Thursday, 7 January 2010

Voluntary Action for Development and MRDF - 5th January

After a day travelling back from Jinja we started today at Voluntary Action for Development’s office in Kampala. We were to spend 2 days learning about their work, much of which is sponsored by the Methodist Relief and Development Fund. MRDF have been partners with VAD since 2001.

VAD began in 1996 following the civil unrest in Uganda when the need for development was even greater than it is today. 2 years later Benedict Male joined this non-government organisation and now he is the Executive Director. We met him in his office and he introduced us to many of the 16 people who now work for VAD.

The aims of VAD are to facilitate access to safe clean water in rural communities and to improve standards of sanitation and hygiene practice. They try to enhance the efforts of small farmers to achieve sustainable farming practices and they have also started a micro-credit scheme. More recently they have began to encourage the planting of trees, seeing the fruit and firewood that can come from trees just as life-sustaining as clean water.

VAD identify individuals or groups in local communities that are most in need of their services with the help of local governments. Local volunteers outline a baseline assessment of need and consultation takes place with the community. Volunteers not only help with the physical tasks like digging wells, they are also trained to teach other members of the community basic hygiene skills.

VAD has worked with over a hundred schools, providing access to clean water and improved sanitation to students and teachers alike. St Charles Lwanga primary school in Nabbingo has benefited from a large rainwater storage tank and a new toilet block for the 600 pupils and staff to use. Both had been funded by MRDF. Before their installation pupils could spend up to 2 hours a day fetching and carrying water for the school needs. They were also more exposed to infection. The water tank and new toilet block has not only meant access to clean water and reduced risk of infection, it also means the children are able to spend more time being taught in school. It has also meant that learning the basics about good hygiene are now part of the school curriculum, and this knowledge is then past on to other family members. As a result of all this the school is one that parents now want their children to come to.

In Katulaga village around everyone shares the same natural spring at the bottom of a steep valley. However the water would often be dirty and its flow was unpredictable. With the help of VAD an underground dam and filtering system has been dug and a cleared area created which allows clean water to be collected each and every day. Whilst the village children still need to walk down the hill to collect water, what they bring back is now reliably clean and free of infection.

As with all similar projects, a WATSAN (water and sanitation) committee is created from village volunteers. One of their tasks is to collect small donations that can be used to help maintain the new water supply or make necessary repairs. However in very poor communities, even the request for 10-15p a month from families using the water supply can be too much. The widespread belief that water is God-given and so any attempt to charge for what they recently collected freely can cause a degree of conflict, and VAD workers maintain contact with recipients of their work to try and help to resolve such problems.

Mrs Misusera and her family in nearby Nanziga are the grateful recipients of a new pit latrine and bath shelter. She also demonstrated a simple device called a tippy-tap – a small plastic container filled with water that can be tipped over without using dirty hands. In addition a dish-rack has been built to allow more hygienic drainage of washed plates and pans. These simple things have made a big difference for all the family and there is evidence of reduced infection in her children as a result. She has very little, but insisted on giving us a big box of ground nuts and another of mangos as a token of her appreciation for what MRDF and VAD had done for her.

We had lunch with Mrs Muwanga, a long time support of VAD. As at all the places we visited during the day we left behind a newly planted tree, on this occasion a mango tree, but in other places we left avocado or trees suitable for fire-wood when fully grown

In Nkonya village we saw evidence of another type of water source used by VAD, a shallow well. This requires 3 days of digging some 25-30 feet down to the water table and then another 4 days of work back filling around the well with blocks and cement to make a long-lasting well that is relatively easy to pump water from – a vast improvement from the dirty water-hole the villagers once collected water from. This is now just left for animals to drink from.

However many elderly people in the village are unable to make the difficult walk down the steep and slippery slope to collect water, and so the best option for them is the installation of rainwater jars. Mrs Namwandu Ssettaka has been delighted with the large water jar that now sits proudly next to her simple house, collecting rainwater from the guttering. She also has a pit latrine behind her house, something which she is very pleased to have. It gives her much needed dignity and privacy as well as improved hygiene.

We sat and talked with the local committee that oversees the work done in Nkonya, listening to the challenges that they still face and we heared how grateful they had been for the support they had received.

In rural areas where the need is great VAD try to identify those who would most benefit from their help. Mrs Harriet Nassuna contracted polio as a child. It means she is unable to use her legs to walk and can only crawl with difficulty. She has 3 young children and fetching water for the family was very difficult. The VAD team have adapted their design for pit latrine and bath shelter to enable Harriet to use it. She also finds the tippy-tap easy to use and is very pleased with her water jar as collecting water previously was an almost impossible task. Now fetching water is so easy to do, even her small children can help with the daily task.

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