Uganda: Wells

I think that when most people think of water well projects this is what they think of:

That was not our trip…its just a randome video i found on youtube We did get to be part of an experience sort of like that (without the big truck). It was really cool to see water come up out of the ground for the first time in a village. Clean accessible water represents a lot of possibilities. It’s tangible and exciting.

But watch this:

That’s us, sitting in a village meeting about how to fix a broken water well. It’s not very exciting. It’s interesting, but meetings are meetings.

A bit of context might be good. There is a well very far away form the village, because of its distance people have to spend hours everyday just gathering water.

Kibo Group has been working in this village for a while. They had been doing several important things, like teaching about sanitation, establishing water and sanitation committees, helping maintain a rain collection system, and being a part of the community. The village had a rainwater collection system (its the big tank the kids are sitting on in the video). It is a good source of some water, but because it depends on rain it is unreliable, and does not provide enough water for the village.
At some point some other orginization came to the village dug a well, and left.. Everyone was happy, now they had water.

But something happened to the well and it stopped working. Nobody in the village knows how to fix it, and they paid some money to somebody to try and fix it but they never got it working either. So, now they are stuck. This is a classic problem on the African continent.

This is complex, and I don’t understand all of the culture/economic/human nature/whatever else behind why well projects fail. But, a really simple explanation would be that there are not good systems in place to ensure the continued maintenance, funding, and use of the well. Fixing the well is actually sort of easy. It would take hard work, time, and money. But not that much money, around $1000. The people who work for Kibo have the skill and desire to put in the hard work. But instead of fixing the well  they had a meeting.

A proposal was made. Kibo would provide half the money and the labor if the village would provide the other half and would ensure that there was a group of people from the village that would be a Water Use Committee and a Sanitation Committee to ensure the future of the well (remember, these are things that they had been in the village working on for a long time already). In the end the village decided they should have another meeting to talk this over.

This is not the stuff of gripping video and glossy brochures.It;s not the tuff of statistics and “we have to DO something” either. But it is the stuff of relationships, hard work, lots of time, deep understanding, more time, community, cooperation, and even more time.

There are lots of take aways from this for me. I think most people are aware of some of the issues around water, that its not just about drilling a well. But to actually see some of those issues played out in a very small way makes it real…and it makes it seem even more complex in some ways. There are all sorts of things going on that are not obvious (even when you are there at the meeting). So, I want to learn more, i guess that is one of my big take aways, from this small experience in the village, as well as overall: There is a lot to learn, and it takes a lot of time and dedication and listening to learn. But until you do it’s impossible to serve people (in Uganda or here or anywhere) well until you take the time to understand.

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