People often ask us how do we figure out if a school, church or hospital is right for a rainwater harvesting system. A lot goes into how we assess our projects, more than most think about. First we determine if the area has sufficient rainfall and almost as important is the rainfall days and frequency per year. For instance, in India it can rain 80 inches per year, however all that rain comes during the monsoon season, so for 2 months they have more than enough rain then for 10 months, it is very dry. Masaka, Uganda gets on average 52.3 inches or 4.3 feet of rainfall every year and has 220 average rainfall days, which means 60% of the year there is rain. This will ensure that the holding tanks get refilled regularly and can always provide clean drinking water to the children.
Once we determine if the climate and conditions will support a sustainable source of water, we find the local leaders of the communities that help us get to the schools most in need. We look for schools with over a hundred students. Once we have this initial assessment, we make a trip to visit each potential project location.
This is the part that takes a lot of time. We travel constantly when we are assessing, rarely stopping on the road except when needed (or the always stopped at equator sign). Ten to twelve hours in the back of an SUV, we usually drive up to the location and get out with notebooks, calculators, iPhones (for GPS and elevation) pencil and measuring tapes. Scrambling to find reasonably sturdy items to stand on while measure, we measure and call out numbers, survey the building surroundings and quickly sketch a site map.
A visit to the headmaster or headmistress to verify the pupil count and to get their phone number and it is off again. As we drive to the next location, we are busy taking notes, discussing special needs and getting ready for the next stop. Sometimes we have to stop for a minor repair too!
In the end, this is vital information for us to get to our implementation partners – the more detailed we can be in the beginning, the more accurate costing we can get and the better reporting we can give to our donors. But, in the end, its all about getting these kids clean water!
All of our projects are gratifying. Each one is literally saving lives and establishing sustainable solutions that will, for quite a long while, continue to bring life-giving water to the communities they’re serving. That’s part of why we’re driven to this mission with RainCatcher, collectively and individually.
But, with RainCatcher, it’s not just dropping off filters and tanks and presuming our job is complete. In many situations, we encounter habits, traditions and some justifiable skepticism. This is why strong relationships with community leaders and continued monitoring are so crucial.
That HIV has had a devastating impact in Africa is not news, but it can be easy to forget what that looks like, day-to-day, in villages across the continent.
In the serendipitous way they sometimes do, a couple of the filters we’d donated in a community halfway across the country had made their way into a small area near Masaka via a small grassroots aid organization focused on serving orphans, CBIRD.
The director, Jude Muleke, was eager to meet us during our brief visit to Masaka town in February and had contacted us via our partner Sula, who’d been helping bring portable clean-water systems to villages around Mbale. Sula had passed along the filters that were in use now, unbeknownst to RainCatcher, just a couple miles from the hotel where we were staying.
Jude wanted to both express gratitude and request our assistance in helping a woman he knew. We scrambled to fit in this unexpected visit as soon as we heard her story.
Resty had taken in five of her young relatives who’d been orphaned when their parents succumbed to AIDS. She was the sole relative and sole support for her five young charges and her own child, all younger than 12. She’d come to the attention of Jude because a couple of the orphans were being sponsored at their school by CBIRD.
He wanted us to meet her, because not only was she single-handedly keeping these kids out of an orphanage and off the street, but she is HIV positive. Jude had given her a filter, because, though Resty had gained access to medication, she was still quite weak, needed clean water to take her pills, and he wanted her to be able to leave the girls in school, rather than pulling them out to haul water and boil it for her.
The day we met her at her home, she brought out her bucket with the attached filter and proudly explained that she had boiled the water and was now going to filter it for us! Jude gave us a knowing look and we instantly understood the primary reason he wanted us to visit and visit TODAY. Resty needed a thorough demonstration of how the filter really worked and that she didn’t need to waster her limited resources “double treating” the water.
We sprung into action. Dennis, RainCatcher’s Uganda Country Director, conducted an impromptu filter demonstration in one of their shared languages so there would be no misunderstanding. Dennis and Fred, RainCatcher’s best teachers, trained the CBIRD reps on-the-fly and a crowd gathered on the road in front of Resty’s house, watching from a distance.
As the unexpected demonstration on the lawn progressed, curious passersby moved in closer. Boys on their way back from a dirty water source about a mile away, pushing bikes weighed down by heavy yellow jerry cans, stopped, transfixed.
The curious weren’t necessarily brave enough to try the filtered water, though. Dennis drank some. Then the American RainCatchers drank some. Then Resty. Then a brave volunteer from the crowd stepped up, leaving the other spectators to murmur and express their disbelief and disapproval. Though the courageous water sipper was the only “risk taker” in the moment, the crowd remained.
After saying goodbye to Resty and making further arrangements with CBIRD, we rushed off to our previously scheduled obligations. We were feeling really fortunate to have a partner like Jude in Masaka and looked forward to maybe meeting with him on our next visit to see what could be done next.
The very next day, Jude called to share the great news: Word of Resty’s magic filter had spread through that small neighborhood like wildfire and requests for demonstrations had been passed along to Jude.
Sometimes, in the midst of very focused program implementation work, where you’re logging each minute and driving the team to be unusually productive, you run into something very special. Notable, even. Something unexpected that brings the flurry of activity to a halt and serves a reminder of how people, purpose and mission are connected.
Julius Ananura, the Executive Director of Reach the Un-Reached Ministries and a RainCatcher partner, has devoted his ministry to helping marginalized groups and vulnerable populations in Western Uganda.
Homer and Julius Ananura
Though Julius is has moved on to the capital city of Kampala, with a lovely wife, an adorable daughter, a modern home and a vehicle of his own, he is a man with much of his heart still in the villages surrounding Mbarara.
In Kampala, Julius runs an orphanage with a little more than a dozen children, but when duty calls, he will jump on a bus to travel four hours to make sure the schools, churches and clinics he’s made commitments to will be fairly and swiftly evaluated by RainCatcher.
The day of our visit to Kabwohe Health Center was, in fact, the third RainCatcher-requested tour of these 10 sites that Julius had made possible. Without him, we would never have been able to find them all, as scattered as they are in remote villages, down winding red-clay paths and hidden in banana groves.
Though all of his project sites are using RainCatcher’s portable clean-water systems, filtering water and making it safe to drink, each site has also waited patiently for this, the construction phase of the projects that promise to make access to water reliable and on-site. They’ve anticipated the day when the need for long walks to haul heavy cans of water can be reduced or eliminated.
As we arrived at the clinic, the sun was beating down and the team was a little giddy with the idea that it was only 1 pm and we only had one more site visit for the day. There were high fives all around and bragging rights when we got back home.
As we measured the clinic and Dave and Dennis ran the numbers and recorded installation instructions for the system, we were quite aware of the dozens of people laying around the grounds for their long waits for a possible opportunity to be seen by medical personnel.
There were sick kids, laying by their moms on mats under trees. There was even a snack hut with a brisk business selling unrefrigerated sodas, bananas, corn and nuts. Made sense: according to Julius some of these people would wait on the lawn all day and not be seen by anyone. Snacks would be required.
The biggest concern, according to the head nurse, Sister Beatrice, was the mothers and babies. The maternity ward was in crisis. The placement of this tank was crucial, because the mothers or their families needed to help provide water; there wasn’t enough of a supply to support both the surgical unit AND the maternity ward. Many mothers and babies die there for a variety of reasons, but the lack of clean water was one deadly factor was one that we could help alleviate.
It was then that Julius turned to Sister Beatrice and their conversation led to a revelation: Julius had been born in that very maternity ward almost 40 years ago – same building and apparently same dire situation. And Sister Beatrice had started working at the hospital as a young woman not long after Julius had made his debut there.
The whole group looked over. Standing there was this nun who had dedicated her life to responding to a never-ending sea of people seeking medical attention in an under-staffed, woefully equipped medical facility and a man whose journey of generous service to the most under-served people in his home community had started on that very site.
It was a moment that reminded us of the big job ahead and who really deserved the high fives and bragging rights. And a gift of awareness of the wonderful ways paths can be intertwined and that we’re all just one small part of bigger efforts and mere contributors to larger solutions.
Fetching water is such a part of life in Uganda and elsewhere that groups of children and women lugging heavy yellow cans full of water are ever present along the road.
The burden of collecting water falls on everyone, but in a family with the option, it becomes primarily a responsibility of the girls.
As we drove through Masaka, visiting schools we’d be equipping with rainwater harvesting, we came across this particular group of beautiful, vibrant teen girls.
We stopped for a moment to visit with them and take photos. They laughed and teased each other and we joked with them.
Driving on, our Ugandan partners pointed out that these girls could benefit from the tanks we were putting in at the schools nearby and might not have to miss as much school due to their families water needs.
That realization made us so grateful. Because, although Africa itself has captured our hearts, it is the experience of making a personal impact that drives our pursuit of opportunities to expand our reach.
Knowing that our recent projects might help these girls directly – and would definitely help other girls, girls we hadn’t even met yet – made it a little easier for us to keep driving.
Facts on Water
For a family of six, collecting enough water for drinking, cooking and basic hygiene may mean hauling heavy water containers from a distant source for an average of three hours a day. Women and girls are mainly responsible for fetching the water that their families need for drinking, bathing, cooking and other household uses. (Source: WHO/UNICEF)
There are many heroes working behind the scenes for RainCatcher. These heroes work hard every day to provide children clean drinking water. Today we honor Sylvia Bofry, Director of the Kyempapu school district. Without Sylvia our current project in Uganda would not be moving forward and many previous projects would not have occurred.
Want to thank Sylvia yourself? Post a few words of gratitude in the comments below!