Thursday, 7 January 2010

Voluntary Action for Development and MRDF- 6th January

It takes about a week of hard work by members of the local community to dig and build a functioning well. When the rains come it can be hard to persuade men to leave the planting in their farms to take part in well creation, but at Katubwe village we found a group of men hard at work building a spring tank. The water supply here is quite poor and so the design of this type of well allows for filtered spring water to collect slowly overnight in a sunken tank and then it is available for use during the day. A spring tank like this can supply enough water for 200 people.

Elsewhere in Katubwe a shallow well had been completed and I had the privilege of officially handing over the completed well to the community. Members of the managing committee as well as others from the village gathered in the valley around this newly created well. They said that children had frequently developed gastrointestinal infections when they had previously collected water from the dirty pond and they were delighted that a safe supply of water was now available for them to easily collect and use.

As with other places we had visited during our time with VAD, we planted trees near the site of the well which will not only provide shade and bind the subsoil but also fruit and firewood in years to come.

Men were also hard at work in Bbulabakulu, where we found two men in the 25ft deep well shaft that had been dug out over the last 3 days.They were now laying blocks around the wall of the well and packing in hardcore in preparation for putting the pipe and plumbing. It was hot work and there were plenty of people on hand to help. Jonathan and Matthew briefly lent a hand.

Following lunch in the village, were we also learnt about the papyrus and banana leaf weaving done by a group of local women, we headed off to visit two farmers in Kasengejje. VAD not only focuses on water and sanitation, but also does important work encouraging sustainable farming practices.

One of the first women that they helped in 1996 was Mrs Fatima Katumba. She started with a small loan from VAD and training in how to grow a variety of crops rather than relying on one or two that would leave her more susceptible to crop failure. She was also helped to use improved seeds, grow more disease-resistant crops and have goats, chickens and a cow on her farm. The result is her harvests achieve better prices at market and she has over the last 14 years been able to build a brick house, expand her farmland and most importantly ensure all her 8 children went to school, 2 of whom now also have university degrees. As a result of all this she has been empowered as a community leader.

Fatima is seen as an example to follow and the skills she has learnt with the support of VAD are now being shared. As Chair of the local farmers circle she acts as a local agricultural trainer, teaching others the skills she has learnt. Her friend, Hadija Nugerwa, has followed her example and she and her family have also benefited as a result. She now knows how to look after her banana plantation better and the diversity of crops she now grows has also meant she can save money for the first time. She too has been able to pay for her children’s education and is in a stronger position to be able to cope with the recent tragic loss of her cow. This once would have been a disaster but now the sustainability of her farm allows her to cope better than she previously would have been able to.

Global warming seems to be having an effect on the previously predictable growing seasons. For instance maize requires consistent rain after the first month of planting but in recent years the rainy season is less predictable making planting crops more risky. However organisations like VAD, in partnership with MRDF, are able to offer support and training in sustainable farming techniques, as well as provide necessary loans when required. This means that where once vulnerable communities could be devastated by changes outside their control, now they are in a much stronger position to be able to look after their families whatever difficulties come their way.

We leave Uganda so much richer. We’ve been warmly welcomed wherever we went, we’ve met some wonderfully generous people and seen some truly inspirational work. We also seen how well money raised by MRDF is spent. It is not just small miracles we have seen, but abundant ones. As we sit in the airport, we’re not that enthusiastic to return to the cold and snow of Leeds.

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