Lost in Translation

Finally it is Saturday! I’m actually happy that it’s raining and cold because I cannot pull myself off of the bed. This was the third straight week in the field. Luckily, this week ended on a victorious note. After days of exploring, interviewing and investigating, we closed the deal on four perfect schools for our next projects in the Lira district. I am very excited about all four of these schools. Each one has close to or more than 1000 pupils enrolled and are all very anxious about the projects. Two of the schools will be receiving wells and the other two will be receiving the entire system, which includes a well + our Eco-Sanitation latrines.

These schools are always so remote that it is hard to get accurate information on them without physically going to visit. Even the District Water and Education officials often do not know the water and sanitation situation at many schools. Even the data we receive from the other NGOs who working in the water and sanitation sector is often not current or accurate. So we start with some leads and then go out to gather the information ourselves. In Lira, we had one application that seemed very interesting. It had been submitted to the District Education Office (We leave bank forms with the DEO and pick them each time we return to the field). Then we also paid a local guy named Tom to travel around on a motorcycle and do some additional investigating before we got there. So we had almost a dozen sites on the list but we knew we did not have the time to get them all finished in one week. I asked Tom to select the most needy communities from the list for us to start with.

The most difficult thing about working this way is that you end up with more desperate schools than you have the money to assist. It’s always hard when we have to put some of the schools on the waiting list because of funding. And that’s exactly what happened this week. We now have several really large schools on our waiting list and ready to go when additional funding comes for projects in this district.

The way it works is that we have drilling teams that work in different districts and we have donors who often want to fund projects in specific areas. The LRA rebels had repeatedly terrorized this particular community during the war so often donors specifically want to help them. In fact one school we selected had been raided and completely looted by the rebels, while the community was living in the displaced camps.

We try to always bring someone along who knows the specific county we are surveying very well and speaks the local language, but there are so many languages in Africa. English is really the only universal one that most everybody speaks. But it is a usually second or third language for people, so they prefer speaking in their tribal languages. For instance, I was traveling with four people on Friday, two were speaking to each other in Arabic and the other two were speaking in Luo. Surprisingly I have spent enough time here that I can sometimes follow the gist of the conversations when I try, but when all five of us conversed, we spoke English.


Author: Stacey Travis

Founder and Executive Director of Drop in the Bucket a water charity building water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.

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