Just a Drop in Uganda
I can’t imagine not being able to turn on a tap, flush a lavatory or sip a glass of chilled water on a summer’s day. Yet, for millions of people throughout Africa, these simple acts are considered a luxury. In fact, accessing water to drink, bathe in or cook is a daily challenge; one which is typically undertaken by young children.
Even harder to imagine is the thought that the children collecting this water have to walk several miles twice a day to reach a water source - often a stagnant pond or shallow well - carrying jerry cans weighing around 20kg when full.
That water is usually filthy, and causes the death of a child every 20 seconds.
In fact, water is among the world’s most prolific killers. Diseases attributable to dirty water and poor sanitation currently result in the deaths of more children globally than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Diarrhoea alone is the single biggest killer of children in Africa.
Yet clean water also has the power to enrich lives in many ways.
In 1998, after learning that an average of just £1 can provide water to a child for up to ten years, I set up the international water aid charity Just a Drop – the premise being, that if we all give a little, we can make a big difference.
15 years on, Just a Drop carries out water and sanitation projects which support children and their families across three continents, from Afghanistan to Zambia. In Africa alone, we have completed projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Currently, we are focusing our efforts in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
In fact, in March, I travelled to Uganda with two members of our projects team to measure the impact the water projects delivered by Just a Drop have had on the lives of the communities supported there.
Through detailed meetings with local partners and visits to many villages, it was encouraging to see how much the wells, boreholes, pipelines, hand pumps, water jars and latrines provided by Just a Drop have improved the lives of local populations. Diseases such as dysentery have been much reduced, and school attendance greatly improved. The villagers are working together to maintain their valuable boreholes. What’s more, I met a host of unforgettable people.
People like 81 year old Zabetti Nabwetemefrom Bibbo Village. Zabetti lives with her two year old great grandsonin a simple mud hut. She used to live with her 13 year old granddaughter but the girl ran away to town to look for a job; she now looks after her great grandson alone. This vulnerable lady received both a water jar and a latrine from Just a Drop.
She told me, “The water brought a big impact in my life. I used to buy and beg from neighbours. Water is life. Previously termites used to eat up my logs on my latrine so it wasn’t safe. Now I am no longer worried. You did a great job for me.”
I also met seven year old Carol from Kayabwe Village, near the Ugandan equator. I watched as she filled her 18 litre water container from a small, dirty pond. The water was full of tadpoles and is also used by nearby grazing cattle. I was worried that she might fall in, as her water container was so awkward for her to handle.
Many of the young girls in the area – including Carol – have to perform this task at least once a day. Carol told me that she is often scared of coming to the water source, particularly in the evening when there are lots of fishermen in the area. To compound this, the two hours a day she spends collecting this water has an impact on time she might otherwise be spending at school.
My colleague, Melissa Campbell, project manager for Just a Drop, accompanied me on this trip. Melissa, who lived in a remote part of Kenya Central Kenya in her early 20s – without access to water or a toilet in her home – said, "My own daughters are age 9 and 11 and it was very sobering comparing their lives to that of Carol. I tried lifting her water container when it was full of water and it was incredibly heavy for a young girl to carry. I dread to think how the weight of the water will compress her growing spine and potentially cause all sorts of physical problems later on. I cannot imagine my children having to carry that much water such a long distance several times a day."
Just a Drop hopes to carry out a project in Carol’s village later this year, to provide shallow hand-dug wells with hand pumps close to her home, rain-water harvesting jars and latrines for vulnerable families in the community, as well as hygiene and sanitation training to improve the overall health of the villagers.
There are many ways of getting involved with Just a Drop, to help the charity continue its lifesaving work not only in Uganda, but throughout the world. Either way, your support will go towards Just a Drop’s water projects that have so far touched the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people in over 30 countries.