This past June I was fortunate enough to have three great weeks in Africa. We spent the first 10 days seeing amazing animals in the wild from giraffe, elephants, lions, water buffalo, wart hogs, more stunningly beautiful birds than you can imagine, and so many other gorgeous creatures. The height of the trip was trekking one day for Golden Monkeys and then the true reason we were there… to sit with a Gorilla family… or so I thought! That could have been the height of my trip!
In our second week, I was able to see the reality of Africa and how very hard life is. Ten years ago, our dear friends lost their son at the young age of 18 and felt a calling the following year to go to Africa to do something bigger than themselves. That turned out to be the first Light Village. Built on 23 acres of land, their philosophy for ministry and life is holistic…the much quoted, “give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life” is how they make a difference in Uganda. They don’t do handouts, they do handups! They do this through trainings and live demonstrations in the areas of agriculture, livestock, health & hygiene, economic development, spiritual and leadership, vocational training and so much more!
I have been part of One City as their treasurer since its in conception in 2008 and have watched from 9,000 miles away the amazing things that were happening on the ground; but now, I was feet on the ground in the midst of it all and seeing for myself up close and personal. Life and the hardships, especially by the women and children, unhinged me.
For my next ten days, I helped with a medical clinic outreach where hundreds came to be seen and treated by the doctor, receiving lab work and medication if needed. Did I mention there is ONE doctor for every 160,000 people in the bush? People began lining up at 4:30am as they knew we could only see the first 250. All the numbers were taken by 7am, and hundreds more waited the entire day to see if they would be able to be treated. All in all, we were amazed that the staff of one doctor, two medical officers, two lab technicians, two midwives and two nurses were able to treat 327 very ill patients. It was with a heavy heart that we had to turn away some 300 people.
The cost for treatment was 2000 shillings or 60 cents, and for most that was all the money they could scrape together. That money helped offset the cost of the medications (though certainly didn’t cover it!). The biggest surprise to us in the stats was the 90-percent figure of people suffering from Typhoid, which is such a preventable disease. The children were so sick and — knowing that safe water and perhaps a vaccination could have prevented this — simply broke my heart. One city had already begun a project to help this, but seeing that 90 percent confirmed that we were on the right track with our new project…the OCM WaterCart!
At the Farmers Productivity Workshop taught by OCM’S agriculturalist and veterinarian (to help the local farmers learn how to be more productive in their farming, including bigger harvests), I met mama Justine. Until two months ago, Justine and one of her seven children would wake early and make their first trip of the day to the water hole. The trip would take 40 minutes there, 15 minutes to fill their jerry cans and more than 40 minutes to carry the heavy cans (46 pounds each!) back home. Her small daughter can only manage one can, so this is a trip Justine will make on her own (with the smallest of the children on her back) three more times during the day while the others are in school. This worked out to nearly 7 hours of her day…everyday… just collecting water. You bet water is not wasted in her family. It is used for bathing, cooking, cleaning dishes, drinking, washing clothes and watering the livestock and vegetables if any is left.
Justine was so surprised at how much time she spent collecting water. She had never figured it out…it is just one of the many chores that must be done for survival in the village. When I asked her what she might do with an extra ELEVEN hours per week, her face lit up. “I could be working in my garden more. I could be reading to my children. I could help at my church more.”
After two months with the WaterCart, Justine said: “My life has improved! I no longer have back and shoulder pains, I get all my household chores done and still have time to do other productive work to help feed my family.”
Not everyone has to travel as far and as often as Justine, while some travel further. Some people who just don’t have enough time, or can’t manage the long walk carrying heavy cans, confess they go to nearby waterholes, usually polluted streams, and many in their family suffer from diarrheal diseases including typhoid. 85 percent of the country doesn’t have electricity either, so even boiling the water is a chore since you must forage for nearly non-existent fire wood.
I saw and heard first-hand how the WaterCart is changing the way people are collecting water and spending their days! The WaterCart has cut in half (at least!) the amount of time it takes to obtain water, leaving more time for productive activities, including school, farming in their garden, and even starting small businesses to help support their families. People are easily transporting TWO jerry cans over the rough terrain of the village roads (and boy can I vouch for rough roads) and saving wear and tear on their backs, shoulders and head.
The one thing many of the women didn’t want to share with us, but it is so prevalent there, are the attacks they face while walking to fetch’water. Spending hours walking with both hands holding 46 pounds of water leaves you vulnerable, especially since many must walk in the wee hours of the morning or early evening when it is already dark.
I was ecstatic to personally buy and gift a WaterCart to the family of Harriet. She is a single mom of seven with two grandchildren and one on the way. She lives literally in the middle of nowhere and has to travel far to a polluted waterhole that cows and pigs use as their bathroom. With her new WaterCart and jerry cans, she is now able to safely travel to collect good water for her and her family. Seeing the gorillas made me pretty happy, but nothing like the smile on Harriet’s face.
The amazing smiles of the children who are so grateful to get just a glass of water don’t realize the difference between clean and typhoid filled, but these WaterCarts can and DO make that difference. This smiling young man reminds me of the wonderful story of the little boy throwing the starfish back in the ocean. Someone tells him he can’t save them all, and his response was “But I can save this one.”
There are thousands of women who need these WaterCarts, and our goal is to make and deliver 1,000 of these carts by the end of the year. What a huge difference this will make in the landscape of Uganda.