This week began with us doing our initial assessment of the schools on our list. They were all are very remote so just the traveling takes a long time. On the first physical visit we introduce ourselves, discuss our program and collect data on the schools.
To confirm that the information they are giving us is accurate, we also do some investigating ourselves, often interviewing the women living in the nearby huts.
On Thursday, we took all of the data we collected from the week back so we could sort through the information and begin vetting the schools. I asked for everyone’s input on which schools they felt were the most needy. I often rely on their sense of the situation when making the decisions.
After finalizing the list of schools, we called the head teachers and scheduled a meeting for Friday with the village chiefs, chairman of the PTA and head teacher. We also invited teachers and community members to attend the meeting.
In the application, we clearly lay out our requirements from the school and community in the project. As you know, there are many things they have to agree to do in order to prove their commitment to the project. This meeting is where we go over those points step-by-step to make sure that everybody understands and agrees.
After the meeting we have the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). I try to make this as formal and official as possible – even though we are generally sitting outside under the mango trees. I always bring 5 copies of the MOU. It must be signed by us, the village chief, chairman of the PTA and head teacher. We clearly explain that by signing this they are each agreeing to accept responsibility for the care and maintenance of the facility. Each person who signs then receives one of the originals and we take two with us (one goes to the office in LA and the other eventually goes to our office in Gulu, but remains with the drilling team for the duration of the work). The crew must have it with them at all times to make sure that the community is abiding by the terms agreed upon. This part is a lot of work and takes extra time, but it really is a very important step in ensuring the community values the facility as something of their own that they worked for and not some form of charity. As you know, we have many needy back-up schools on our lists. So if a school and community are not committed to the project, we can easily shift to another school that is eager.
Because we have seen entirely too many broken wells in the field, we are very serious about the conditions in the MOU and the communities are really responding well to this approach. I think it makes them feel better that they are working for it themselves and not just being given a hand out. We stress that these wells and sanitation systems are very expensive and that this assistance is coming from real people, individuals who have a good heart. I think once the villagers understand where the money is coming from it means a lot to them too.
We finished with all of the MOUs by late Friday afternoon and then met with the drilling team to give them their instructions. We provided them with packets containing all of the signed MOUs and contact sheets. We also gave them the engraved tiles that we place on the wells with the inscription chosen by the donor. I also had to give this team some new hygiene and sanitation training material that I had printed and laminated in the US. Some of the guys from this team will be conducting good hygiene training while the other crew is doing the drilling.
Next week we will be traveling to Moyo district to survey some schools there. We left some applications with the District Water Office in November and he has been calling to let us know he has a number of very needy schools that have applied.