buckets in a line

No – I did not set this up and the overflowing jerry can was removed moments after I took this photo. The largest one (sadly falling out of the photo) is a 20 litre jerry can, the smallest is a 1 litre jerry can. A bucket or container for people of all sizes.

women making biosand filters

women making bsf

These women are participating in a several day training to learn to make biosand filters. At the end of the week, the biosand filters that they made will be installed in their homes providing years of safe water for their families. Development at its best.

word images of the last month

Here is my attempt to capture a few word images from this past month. I doubt they do it justice, but hope you get the picture. As you read, smile and laugh because that is what I have done this month through the good times and the hard times.

Laughter. My time in Uganda, was filled with laughter. We laughed when we saw each other in the morning, when we told stories, when we walked through villages, when we shared tea, and simply at a funny look. In a moment there is laughter. Contagious laughter. So beautiful. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home. I once got an email from a colleague listening to my laughter through our shared wall that was titled, “I love your laughter.” Man she would have loved to be in Uganda with me.

Speed talking. On day 3 of my work in Lira, Faustino declared that he was terrified that he would be placed on my team the next day for our work in the village (his statement was, of course, topped off with loud laughter). For the first two days of discussions, we were a group of Ugandans, two Americans and two Canadians. The discussions were good and kept moving. Excited and surrounded by North Americans, I moved into my rapid-fire speed talking that is a clear indicator of how fast my brain cells are working. The poor man was struggling to follow and never bothered to say anything. We were partners for the next couple of days during which I spoke African English, we shared life histories, and we laughed more than one can imagine.

Science revisited. Do you have any idea what a petri dish of cultured e-coli smells like. If the word poop comes to mind, you hit it. The thing about testing water quality for e-coli is that when you have contaminated water, you are effectively multiplying the e-coli, containing them in a petri dish, and then opening the lid and counting the blue and purple dots (e-coli colonies). You use a little magnifying glass and get real close to make sure you count right. It smells. You loose your appetite. You are thankful that you do not drink from the river. Then you take a shower and then go to dinner.

Biosand filters. BSF. Based on an old technology that was modified for an individual household used less than two decades ago. BSFs can be made locally and, when properly cared for, reduce pathogens by 98%. I saw these in Uganda and Zambia. Everyone I asked who used a BSF loved it. But, the best part, is that the cement and sand act as a water cooler. And so, often before I was told about how the kids do not have diarrhea and their skin no longer itches, I was told, “The water is cold.” You think that is not a big deal? Yeah. You probably have a fridge and ice. Some brilliant person should start marketing BSFs as water coolers in places where there is no electricity with a side benefit of eliminating disease.

Latrines. I love them because they reduce disease. I love them because when I am in a village their presence means that when I need to pee, I have a place to put my white butt that does not involve mooning the world. But sometimes I think people building them are dense. For example, I used several latrines this trip with a hole that could not have been more than 6 inches square. I think a man made that hole and I wanted to kick him. Seriously though, every time I use a good latrine, I think of the girls who now have a place to pee during the day with dignity. And dignity begins to change this world.

Hand washing. What formal meal have I been to in America where everyone went to wash their hands before going through the buffet line? Can’t think of one. Matter of fact, I cannot think of a single meal in America outside of a home where this was the practice. Hamburgers. Fries. Pizza. Let’s not pretend that we do not eat with our fingers. How can I say this? Hand washing changes health. For the last month, I have washed hands with my friends and colleagues before meals. In the bush, we used bottled water and a bar of soap stashed in the glove box. At the formal dinner, we traipsed into the bathrooms. No questions asked. Do me a favor and think about that the next time you have a french fry.

Safe water. Latrines. Hand washing. Three key aspects to a healthy home & a healthy village.

Books. A part of my nomadic life is stashing books in my luggage. A few days ago someone asked me if I was well read. I am finishing book five of the month, an interesting collection of short stories of Indian immigrants to America (Unaccustomed Earth). Books one to four included good literature making me want to return to Savannah for another vacation (Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil), B-grade action (Clive Cussler), learning to cook in Paris (The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry), and an excellent book on community development (When Helping Hurts) that you should read. Last year the (former) president read more books than I did, and I somehow doubt his book list included beach trash. Some day I think I should read Plato and Aristotle. Then I will consider myself well read.

Safari. This one day safari in Botswana could be characterized by ‘elephant’. I do not think I am exaggerating if I say that I saw a couple hundred elephants – almost all headed to or at the river. The joy of it being deep into dry season is that the water holes in the park have dried up and the animals all flock to the river. As we sat in the boat, family groups of elephants headed to the river. At the sight of the water, the younger ones would start to run – the dust from the earth flying around them. 10-20 elephants walking and running… and not a sound. I want to say that they were light on their feet… but they were elephants. They were huge. Reaching the river, they drank their fill, then splashed water and mud onto their skin. Some of the kids rolled in the mud and sprawled  out. You could almost hear them sigh and say, “Mom, do we really have to go? It is hot out there.”

Seasons. In Uganda they said it had been dry, and not too much rain. Everything was green and lush. There were a couple thundering storms during the night. The maize was  growing. But, the real rains were just getting ready to start. The days hot and relatively humid, the nights cool. Zambia was in the dry season. No questions. Roads were dusty, the plants coated with a thin film of dirt, and I used lotion. The days were headed towards hot, but the nights remained cool. Each day I was here, the temperatures increased a bit… the locals say that October is the hottest month of the year, then the rains start in November. Between the dust from the earth, the dust from the cement factory, and the heat, it sounds like not a lot of fun. Please remind me to not visit in October.

Singing. Somehow I sing in languages I do not know because one cannot help but sing when surrounded by the voices and rhythms of Africa. Each region’s music is different, and each confirms that I have no sense of rhythm and sing off key. One morning Peter teaches a new song he has just written. Within a minute everyone is harmonizing and I feel blessed to be in the middle of this awesome beauty. In heaven I want to be that white girl in the crowd because I am convinced that my off key singing, clapping at the wrong time, and awkward dancing will somehow fit in just perfectly. Until then, I love that my African brothers and sisters include me in their worship.

it’s just not simple

In Southern Rwanda, I visited the villages of Kanyonyera and Rubugu where I saw water lines and water taps recently constructed by a local partner organization. The cement platforms and structures were well constructed, and the piping and hardware well chosen and installed. A seemingly ideal image of water provision in a rural region.
In Kanyonyera, a woman by the name of Pellina told us of the value of this water tap. She said that they used to get water at the lake, which was dirty and was a long way to walk. This problem was compounded by children collecting water who could only stand on the edge of the lake, where the water was the dirtiest. To top it off, every year children would die from drowning in the lake. Pellina was happy about the clean, flowing water at the tap. 

A little while later I noticed Pellina, deep in conversation, did not seem happy. I found out that the mud bricks near the water tap were hers. She planned to build a house, but the land she was going to use was taken to build the water tap. Now she had clean, flowing water, but no place to build her house. In such circumstances, the Rwandan government works to compensate the individual and provide alternate land. But, that was still in the process of happening, and today Pellina was stuck in the middle of the complexities of development. She had mud bricks to use, she had access to clean water, and she had no place build her home.

Clean water provision is so simple on paper. People need water, and water is provided. People walk long distances carrying large quantities of water by hand or by head, and now they walk short distances. People had little water to spare for laundry and hand washing, and now more is available. It would seem that the simple provision of clean water would solve so many problems. And yet we were told of a another village where a team (not funded by Blood:Water) came in and drilled a well. Fantastic…except the people never used the well. I don’t know if the water did not taste good, did not smell good, was in a politically poor location in the village, or if there was some other cultural issue. Bottom line is that a well was drilled but was not used; a ‘simple’ solution did not work. 

hope through soccer

Sometimes I struggle when I know I should write about one thing and I feel uninspired. It is these times that I wish a writer would modify my words filling them with eloquence that would better express what is in my head and my heart. It is not that I am uninspired by what I should write about–quite the contrary. What I do not know is how to take such a fantastic and inspiring series of events and present them in an image that will portray a piece of what I experienced.

On Saturday the final game of a 13 team, 52 game, soccer tournament was held in the midst of a grand ceremony. This tournament was a dream of our partner in Northern Uganda who saw young men being idle in their villages unsure of how to fill their time and lacking hope after 10 years in IDP camps (internally displaced people camps). Yes, stability is returning to the region, safety is the norm rather than the sacred, and villages are being rebuilt. But the rebuilding of a village is easier on paper than in reality, and hope is a magical tool. And so our partner dreamt up and created a soccer tournament where they fund uniforms and soccer balls, and there are prizes of bulls and goats to eat, and a beautiful trophy for the winner to display. Participation requires the building of latrines and hand washing locations, and soccer scores include community transformation in terms of WASH (water, hygiene, and sanitation) and half-times are filled with song and dance about WASH created and performed by the players. I could never come up with a plan so brilliant–not in my most wild imagination.

The day of ceremonies included a parade of the players through town, demonstrations of latrines, washing stations, and hand pumps. Officials present included not only local and regional officials, but also the Minster of Water and Environment of Uganda; she was impressed by what she saw. The final soccer game was exciting and demonstrated the impressive skills of the players. The song and dance were both beautiful and inspiring.

As we visited communities in the two days following the ceremony, we saw transformation beginning in communities. We saw biosand filters and hand pumps and hand washing stations and dish racks. We saw hope and we saw soccer players filled with ownership of their program. One year. This program has only been running for one year and already the impact is tangible. In the coming years the program will grow–the hope is 60 teams within three years.

I wish I could capture these events for you. Smiling women. Laughing children. Welcoming men. Stories of triumph and a sense of pride. Over it all, hope. I am at a loss of how to share this, of how to construct this image, and so I close simply wishing that I could have transported you to a soccer field in Northern Uganda for a day of celebration.

on travel and biosand filters

In case you were wondering, I have not forgotten you. It is simply that travel has been a bit consuming as of late. As I travel with Blood:Water job, I will post on occasion on our Blood:Water blog. My best guess is that you don’t read their site, so I figure the least I can do is post those entries here as well. This was written while I was in Zambia:

Today I returned from village tired from my time in the sun, from laughing with the children, and from sharing knowing looks with the women. The afternoon was spent installing 15 biosand filters in village, not long ago an informal settlement outside of Ndola, Zambia. Like so many technologies, the construction of a biosand filter is relatively simple: a concrete exterior created in a metal mold, a small pipe to carry water, layers of washed gravel and sand covered by a metal plate, all sealed by a wood cover. This simple technology has the potential to work for 15-20 years, is inexpensive to produce, and can reduce waterborne disease by 97%. But the expertise to create the filters and the money for the materials and labor is not enough. No where near enough. It takes education and the building of strong relationships to change long-established practices within a community. Though this takes longer than simply placing a filter in a home, it comes with the hope and possibility that the filter is the first step towards continued change, change that will come from the strength within the village.

For example, in a village not far from where I was today, where biosand filters have also been installed in some of the homes, our partner’s ongoing relationships and conversations with the locals led to a realization that the large garbage dumps within their village needed to be moved as they bred disease. The locals decided to move the dumps and clean their village. The combination of these efforts has led to such a great reduction of waterborne disease in the community that they said that, last year, for the fist time in their history, there was no cholera within the community.

Yes, a biosand filter is a fantastic technology, but it is the education and the relationships that are key to long term success. It is because of these things I am hopeful that, if I return to Zambia in 10 or 20 years, these communities will not only have clean water, but will also have taken significant other steps to reduce disease and further community development. Tonight I turn to bed tired, but hopeful.