Monday, November 24, 2014

Olojai – One Week On

So I am back home in a small village in Yorkshire. After a good night’s sleep I am having a day at home to get organised before heading into work tomorrow. It has given me time to reflect on the comparison between this Monday and last, when I was helping out Deborah and her sons in Olojai.
Collecting water from the 'well'
Deborah carrying water home
Today, I have got up, there has been no gardening (as yet anyway).
I had a quick hot shower. I could wash my hands after using the toilet.
I made breakfast and ate it, just by opening the cupboards and fridge. No digging needed. No trips to the well required. Washing up involved turning on the tap.
I have been cleaning, but it hasn’t made me fifthly. I tidied away some toys - I didn’t see ANY on my trip. I also put some washing in the machine and just turned it on. Easy.
I will prepare dinner. No need to kill the chicken and get my child to help gut it. The vegetables are already prepared, no shelling or peeling needed.
Preparing herbs for the chicken
Deborah and Oscar (aged 4) preparing the chicken that was running around 5 minutes earlier
My daughter is at school and has shoes to wear. She has clean water to drink and a safe toilet there. There is food prepared for lunch. She has a classroom and comes home (relatively) clean. There are books, games, computers, paper and pens. There is not going to be a celebration if someone donates 200 new pencils. But why shouldn’t there be? Why should we take all this for granted?
The people in Olojai all seemed happy. Their drive to change things, to make a better live for themselves was inspirational. They were a joyous community and we made a difference to their futures just by being there. It goes without saying that they are still living off the back of my visit – it will be talked about for years to come, how those Muzungos (white people) had never seen a chicken killed, couldn’t use a hoe, were really weak and didn’t know that peanuts grow in the ground. We anticipate that children will be named for us and when WaterAid manage to help them install a clean water source, there will be a party in our honour.
I feel privileged to have visited and honoured that I can make such a difference. Olojai, I will not forget you.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shock of the slums

I was nervous about what to expect in the slums. There was a deluge of rain overnight. I anticipated a Dickensian novel or medieval York, open sewers, a stinking mess.

In terms of the physical environment, I was about right, except in the first slum we visited, calling the streets open sewers may have been an exaggeration. There were some informal drains, but more a muddy, filthy mess of rubbish, water and waste. The houses were cobbled together with bits of wood and corrugated iron, some with flood walls or raised thresholds to try and keep out the rising, stinking waters every time it rains. 

The water and sanitation facilities were desperate. There were few latrines, and those present were privately owned or overflowing. Most people have to go in a plastic bag or carton and then just throw it out on the street. I recall being taught about 'gard-a-loo', the call in medieval York as you threw the contents of yourchamber pot out of the bedroom window. That was 500 years ago. This is 2014.

The water situation was similar. There was a water source that the community had tried to improve through filtration a good while ago. It has since been condemned as there is contamination from waste and latrines upstream. But it is free. Rather than buying from a controlled water point on the water network where middlemen charge up to 500 shillings (13p) a jerry can. The people have no choice but to drink it, they have very little, and they need water. 

We met the Kampala authorities who are responsible for supplying water and sewerage services to the urban areas. On the face of it, all I could see was a loosing battle. The population of the city is growing by 20% a year and 60% live in the informal settlements.

Next we went to somewhere WaterAid and the authorities had started to intervene. It was encouraging to hear about the bottom-up approaches. Local groups had been set up to influence and lobby for change. Lined open sewers had been constructed. Rubbish collections had been arranged. Public latrines constructed. Hygiene education for market stall holders. Small enterprises set up to help recycle waste into fuel. And most impressive perhaps was the prepaid water meters. 

Over 1000 have been installed in the slums. They bring water directly to the people, rather than through a middle man. Any time of day and night. The main advantage though is the cost, a set tariff of 25 shillings a jerry can (0.6p), which means that people can afford the water and no longer drink from contaminated sources.

I found it was still heart breaking, and difficult to appreciate how improvements are ever going to be universal in Kampala, let alone worldwide. However, through every small step WaterAid get closer to achieving their vision. Clean water and safe toilets for #Everyone, Everywhere by 2030. We have to step up to the challenge and I for one will be doing everything I can to help.

Party! For World Toilet Day

We were joined by heaps of dignitaries at Amuria Primary School for a formal celebration to mark World Toliet Day. The Ugandans are big on protocol, and by heck they can talk. Four and a half hours sitting in the midday heat trying to stay interested is really hard work.

There were representations by everyone, including ourselves, local councillors, politicians and most impressively, three government ministers. They were all engaged with the work in Amuria to eradicate open dedication, and the area is the best improved in Uganda, but as I have seen there is a long way yet to go.

The speeches were interjected with entertainment, great songs from the kids about how to use the toilet and brush your teeth. Local dancing. An out of tune brass band.

The final act was for the minister of health to kick open defication into history, a football was slam dunked into WaterAid's toilet costume.

The relief at the end was tangible and we all broke into dance with the kids, jumping about and going crazy. We all loved it. It means so much to them. We have to support Uganda to deliver.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Singing about Sanitation

Amuria Primary School was the next stop. I love the welcome song they do, it is so much fun, Bernie and I tried to get everyone to join in! We had our obligatory tour of the latrines and it was interesting to learn that some latrine blocks are built in a way that they can't be emptied, the ones WaterAid assist with can be pumped out though.

There is one latrine on average for every 70 school children in Uganda. Can you imagine the queue at break time? And the temptation to nip around the back?

I saw inside a classroom of primary two children. The teacher had 114 children in her class. That's a bit like my daughter's entire school all cramming into one classroom and being taught by one teacher with little more than a bit of chalk, a couple of marker pens and a bit of coloured card. No materials for the children, no visual resources, nothing.

We presented them with a bag of around 200 pencils when we left. You would have though they had won the World Cup. The unadulterated joy on the faces of the children, jumping up and down with excitement. A few pencils. It made me weep. 

Painting the school white
We did what we could in the time we had. I helped paint one of the classrooms. We worked quickly, but we could only get one half done. It was good to see we had made a small difference, but frustrating to be able to do so little.

I made friends with a boy called Oliver. He was about eight. He supported Arsenal. He had no uniform and was filthy, but he spoke incredible English. He was thrilled we were there and I was glad to meet him, but I feel we have so much more to give. These kids deserve a better chance, they are doing everything they can, but their ambitions are unreachable.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Desolation at the Health Centre

There is one doctor at Amuria health centre. That is one doctor to serve a population of 55, 000 people. 24,000 visits a year. To oversee 160 births a month with the help of one midwife. And to be the surgeon, the gynaecologist, the paediatrician, obstetrician, you name it he did it, whatever the time day or night. 

I met him and he was a lovely man. Grateful that the health centre had funded his studies and were pushing to be upgraded to district hospital status. But the conditions the man had to work in, and the conditions for the patients, they had to be seen to be believed.

I have two children. When I was pregnant the midwife told me to pack a bag to take to the hospital with some clothes for me and the baby, wash bag, nappies, snacks that type of thing. In Uganda you have to take your whole life. Nothing is provided, no food, no bedding. There is no kitchen, so relatives go and prepare food on open fires outside the wards. They do laundry outside and spread it on the grass to dry. The latrines were disgusting and to get to them you had to navigate a filthy wasteland of rubbish. Not forgetting the placenta pit and the 'incinerator', an open hearth littered with needles. I was dispirited to say the least.

Women arrive in labour on the back of bicycles. There are just 14 beds in the maternity ward. No cots. Lots of mats on the floor to cope with the extra mothers. The strongest drug is paracetamol. I dread to think what would happen with a birth like my eldest daughter's. 

I needed to remind myself, through talking to the women, that they are grateful to have the facility. But I cannot get past the stench of the toilets, the all-pervading dust, the rubbish strewn compound and the odd hen wandering through the wards waiting to be made into a patients lunch.

WaterAid are hoping to assist in making this health centre a model for good water, sanitation and hygiene practices. It cannot come soon enough for the patients.

Educating Wera

The welcome at Wera primary school was awesome.  The 800 children ran towards us like a happy blue wave. We heard the welcome song and then listened to the speeches under the trees. I could tell that children were more alert, engaged and cleaner than those at Ojolai. 

The school is government run, but with the help of WaterAid they now have a school borehole and some sparkly new latrines. The standard of construction was platinum in comparison to Ojolai School. Inclusive latrines were available for boys and girls too. It clearly demonstrated to me that the presence of water and sanitation facilities at a school is of massive benefit to education.

The school had a sanitation teacher and messages on the walls. The children knew the importance of good hygiene and the older ones teach the younger ones and take the messages home to their families. I watched the girls make reusable sanitary pads under the supervision of the male sanitation teacher.I asked him about it - there is no taboo about menstruation in Uganda. It is openly discussed and a big issue for education. If there are no facilities to change then girls miss school during their period, which can often lead to them dropping out altogether as parents are still paying for the time they miss.

I could see that school was clearly under resourced, but the benefits provided by a water source, latrines and sanitation education are invaluable. Sanitation underpins education and without it the children cannot properly engage.
Meeting the children at Wera Primary School

Akipi! Akipi! Akipi!

My welcome into the home of Augustine and Grace in Bobol village was incredible. Grace was so excited to see the three of us. We were treated to the fun-filled high pitch whooping of an African women and the Lord was praised in our honour. They were thrilled to have  a borehole in their village and honoured to have an opportunity to properly thank WaterAid for their role in facilitating this.

Augustine taking to Jenine and Nicole
Instantly, the differences to Ojolai were evident. The people seemed happier and better dressed and shod. Their house is delightful. Augustine took great pride in showing me around, with different buildings for each room. The latrine was a massive improvement on Deborah and Michael's in terms of cleanliness and construction with a tipi-tap contraption for hand washing. The range of crops and fruit grown were much wider too. Augustine showed off his cows. In rural Uganda, people invest their savings in cows. He currently had 6, down on 12 from last year. He is about to sell his surplus rice crop and buy two more.

I went to the borehole to collect water. The water from the pump was clean and the atmosphere there was happy and relaxed. It had been installed in 2012. As part of the programme, some hand pumps mechanics had been trained in the community. The villagers pay a subscription of 1000 shillings a month (25p) to cover maintenance. Later on Augustine took us to the swamp where they used to collect water. It was just that. A filthy muddy mess with evident soil erosion and shared with all the animals. It is not difficult to see the difference.

Augustine and Grace could both speak excellent English and were very knowledgable. They had 8 children ranging in age from 30 to 14 and they had managed to send them all to private boarding school in Soroti, the nearest town, costing around 400,000 shillings a term (£100). They clearly were wealthier than Deborah and Michael. However, some of this was definitely related to the change in outlook since the water, sanitation and hygiene programme was implemented in Bobol. They said that they no longer get sick from drinking the water, so they are healthier and need to buy fewer medicines. They spend less time collecting water and so have more time to tend crops and improve their homestead. The animals looked considerably healthier too, so both the food and income from selling them has improved. They both said it had 'changed their lives' for the better. I would call it a revolution.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A day without clean water

The village of Ojolai, was an inspiration. We were expecting to find people suppressed by the grind and hardship in their lives. Instead we found a wonderful community who were doing everything they could to improve their lives and help their families.

I spent the day with the family of Deborah and Michael. He is a teacher and so out at work much of the time. She runs the household. They have three sons, baby Thomas, Oscar age 4 and Pious 6.

The work was hard, but it is what they are used to. The women tend the fields, collect water, clean the house, prepare and cook food on an open fire. From scratch is just that - digging out the cassava and killing the chicken. And then there are the children to look after and the baby to wash and feed. Don't let me complain about having to keep on top of the washing!
Deborah collecting water from the village 'well'

The village water source was unprotected and filthy. It was disgusting to think that most of the community had to drink this water and carry it a good way. The jerry cans are 20kg each and they lift them on their heads like they weigh much less. Luckily for Deborah they were wealthy enough to have a bike and she could cycle to the nearest borehole and get water to drink. Even so, the baby got washed in the water several times a day and it was used to make tea and for cooking and bathing. It made me feel humble to be able to access clean water without thought.

The family had grasped some hygiene concepts. They encouraged us to wash our hands and had a plate drying rack. They had also dug a latrine for the family. The whole community mirrored this and we're moving in the right direction. A situation that WaterAid want to see before they start to intervene.

At the school, the same theme continued. The children were happy to see us, but clearly tired from a day at school with little water or food. However, the school was only 2 years old and the community had founded it themselves to educate their children - it was an inspiration to see what they had achieved in such a short time.

I would love to return in a couple of years and see how the village progresses with the help of WaterAid. The investment in a water supply could change the outcome for the entire community.

Let's make it happen - they are doing everything they can to help themselves already.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lights, cameras, action

So I made it to Sorroti. First leg Leeds to London. No probs. Second leg, London to Emtebbe. Fine. Third leg. Emtebbe to Kampala at around midnight local time. We get around ten minutes into the trip, and someone pipes up 'have we got any lights on?' Cue driver being put out as he 'can drive with no lights' and WaterAid doing the right thing and taking to a nearby petrol station and finding some replacement vehicles. So a very long day!

Today, we have travelled in convoy to Soroti, via Jinga and Mbale. The scenery was stunning and the landscape varied massively, from city, to forests, to lakes, mountains, mangroves and swamps. There were people everywhere and we tried our hardest to take photos as we went. The record for the number of Jerry cans of water on a bike was six.

Anyway, we have a five o clock start tomorrow and get to see some real WaterAid action, so that's all for now. Just to tease you though, I will be spending tomorrow with a teacher, his wife and children. Sound similar to anyone you know?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Typical Thursdays......

Tomorrow, I will be going down to London ready to jet off to Uganda. Today was a typical Thursday in the Wren house, except I have been thinking about what we’ve being doing with water in light of my trip next week.

So here we go. As normal, I was jumped on by 2 children at 7 o’clock, my daughter Poppy who is nearly six and Lucy who has just turned three. I had a quick shower, we all got dressed and then we had breakfast. Water out of the tap, in the kettle and a cup of coffee made in 30 seconds. Easy.

Then I washed up – the dishwasher is on the blink – which has been a big headache for us over the last 3-4 weeks. Perhaps what I experience next week will give me some perspective on that. I do after all have hot water on tap.

We walked to school, and dropped Poppy off, with her drink bottle filled with water. Many of the schools in Uganda have no water, so the children spend much of the morning collecting it. The average ratio of children to toilets is 70 to 1 in Ugandan schools and plenty are built with none at all, so when I see the three child-sized toilets in the cloakroom for her class, it makes me think.

Next stop home, to meet the plumber, we’re having some building alterations done in the new year, so he wanted to work out how to re-route the pipework for our new ensuite bathroom. I don’t think I’ll be telling the Ugandan’s about my stress in organising that.

Then on to the village toddler group with Lucy. There are usually around 30 toddlers clamouring over biscuits and juice. We take it for granted that we can just pick up a drink for our children and it’ll be fine, they won't get sick. And all those toddlers – it can get a bit whiffy. I can’t begin to imagine how you deal with toilet training in some of the villages we’re going to next week. I’m intrigued though.

All that water for swimming in
This afternoon involved swimming lessons – it’s a necessary ‘life skill’ to be able to swim in Britain, but a whole swimming pool full of water treated to incredible standards. An impossible comparison I think.

Then, home for tea, bath and bed for the kids. And finishing off the packing for me. At the moment I’m apprehensive about saying bye-bye, but excited to be going and daunted by what awaits. All those emotions before I’ve even left my village.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The plan

OK, so a bit more about what I'll be up to in Uganda

I will shortly be jetting off to Uganda to experience first-hand the incredible work of the charity WaterAid. I am incredibly honoured to be representing my company, Mott MacDonald on this trip and I am not taking the responsibility lightly. I expect that the trip will be a massive inspiration for the 16 of us going and it will spur us all on to raise awareness of the plight of the 1 in 3 people in the world that do not have somewhere safe to go to the toilet and 1 in 10 who don't have a safe water supply.

First we will travel to the Amuria District in north east Uganda. I will be spending time with families who have no safe water supply and nowhere safe to go the toilet and discussing with them the challenges that they face just in doing something we take for granted when we turn on the tap or walk into the bathroom. I will be visiting a school, which incr

Pledging to do my bit for the cause
edibly they build with no water supply or toilets, meaning that children have to spend most of the morning collecting water for use through the day. We will then go to a village and help them with an ongoing project. We are hoping that is going to be building latrines on Word Toilet Day, the 19th November. Then we will see the difference water and sanitation makes and travel to villages where WaterAid have installed toilets and a water supply and talk with villagers about how it has changed their lives. Finally, and perhaps the most daunting, we will be visiting the Bwaise slums, in Kampala to see the challenges there.

I anticipate that I will be deeply moved by some of the experiences and it's all going to be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I hope that I can take it all on board though and influence others to do their bit and help deliver toilets and safe water for #EveryoneEverywhere by 2030. Bring it on!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A bit about me

So in two weeks I'll be in rural Uganda! It'll probably be a bit warmer than it is out tonight!

I thought I'd give you a bit of background on who is going and me. There are about 20 of us altogether from the UK. Four from WaterAid, including Tadg the filmmaker, 13 from UK water companies, someone from the Environment Agency, someone from a contractor who work for the water companies and me from Mott MacDonald, who provide consultancy services in the water sector both in the UK and around the world.

Out and about in sunny Sussex
I have been with Mott MacDonald for 14 years. Over that time I have worked for at least nine of the UK water companies helping them to solve issues relating to water resources, flood risk or the environmental impacts of some of their operations. A typical project for me is to manage a project to assess whether a sewage treatment works is affecting the health of a river downstream. This might involve collecting field measurements, interpreting data, building an understanding of the overall environmental system and making recommendations for changes, perhaps to upgrade the sewage treatment works. I typically would talk with the water company, the regulatory authority and  local stakeholders to ensure that we are using the most up to date information and the water company are not contravening legislation in place to protect the water environment or wildlife.

It's all very interesting and important stuff, protecting the viability and health of our water resources, but I am sure it is going to pale into insignifcance by the challenges I will experience in rural Uganda.

I'll let you know!