May 7, 2015
Voss Foundation’s Program Director, Caitlin Rackish, recently returned from over three weeks in Eastern Africa where she spent time with our partners Milgis Trust in Kenya, Georges Malaika Foundation in the DRC, and Good Future & Hope in Uganda. While there, Caitlin visited our water, sanitation, and hygiene projects funded by Women Helping Women, Jewel’s Project Clean Water and Virgin Unite through Give A Drop, Lene Maria for Rent Vann, and Kim and Tenny Field. She saw some projects still under construction, and discussed future projects. She also took the opportunity to meet with potential partners and visit proposed project sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Over the next several weeks, Caitlin will report back on the trip.
While in East Africa, I went to Nakisunga, Uganda where I spent three days with our partner Good Future and Hope (GF&H). GF&H completed the solar water system for their orphanage, which is home to forty-one former street children and orphans, a few weeks before I arrived. The solar water system was funded by our Give A Drop partnership with Jewel’s Project Clean Water and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite. Since GF&H finally had clean water on site, the team invited me to stay in the staff house instead of a hotel, which meant I too got to reap the benefits of the new system. The children started Easter vacation towards the end of my visit, so one morning after they completed their chores, I asked a few of the older children if they would tell me about the solar water system. Instead, they did something better, they decided to give me a “tour,” and all the children, from the youngest, who is two, to the oldest, joined.
Below is a recap of my tour, and the children’s explanation of what they observed during implementation, how the system works, and how access to water impacts daily life. (NB: I took video of the children’s explanation at each stop along the tour. To protect the identities of the children, only the transcript is included, and the names of the children have been changed.)
We started our tour at the borehole, which is approximately 200 yards from the orphanage homes. When we arrived, David, who is in class five in primary school, gave a cursory overview of what they observed during implementation: “…the [rig] which [drilled] the borehole came… It pushed the pipes down. After pushing the pipes down the soil came up. After it came up [more] soil came up. This soil (pointing to a large pile next to the borehole)… After it came up, the dirty water came up… [then] they pumped the dirty water. After they pumped out the dirty water, the clean water came.”
Cynthia, who is in class six in primary school, then explained how they understand the solar system to work: “…[the system] pumps the water… [The water] passes through the pipe [and] goes to the tank. Let us go and we will see it… (Cynthia paused her explanation and led along the pipeline us from the borehole to the base of the tank stand.)… The water comes from [the borehole] and goes around [the base of the stand] and goes up to the tank. This is where we get water. [From the tank] it goes to the houses… We can get [water] from the taps and the showers. We can get it from the sink to wash our utensils, and we can use it at the [construction] site… for building our school.”
I followed several children up the tank stand ladder to the top where the 10,000L tank sits. The view of the orphanage, the borehole and the solar panels, and the surrounding farms is incredible! Sharif, who is in class five in primary school, briefly explained how the solar panels work: “We have the solar panels. They take in sunlight, and that sunlight can be used to pump water up into this tank.”
After we came down, Cynthia led us back to the orphanage and two House Two. There are four completed houses at the orphanage, and the foundations for five more houses are present. She led us into House Two to show me all the locations where water is available in each home. First we went to the bathroom so Cynthia could point out all the water access points. “Here is the sink where we can brush our teeth. Here is the toilet. Here is [the tap] we can open and our shower turns on.” Ah! It’s working! And here is the tap we can use for other things [like washing feet or filling up basins to wash clothes].” Cynthia then led us to the store (or, kitchen). “Here is the store of House Two where we can keep all the things we use to eat. Here is the flour, here is the rice, here is the sugar, and here are the beans. Here are the shelves where we keep our plates and utensils… And here is the sink where we can wash our utensils [and get drinking water]…”
At GF&H’s orphanage water is piped to the kitchens and bathrooms in each home. Photograph courtesy of Alison Wright.
Although the houses are spacious, they’re a bit small for forty-two people, so we went back outside. While in the courtyard, David and Cynthia told me about some of the problems they had before the solar water system was completed, and the situation changed. David said, “before we got clean water, we used to [use] dirty water… we used to use it for cooking food, and we used it as drinking water. That made us [susceptible] to the spread of [water-borne] diseases. We used it for washing our clothes, which made our clothes dirty. And we used it for cooking food, which could make us sick. Since we got clean water, we drink and use it for cooking food, washing our clothes, mopping, and other activities…”
Cynthia had a similar comment “…when we didn’t have clean [water] we [got] diseases from that dirty water, but now we [do] not get diseases… We spent, I think, two weeks without anyone [getting] sick… We used to bathe in dirty water, and we’d get skin diseases, but now we can bathe in clean water and we don’t get those diseases…”
The last stop on the tour was the construction site for GF&H’s new primary school, which will open in two weeks. Once again, the children led me along the pipeline that connects the water tank to a standpipe in the center of the construction site. David explained the role of the standpipe in the construction of the school: “We can use the standpipe here to transfer water from here… up to where they are working… They are working on the construction… They, [the workers], are going to build a place where the water tanks [for the school solar water system] are going to be. That’s why they transfer this water. To use it for construction… They can [also] use it for washing their clothes after working, bathing after working. That’s how they use this water… They have [also] been using this water for constructing the school…”
This may not be the most technical explanation, but I was so impressed by the children’s understanding of their water system, which was based entirely on observations, experiences, and conversations they’ve had with the staff over the last several months. Neither Viera, the Founder of GF&H, nor the staff prepped the children for our tour. This was unscripted!
In the coming weeks, I will provide an update on the water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure for the primary school, teachers’ houses, and dormitories funded by Lene Maria for Rent Vann‘s memorial campaign and Kim and Tenny Field‘s personal giving campaign. Construction will be completed in time for the opening of the school on May 18th.
Thank you to everyone who has supported the our work with GF&H, and to the children and staff of Good Future and Hope for being wonderful hosts!