Barry Davis, retired civil engineer, travelled to Uganda this past May as a One School volunteer because he loves kids. All kids. He travelled half way around the world, endured being trapped for 3 hours in a parked plane in Kigali, Rwanda in the middle of the night, and experienced the living conditions at the One School at a Time field office (“Not the Hilton” Barry commented to Bay, One School at a Time co-founder) to share his expertise and make a difference for kids. All kids.
Barry has travelled all over the developing world (e.g. Bangladesh, Ecuador etc,) installing water systems but what he saw in Uganda was some of the worst living conditions he has ever encountered: no running water in the homes, poor sanitation, a latrine for most people was a luxury, no refrigeration of food; schools with no books, no educational materials and no running water. The United Nations has ranked all the countries in the world based on life expectancy, education and income per capita- Uganda (and many countries in Africa) rank at the bottom of this list.
During Barry’s stay in Uganda, he inspected the water systems at the six One School at a Time partner schools (boreholes, above ground and below ground water tanks), and collected and tested the water at each system. Some of these systems had been installed by One School at a Time and some were pre-existing at the time the One School partnership was launched. Finding his way through the maze of water related bureaucracy was daunting for Barry- he waited days to hear back from the government official in charge of the water testing facility and when he finally arrived at the facility for a scheduled meeting, no one was there. After visiting three facilities, he learned that he was required to pay money at one office and fetch the water testing sample bottles at another. Barry observed, “There do not seem to be any street signs in Uganda! The only way to find out where to go was to ask people over and over again- even people who live in Kampala get lost all the time!”. Barry wrapped up this discussion by saying, “Be prepared for massive inefficiency and get ready to be frustrated!”
There is no perfect solution to the challenges of providing Ugandan schools with onsite water. Turning on the tap (what tap?) is not an option in this impoverished and corrupt country! With heavy rainy seasons two times a year, on site rainwater collection off the school roofs seems like a reasonable way to address the need (However, the climate is changing with global warming- for the first time this year, the 40,000 L tanks ran dry during the dry season.). The problem with rainwater collection is that whenever water is stored, there is a risk of contamination. Of 8 water storage tanks tested, 3 tested positive for e coli and fecal coliform. Since Barry’s visit, all the water storage tanks have been drained, cleaned and sanitized. The tank manhole covers have been sealed so nothing can get inside and the overflow vents were screened to prevent entry of mosquitoes and other insects. One School plans to test the water in these tanks after they fill up during the rainy season. Clearly, no one should drink the water from the water tanks unless it has been boiled. Using the water for cooking, irrigation and washing is fine. One School at a Time is also working with our partner schools to improve sanitation- next month, we will install a 5,000 L hand washing tank next to the latrines at each school, as well as launching educational programs about the importance of hand-washing.
Boreholes provide potable water directly from the ground and this technology would be a great solution for our schools except for these challenges: 1) the borehole has to be drilled where water is most likely to be found- this may or may not be at the school 2) boreholes are notoriously challenging to maintain as the pump is sealed and requires a skilled technician and money (always in short supply in Africa!) to repair. A long term plan for maintenance and a well funded maintenance budget has to be established with community input and buy-in for a borehole to be successful over time. In this extremely poor subsistence farming area, with people living on less than $2/day, the culture consists of day to day survival- long term planning and budgeting is not part of people’s lives. 3) Water is collected in jerry jugs. Our impression is that these jugs are filthy. Water may become contaminated as soon as the jug is filled. One School at a Time plans to test the borehole water collected in the jerry jugs to find out how big a problem this really is.
Barry shared with us his impressions of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working in Uganda, “These NGOs are mysterious- they come and they go, sometimes leaving failed projects and broken infrastructure in their wake”. When Barry visited the One School at a Time work area, and asked the students at some of the schools he visited, “What NGO installed this borehole that is currently broken?” No one knew. “Who is responsible for fixing that borehole? No one knew. “What NGO built this classroom that is now falling down?” No one knew. Barry concluded that development work was haphazard with no coordination between the NGOs and no apparent long term accountability for the work being done.
In Malawi, the government organizes the NGOs and assigns each one to a particular area. This ensures that the NGOs are evenly distributed throughout the country, instead of concentrated in certain areas of particular concern (For instance, when the Lord’s Resistance Army was terrorizing villagers and abducting children in northern Uganda, numerous foreign NGOs rushed to provide assistance bringing a tremendous influx of money and resources into a seriously impoverished area. When the crisis was “resolved” the NGOs all rushed out, taking their resources with them.). Presumably, the NGO’s in Malawi are better organized, the resources the NGOs have to offer are distributed more evenly, and the people in these areas know their local NGOs- all elements that can potentially create a more sustainable development program over time. Barry hopes to travel to Malawi with Freshwater International (http://www.freshwaterintl.org) to learn more about successful borehole maintenance programs so he can share that knowledge with One School at a Time.
One School at a Time is fortunate to have intelligent, dedicated volunteers like Barry who teach us so much and improve the quality of our work— we thank Barry from the bottom of our hearts!