The next day we headed off to Lira to meet Jacob. We visited Ognica Primary School where we are constructing one of our Eco-Sanitation Systems.
The Loo Crew was complaining that they were having some trouble with the community providing the required materials. When we got there we met with the deputy teacher because the head teacher was away. We learned that there had been a tragedy in the community that had the school and villagers at odds. Apparently, someone from the community had poisoned and killed a teacher. This spiraled into the village chief and one other person also being killed and the chairman of the PTA, among others, being imprisoned. The village chief and chairman of the PTA are two of the three people who sign our MOU and are the ones who are accountable for the community participation in the project. We are still trying to figure out how best to handle this unusual situation.
We visited two more schools in the afternoon. One was to see a well that had to be re-drilled because of problems first drilling. The new one was flowing well. At the second school we discussed with the school administrators the upcoming handing-over of a recently completed Eco-Sanitation system.
We spent the night in Lira and got up at 5:30AM to leave for Gulu. We had to be back with Jacob in time for his 7AM Village Savings and Loan Association training meeting at Pece Pu Dyek. I was so impressed when we rolled up and saw that the very organized meeting was already underway. We saw the training sessions at two schools and also stopped by the market and met with some of the ladies, who were running their small businesses with the loans they had received from the VSLA. It was really impressive. My initial interest in the VSLA was in trying to find a way of keeping the community meeting regularly and collecting the water-user fees, so they had a maintenance fund for the wells. VSLA is a fantastic approach to ensuring sustainability and community involvement to the water point. But seeing how it was also becoming a valued tool for promoting income-generating activities on a village level made me even more committed to the project. It is very structured and requires serious commitment from the community, which includes regular attendance at weekly meetings, fines for being late, permanent seating chart and strict rules set forth by the community itself regarding how the loans operate. It is simple and extremely effective. In the past we found that within several months of the well being installed with no problems, the water user committees became relaxed about their meetings and eventually they fell to the wayside. The VSLA keeps them interested and eager. They also meet weekly, rather than monthly. And every meeting begins with a discussion about the water point and a collection of the water user fees. I would love to take this approach on all of our projects, as I am convinced it is the most effective means of ensuring sustainability. But right now, Jacob is our only employee qualified to train them. With time and a little more funding we will have a team in place for training all of our schools in this approach.
I was sad to learn that Walter, the head teacher from Pece Pawel Primary School, had broken leg in an accident. I have worked closely with Walter for the past year and wanted to stop by the hospital to see him. But the teachers said he had just been taken back to the village to heal. I am sure it is not easy having a serious injury while living deep in the village.
I have the weekend off and am spending it at our office/headquarters. It is becoming too expensive staying in hotels so I am setting up a room at the back of the office. I plan to put a bed in there where I will sleep. George’s family already occupies part of the building so he can take care of things while I’m in the US. We are painting and fixing up the latrine today and I will be moving my things over as soon as we get the bed and mosquito net set up. I’ll keep you posted on my new digs.