It’s the Long Term Successes That Really Count

The next stop on our agenda was Tororo in eastern Uganda. We have two Eco-Sanitation Systems there that needed follow-up. Since this is a new and unique technology, we constantly monitor the projects to make sure they’re working well and to get feedback from the schools.

Members of the Tororo Rotary Club usually travel with us to these sites (it’s easy to get lost in these remote villages). But Rotary was having a big event and instead connected us with a guide named Robert. He was from Maundo Village where one of the systems is located.

As I was talking to the head teacher of Maundo, I noticed this elderly lady running across the field. Apparently she was Robert’s aunt, who hadn’t seen him in a long time. When she got close to him, she dropped to her knees crying with joy. I’m not really sure of the details. Maybe it’s just that very few people have cars, so when someone moves away from the villages it’s difficult for them to come back.

I was happy to see that the sanitation system at Maundo Primary School was working very well. Their enrollment had even increased to around 1100 pupils. This is not surprising as the student population always increases dramatically once the school has clean water and sanitation. According to the head teacher, the roundabout had broken down two times and the hand pump also broke twice. What’s important is that they arranged for somebody to come make the repairs. I was so happy to hear this! The real test of any project is not how long it works without breaking; and how well the community handles getting a broken well repaired. Everyone feels such a sense of accomplishment when these schools and communities take the initiative to get things repaired when they break down. That’s the challenge with this work. Things will eventually break, it’s unrealistic to expect otherwise. With any aid work there is always a danger of creating a cycle of dependence where people sit when something goes wrong with the hope for somebody to miraculously come and make the repairs. We strive to instill a sense of ownership in these communities and this time it worked. I was so happy that I started hugging the head teacher.

She did give us some feedback that the water tank at the toilet, which provides the water for flushing and hand washing, didn’t seem to be large enough to hold enough water for the entire day. According to her, it runs out around mid-afternoon. Early on we were using 300-liter tanks but later switched to 500 and sometimes 1000-liter tanks. With the increased enrollment, it’s not surprising they are now using up the water. Generally in a situation like this, I might have suggested some sort of deal with the school where we co-fund the new tank. But I was so happy with the commitment this school had already shown, that I offered to completely fund the new tank. At times this type of work can seem frustrating and thankless, but every success like this one makes the more challenging parts of other projects seem insignificant.

It was late afternoon as we took a nice drive through the villages. The huge sunflowers fields were in full bloom and it had cooled off a lot. People who had finished their work for the day were now relaxing, sitting and enjoying their families.

The next stop was Lira, which is where we have most of our projects right now, the first order of business was to meet with Tom the head of the Loo Crew (the team that constructs our Eco-Sanitation Systems) and Jacob, our project coordinator for northern Uganda. We needed to discuss the plan for some solar pumps we were receiving.

We’ve been offered a donation of about 10 solar water pumps, which is very exciting. But since this is a new design for us, we decided to only receive one of them initially. This way we can do one installation and better understand the technology before accepting the other 10. This will also help us get a sense of what locations are best suited for this kind of system.

We choose Lira Secondary School as the test site for this first solar pump. This school is the location of one of our first Eco-Sanitation Systems. This school has done an excellent job of maintenance and it’s been working great for several years. However, these older secondary school students never really liked having to play on the roundabout in order to get the water to the toilets. Their roundabout was also one of the early ones and has needed to be repaired a number of times. So we decided to remove the roundabout and install the first solar pump there.

But before bringing the solar, we needed to get the community together to discuss their plan for security. Solar is a very hot commodity around these parts, so we insisted on a solid plan for how things would be managed, maintained and secured.

Jacob called a meeting with the school, community, local police and LCIII (which is the sub-county chief). According to the meeting notes, the school was already employing a night watchman, who stands guard with a bow and arrow. Collectively they decided the school would add an additional watchman, so there would be round-the-clock security. This seemed like a good solution and the memorandum of understanding was signed for the solar pump at Lira SS. Now as soon as the Loo Crew finishes up the installation of the Eco-Sanitation System at Alela Modern Primary School, they will begin converting this system to solar.

On the way back to town we passed many very big, overloaded trucks carrying people from the villages who’d come to town for a monthly market – to buy and sell. These markets are an important part of village life and a big part of what stimulates the economy in this region.

There is no work on the weekends so we stopped off on Saturday for a day of hiking. During our hike these two adorable local boys showed up and began walking with us. They spent the afternoon offering tidbits of information about the area. When we finished the hike, I gave each of them a little money. As they walked off one of them said, “You know, we have school on Monday and my uniform is very dirty, so I’m going to buy some soap.” The other one said, “My mom just bought soap, so I’m going to buy some sugar.” It was a great end to a great week.

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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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