Otaka the Water Wizard!

Our hydro-geological survey team is busy this week in northern Uganda finishing up the last few surveys for our upcoming projects.  If there is underground water in the area, Otaka, our incredible hydrologist, can find it!!  He has a unique combination of skill, experience and magic.

I know the schools within Lango sub-region very well.  We installed about 35 wells at schools in this district, before it divided into four smaller districts.  When Jacob first started with us, he would bring me his lists of needy schools and I always knew the difficult ones.  There are a number of sites that many organizations have tried drilling at and failed, including us.  They are large needy schools, built on difficult terrain.  Everybody pretty much gave up on the chances of finding underground water at these locations.   But Otaka found water at all of them.

One strategy we use for selecting schools is to work within a sub-region trying to identify all of the needy schools in each of its districts.   About five districts, where we’ve been working, now appear to have clean water within an acceptable distance from most of their schools (which also extends to the surrounding villages). We cannot take full credit for this, of course.   But we have focused on this region for the past five years and are partially responsible for these results.  Right now we are assessing some of the very remote schools that are left in Alebtong district.

Today we have a bit of an issue though.  One of the ten schools we are scheduled to drill this month was just taken over by the district water office, which is instead going to drill there.  Maybe they received some additional funding or there was some miscommunication somewhere.  It is a bit confusing.   But we have drillers in the field, so now need to select a replacement school and begin getting the community mobilized.  Otaka has finished eight of the ten surveys and will need to know the info on this final school sometime today or tomorrow.    It is unusual to have the team already working while we are still mobilizing schools, but there is nothing we can do about this situation.

Although the survey team is two schools behind us, this is a process you don’t want to rush through.  We need to be sure we’ve done a thorough assessment and selected the most needy community.

We have a list of schools that we are working from but we have to drive to each of the remote locations to do our assessments. This takes time.  We receive schools names, applications and requests from many different sources.  The District Education Offices give us lists of schools, the District Water Offices offer their input, other schools and communities apply directly.  For this district, the Bishop of Lira gave us a list of schools he knows about and we also have the names of several remote community schools.  This is always a difficult process.  The need is everywhere but some communities are definitely suffering more than others.

All of these schools we see today are in need of water, on the actual school compound, but none of the situations seem to be extreme.  We see very large schools on the border of the municipality, who really should be tapping into city water.  We visit schools with broken wells that needed repairing.  We gather data on other schools showing there is a community well within an acceptable distance of the school.  I feel bad for the kids at all of these schools.

Hopefully we can do a rehabilitation campaign soon on some of the broken wells.  But that’s tricky.  You need permission from the people who installed it. You can also run into expensive or complicated issues when trying to make repairs to projects, other than ones your crew drilled.  Right now we are looking for needy communities that have no water at all.  Our funding is limited and we are determined to search for those, often hidden or forgotten, communities that need it the most.

We spend two days driving through fields and down roads that seem more like footpaths, searching for the schools on the list.  These areas are so poor.  I see a young girl who looks to be about nine years old, with a baby on her back, carrying bundle of firewood on her head.  A lot of the families in these areas can’t send their kids to school because they need them to help in the fields.  It’s sad to see those kids missing their education but those families are just trying to keep food on the table.

We visit many schools but four of them stand out as being the most needy.  Two are large technical schools, which are also boarding schools. Boarding schools need water on the compound for sure, since the kids are living there and it’s not safe for the girls to be going out at night to fetch water.  The other two schools are very rural, community schools.  I love these community schools.   They are usually founded by the parents, in very remote areas, because the distance to the government schools is too far for the young kids to walk.   If they are well run, they quickly expand to include the upper grades.  These community schools are usually really needy.  The teachers are all volunteers. They remind me of the schools in Sudan.  There are no permanent structures, so kids study in huts and under trees.  They also always need water and have inadequate sanitation facilities, if any.

One school is getting their water from a hand-dug, shallow well. It’s hard to believe people are drinking water from these infested sources.  This particular one has tons of tadpoles swimming in the muddy water – the same dirty water that these kids are drinking.   These are the schools that we are looking so hard to find.  When you finally locate them, it’s completely worth all the effort.  It’s a real challenge but this is what we are here to do.  These communities are so remote and disconnected.   Although, the villagers are invested in their kids, and their community, they are just off the radar.   It takes time, patience and serious investigating to find these schools, but it’s so rewarding when you do locate them.  We all feel a sense of accomplishment that we did not give and up settle on one of the other schools.  The community gathers and we explain the plan.

Otaka is now all set with his final school.   We also have three more needy schools that we found in the process.   We will begin mobilizing those communities for May drilling.   When we get back to town we learn that that seven more applications have been delivered to the District Education Office.


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.

2 thoughts on “Otaka the Water Wizard!”

  1. I have one simple comment. How different would this article be if funding were not an issue? What if you had an infinite supply of money to address all these issues? What successes would you have if all that you had increased was simply funding?

    Thank you,
    Johnny May
    i GIVE H2OPE

    1. Hey Johnny,
      Our impact would be so much stronger if funding was no longer an issue. The things we are working toward are:

      – Constructing more eco-sanitation systems. They are badly needed.

      – We would install more wells, especially in Sudan.

      – Hire more field staff. We are incredibly stretched right now. But everyone is so committed and passionate about the work. Our program would benefit by having a team just to handle site selection, hygiene & sanitation trainings and follow-ups. Then we could leave the VSLA training team in place, which continues working with the community for many months after the project is complete to ensure sustainability.

      – We would have one construction team just working on alternative technologies. We are finding more and more sites where wells are not an option because of the location. We would have one team trained to construct rainwater harvesting systems and also develop ways to divert the run-off from the wells to provide water for irrigation systems.

      – We would purchase a truck for the field.

      Thanks so much for your support.

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