reaching impact of clean water.

They share stories about no longer being beaten because now they have time to cook good meals and their husbands are happy. They share stories about their little girls attending school. The big wish at one of the wells was that they needed a school now that they are healthy as the result of clean water. Along the roads are always people selling roasted corn, vegetables, chapati, and fruits, and with more time, the women can develop economically and help support their families and communities.

Much of the work of water results in the empowerment of women. Water to Thrive’s guidelines for water projects include the provision that at least half the members of each water management committee be women. In the villages we visited on this vision trip, many times, the women served as officers and even as chairs of the committees.

The work of water is not just about providing clean, safe water, but is truly about cultural change. Sanitation and hygiene training is called the software component of our work. The communities’ members are training about hand washing, keeping the water containers clean, creating defecation-free zones, pit latrine building, disease and germ transference, and more. Water is part of the solution because without the training, disease and contamination will continue.

An additional part of the training is management and oversight. Some of the committees have guards who open and close the wells. The committees collect user fees to take care of maintenance issues or breakages. All of these systems are set in place to ensure sustainability.

We have witnessed the joy of simple blessing of clean water. We danced and sang and shook hands with hundreds of people. We’ve been blessed and prayed over, we’ve held beautiful babies, we’ve bumped along hundred of miles of dirt roads, we’ve taken thousands of photos of small children who laugh hysterically when we show them those photos.

It is with gratitude for our easy lives and for clean water that we ask God to continue watching over our work and to bless us in the vision of creating a world where everyone has clean, safe drinking water.