Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll quit as soon as the net you’ve given him breaks. It’s not uncommon when driving across rural Africa to see a hand-pump well that has not been used for some time; not because the water supply has been exhausted below, but because a proper system was not put in place for the construction and maintenance of that well. A well is an expensive thing to build, but it becomes even costlier when a community ceases to receive benefit from it.
In remote Bukwo, Uganda, most people still draw their water from unclean and unprotected sources like rivers and streams. Because proper hygiene and sanitation practices are not widely followed, the people that use this water are exposed to diseases like diarrhea and typhoid. “It used to take me two hours to go to the river to get water,” says Bukwo resident Cherob Dorine, “but the water wasn’t safe because people defecate in the river.”
Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Integrated Water Resource Management Project (IRWM) in Bukwo, one of Uganda’s most remote and inaccessible districts, tackles two these two critical issues that adversely affect Dorine and her community: access to clean water, and open defecation. These programs, however, are carried out in a way that both empowers and builds the capacities of the communities CRS serves. “It’s critical to implement our program in a sustainable way, so that the community will be empowered, and the results can continue to last through the generations,” says IRWM’s Field Coordinator Martin Opio. Below, Mrs. Kokop Deos sweeps around the latrine she built for her family for the first time following CRS’ water, sanitation and hygiene interventions in the community.
For each of nine new shallow wells that CRS has commissioned so far this year in Bukwo, both an excavation and a maintenance committee is elected from among the local constituency to ensure that the community is involved in the decision and planning process of the well. The excavation committee is responsible for providing the labor and even some of the materials, like aggregates and sand, while CRS provides other materials like pump parts and concrete, as well as training and technical oversight. A community maintenance committee is trained in the repair of the well, and users contribute a small annual fee toward future upkeep. This allows the community to learn new skills, to be involved in the affairs that take place in their areas, while relieving the burden on CRS’ resources. Most importantly, the community is empowered to maintain their continuous water supply.
“I supported the construction [of the well] by providing the poles for the fencing. My children and I also transported stones to the site,” says Dorine, whose community collaborated with CRS to build a new well one year ago. Today you’ll see Dorine and her children cleaning the concrete apparatus around the well every time they fetch water and, should it be needed, repairing the fencing that surrounds it.
“It took us two weeks to dig to the ground water,” says village chairman Jamusingi Fred. “We feel like we own the well because we’re the ones who constructed it.” One can rest assured that as long as there’s water under the ground, there will be a well in this village.
Our CRS truck pulls up to a new shallow well that will draw water for the first time today. In addition to the eager women and children running with their empty jerry cans, I see men streaming from their huts with their shovels, their wrenches, their fencing material. “What are they doing?” I ask Field Coordinator Opio. “They’re coming to help,” he replies.