Thursday, 25 July 2019

Follow-up Report on Water Filters

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, in June, our brave team in Uganda battled some extremely wet conditions to travel up North along some incredibly muddy roads and carry out follow-up visits to the villages of Odokonyero and Wii Kira, which were two of the villages we distributed water filters to during our recent trip to Uganda in February.

As you will recall from our last post, these two villages were very much in need of clean water, having no access to a borehole and therefore having to draw their water from stagnant sources. The aim of this follow-up visit was to find out how the people in these villages were getting on with the water filters we provided in February, and address any challenges they were facing.

Our team consisted of Geoffrey and Kisiki, who were with us during our distributions in February, and Beatrice, a nurse and very good friend of ours who is based in Northern Uganda. They spent 2 days and nights visiting the villages, and Geoffrey has compiled the following report from their visit (please click on the link below):

Water Filter Follow-up Report 2019

The report is generally very positive and proves the effectiveness of the water filters in vastly reducing water-borne illness in the communities using them. It was especially good to read the success story of one of the villagers, James, who described how much he and his family have benefited since receiving the filter. As expected the report highlights some challenges ahead which we will be looking into, but this follow-up visit has been highly valuable. Geoffrey and Kisiki did an excellent job in reinforcing the information that had been provided to those receiving filters back in February, especially with regards the most important aspects such as cleaning the filters, and Beatrice provided an invaluable presentation on health and hygiene to the people of both villages.

Geoffrey, Kisiki and Beatrice also sent us some additional photos from their visit to the villages. The photos show the horrendous weather conditions they were facing throughout the trip, as well as detailing some of the excellent work they carried out while they were there:

Flooded roads!


Flooded villages!

Our team meets with the local leaders of Odokonyero and Wii Kira villages (from left: Kisiki, Beatrice, the two village leaders, Geoffrey)

Beatrice and Geoffrey inspect a water source

Kisiki demonstrates proper use of the filters

Beatrice provides an invaluable presentation on health and hygiene

Beatrice and Kisiki on the road

The people of Odokonyero and Wii Kira with some of their water filters

Becky and I would like to extend our most heartfelt gratitude to Geoffrey, Kisiki and Beatrice for carrying out such a successful follow-up visit on behalf of North Uganda Outreach Project. They travelled a long way in some very adverse conditions, and once there they went above and beyond to help and educate people in the villages. Thank you so much guys, we couldn't do this without you!

And to all our kind donors, we hope this report will help you see how much your generosity is helping the people we have managed to reach.

Thank you for reading this

Hugh and Becky

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Like Mother, Like Daughter

It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone past since our last visit to Uganda. Nowadays, staying in touch with friends and organising our trip is so much easier with the help of Whatsapp and emails. This year we were very lucky to have my Mum, Julia, along with us. Having been born in Uganda and spending the first decade of her life there, she is quite used to the rollercoaster of life in Uganda. Apart from her invaluable help with the logistics of the trip, from loading and unloading the truck a dozen times, to helping clean and label 360 buckets for the water filters, it was especially helpful to have her with me in the schools for the AFRIpads distributions. In Ugandan culture, a mother commands a lot of respect within the family, and the schoolgirls often report being afraid to talk to their mothers about personal issues such as menstruation. But here I had my own mother helping me with the teaching session, and even holding up detailed diagrams as we discussed the female anatomy. I hope this really demonstrated to the girls just how normal menstruation is, that every female experiences it for a significant portion of their lives.
A great welcome from the pupils at Abil-Nino

The girls prepare themselves at Abil-Nino
And cram themselves into every space at Akwang
Teacher Alice prepares the girls at Lira-Kato
The teachers sharing a joke at Paimol

One of the great things about returning to the same schools is that I don’t need to focus as much on the use and care of the AFRIpads kits themselves as most of the teachers and older girls already know about them. This year, with some valuable help and advice from our contact Willeke at AFRIpads on key topics to focus on (eg pain and symptom management), and using the brilliant teaching resource provided by AFRIpads as a guide, I planned a more educational session on menstruation and the female reproductive system. One topic I always try to incorporate is the benefits of staying in school. One of our local colleagues gave me particularly useful positive feedback on this aspect of our session as apparently Agago district has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Uganda ( Getting the girls talking and thinking about their future is invaluable. The more education they have access to, the better chance they have of making informed decisions.

Julia starts the session with a story
Followed by some questions about the story
Discussing the story with the girls at Akwang
Bex talks while teacher Alice translates
A short biology session
The girls listen intently

We had some excellent and often hilarious demonstrations from some of the older girls, many of whom were keen to show off their skills. We had some excellent practical questions such as specifics of drying methods and pain management techniques. One of the most interesting questions for me this year was “Madam, do you fear drying your pads and knickers in full view outside your home?” This really made me think as I spend much of the session telling girls how normal menstruation is and that they shouldn’t feel afraid or ashamed, when of course even in my own society it is a part of life that most women, and of course men as well, talk about in slightly hushed tones, reminding me again that cultures all over the world are not actually that different when it comes to certain aspects of life.

Bex introduces the AFRIpads to the new pupils
Discussing the use and care of AFRIpads
An older girl demonstrates how to use AFRIpads to the younger girls at Lira-Kato
Senior Woman Teacher Concetta helps a pupil at Akwang
A particularly funny demonstration at Lira-Kaket
Asking and answering questions at Paimol
More keen students at Lira-Kato

This year, we decided to try to source paper bags to distribute the AFRIpads and knickers in as most of the girls do not have school bags to carry them home. Here we called upon Theophile, our Sawyer water filter distributor, who scoured the streets of Kampala and eventually found beautiful gift bags for an amazingly cheap price. A huge thanks to him for his hard work, and also many thanks to the men on our trip: Moses (skilled driver keeping us safe on the roads), Kisiiki (chief photographer and local guide), Geoffrey (local organiser, logistical planner and translator) and Hugh, for packing the bags ready for distribution at each school, not an easy feat among the growing audience, prompting us to vow to find a football to entertain the school boys in future.

The guys start to gather a crowd
Hard at work while we're teaching
Thank you Moses and Geoffrey (and Kisiiki and Hugh)
Enough bags packed for one school
The girls help to carry the AFRIpads inside
Senior Woman Teacher Concetta organises the girls at Akwang
Distribution begins at Abil-Nino
Julia organises the bags ready for distribution
An organised queue at Lira-Kato
Girls receive their AFRIpads kits at Lira-Kato

Overall the AFRIpads distributions were hugely successful once again and we were really pleased and encouraged by our reception. We received positive feedback from the girls who reported benefits such as reliability, convenience, ease of use, comfort, saving money, and being able to stay in school with their friends without missing out or having to worry. One of the most encouraging signs was the other teachers and staff (both male and female), requesting AFRIpads for themselves and their wives and daughters. The other hugely heartening aspect was from Paimol Primary School where the female teachers were planning on turning a disused classroom into a private washroom for the girls, complete with curtains and washbowls, to help girls manage their periods discreetly and safely. We’re keen to hear how Paimol get on with this objective and we look forward to continuing to support all the girls through their studies to hopefully provide them with the basic education they need to live happier and healthier lives. As always, our biggest thanks go to our very generous donors, without whom none of our work would be possible. The following letters of appreciation from the schools are addressed to you all!:

Meeting the girls from Lira-Kato on their way home from school
Moses with the girls at Paimol
Thank you to everyone for your support

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Water Filter Distribution 2019

With the help of the District Health Office in Agago, Geoffrey and Kisiiki had selected three villages deemed to be most in need of water filters. We had specified that the filters should only go to villages where there was no access to a functioning borehole. Although borehole water is not perfectly clean, it is much cleaner than water drawn from a stagnant source, and since we are well aware that many communities in Northern Uganda are still using stagnant sources of water, we are determined that these will be the ones to receive water filters from us.

The three villages that had been selected were named Odokonyero, Abero and Lapodero. They were all situated close together geographically, within a 20km radius of each other. We arranged to visit Odokonyero and Abero on the first day.

Views of the journey
Squeezed in between buckets
Unloading the truck

The villagers at Odokonyero were extremely grateful and enthusiastic to receive us. They took us on a tour of their current water sources, consisting of three large holes that had been dug into the ground. We were visiting at the end of the dry season and the rains had not yet begun, so the water levels were running extremely low. One hole had actually dried up completely, and what was left in the other two was thick with silt. Flies and bees had nested in the holes that still contained water, and we watched as a woman battled through the insects to try and fill a container with the muddy water below. This water had probably been there in these holes since the previous rainy season months before, lying stagnant in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees every day, with all manner of life forms using it to sustain themselves. It was clear that Odokonyero was definitely in need of water filters.

Walking to the water holes
The first water hole
Insects nesting in the mud around the water hole
Preparing to collect water
Sturdy footing to ensure no slips on the muddy edge
Kisiiki helps to hold the bucket steady
Starting to dry up

Prior to distributing the filters it is essential to carry out a demonstration of how they work and, even more importantly, how to clean and maintain them so that they last for many years. We try to keep the demonstration as straightforward as possible so as not to complicate things for our audience. On this occasion, having Geoffrey and Kisiiki to translate, and Moses to assist with the practical aspects of the demonstration, was extremely useful.

Hugh demonstrates the water filters to the guys
Sheltering under the boot in the midday sun
Kisiiki and Moses practice putting the water filters together

After introducing ourselves, we usually start by involving the villagers in a brief discussion about their current water source and the problems they have experienced as a result of it. Invariably we hear stories of serious illness, sometimes even death, from water-borne illnesses, and when you look at the water they are using for drinking, cooking and cleaning, it’s not hard to imagine why this is the case.

Geoffrey takes a sample for demonstrating
The village assembles
The demonstration begins

We then explain a bit about the water filters – where they come from, the principles of how they work, and the results that will be experienced from using them. Then we launch right into the physical demonstration, showing the community how to assemble the kit and demonstrating the water filter in action. Everywhere we go, people are always astounded at how quickly the filters turn the filthy water they have been using into water that is even clearer than the bottled stuff we have purchased from the shops. Once the dirty water has been filtered, we always make a point of drinking it ourselves, in front of our audience, to prove to them how clean it now is.

These ladies are enjoying the demonstration
The filter in action
The finished set-up

The next stage of the demonstration is by far the most important, and that is the cleaning and maintenance of the filters. If not done correctly, this can quickly lead to the filter becoming blocked and useless, so it is vital that we convey to the community just how important it is to do this properly and regularly.

Demonstrating the importance of back-washing
Demonstrating back-washing with a water bottle

Once the demonstration is complete we simply distribute the buckets and water filter kits, one kit and two buckets per household, and we observe the community assembling their own kits based on what they have learnt and remembered from our demonstration. In most cases they do this very well, but we are on hand until all the kits have been assembled, in case anyone needs our help with anything.

The village splits into three groups for distribution
Geoffrey prepares his group for distribution
Kisiiki and Moses demonstrate the assembly in more detail
Hugh assists a gentleman with assembly
Julia assists a group of woman

In Odokonyero the filters were very gratefully received. There was complete silence and focus throughout the demonstration, and the people were overjoyed when they saw the dirty water from the mud hole come out of the filter completely clear. We gave out 60 filter kits, one per household. The community was extremely appreciative of our help, and we were given pure honey as a gift – straight from the beehive, complete with honeycomb! Since they were so receptive and welcoming towards us, we asked if we could return the following day to see how they were getting on with the filters, and they were delighted to agree to this.

Enjoying clean water
Distribution is finally complete
The water filter is put to immediate use
A gift of honey

The water source at the second village, Abero, was literally a ditch at the roadside. We had never seen anything like this before. It looked disgusting. Again we received a warm welcome from the community and the demonstration was very well received, with yet more astonishment at the results achieved by the water filters. Again we distributed 60 filter kits, but Abero wasn’t quite as well organised as Odokonyero had been, so there was a bit of confusion and commotion when it came to the allocation of the buckets and kits to each household, but in the end everyone was happy, and we headed back to Pader after a long, hot day.

Abero's first water source
And the second water source
The village assembles
Demonstration begins
Demonstrating pre-filtering through a T-shirt
Showing the difference
Demonstrating back-washing with a syringe
Enjoying the filtered water
The following morning we drove to Lapodero village, which was supposed to be the third and final village in our schedule. However as we approached we noticed a functioning borehole at the roadside, right next to the village. Geoffrey spoke to some of the residents, including the local councillor, and they explained that there was a much smaller village, further away from the road, that was using a stagnant water source as its main supply. We drove a few kilometres into the bush and found a small collection of five households at a clearing. The head of the little settlement came out to greet us and took us to see their water source, a small pond from which the community had dug a trench to try and assist with supply. It was full of frogs, tadpoles, insects and larvae. We conducted a demonstration in front of a very small group of people, and we only needed to distribute 5 water filter kits to this little hamlet.

The journey to Lapodero
Walking to find the water source
A woman collects water for the demonstration
Lots of friendly frogs, amongst the other creatures
The village gathers under the trees
The women watch intently
As do the men
Moses assists in assembly
Kisiiki supervises another gentleman
Smiles all round
Everyone waits their turn patiently to taste

But sometimes it seems things happen for a reason.

From Lapodero we drove back to Odokonyero, the large village we had visited the previous morning. We had two reasons for going back there. We wanted to see for ourselves how they had been using and maintaining the filters so that we could assess how well we had managed to convey the information to them in the demonstration, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to provide us with some feedback on the filters and ask us any questions they might have. On arrival at Odokonyero we were delighted to see one of our big yellow buckets, full of clean filtered water, with one of the taps from the filter kits attached to the side of it. The bucket had been set up in the middle of the village’s main meeting place, under a large tree, with the intention that anyone passing by could pour themselves a cup of clean drinking water whenever they needed it, and as we sat talking to some of the villagers, several people did this as they walked by. This is exactly the kind of result we had been hoping for, and it felt really good to see it. When we asked the community members for feedback it was all positive. They were really happy, the filters were working perfectly, and they had all been cleaning them regularly to prevent blockage.

Set up for everyone to use

They had only one problem. There was another large village, just a couple of kilometres away, to which they were very closely connected to as a community. It was named Wiikira, and it was also using a dirty, stagnant water source as its only supply. As they told us about this, a moped arrived at the clearing. Riding it was the local councillor of Wiikira village, who had obviously been informed that we were there. He was a very pleasant young man who seemed to have the best interests of his community at heart. He asked us please to come and visit Wiikira with him. We got in the vehicle and followed behind his bike. Wiikira hadn’t been brought to our attention before this because officially it has a borehole, however when we saw the borehole it was clear that it hadn’t been used for a long time.

The broken borehole

The local councillor explained that people had stopped using it months before because the water was very bad. It had been making people ill, and it was so dirty it had even been discolouring their teeth. He then showed us what they had started using as an alternative – a large watering hole just like the ones you see animals drinking from in a BBC wildlife programme. And true enough, as we watched dozens of people filling containers with brown, rancid water from the hole, a small herd of cattle arrived and waded into the water, right next to the villagers. A dog then plunged in as well, obviously trying to cool itself down in the blazing early afternoon heat.
The cows arrive for water
Sharing the water hole
A dog jumps in to cool off
The women collect the water they need for the day

This was the first time we had actually witnessed people and animals drawing water from the same source at the same time, and it was immediately clear to us that Wiikira probably needed water filters more than any village we had ever visited. Without hesitation we agreed to provide them with all of the filter kits and buckets that we had left in the vehicle. The local councillor asked us to give him 15 minutes to assemble the villagers for an impromptu demonstration, so we waited for a short while at the water source, imagining what it would actually be like to be in a position where you had no choice but to fill a can with brown, stinking water that you had just seen cows and dogs drinking and urinating in, and carry it home for your children to drink.
An amazing welcome and thank you song at Wiikira

The welcome we received at Wiikira’s meeting place was the best we’ve ever had. The whole village was singing, stamping their feet and clapping their hands as we walked towards them from our vehicle. We have never seen people so happy to receive anything. Following the demonstration we were offered all kinds of gifts in return for the water filters – chickens, vegetables, fruit... But we preferred to let the community keep its produce and instead we just enjoyed the reaction we were seeing from them. Everyone was laughing, smiling and shaking hands with us, and when we finally drove off they waved and shouted after the vehicle. It was one of the best experiences we’ve had since starting to carry out these distributions 6 years ago.

Another successful demonstration
The kids are eager to try the filtered water

Overall, 180 water filter kits and 360 buckets were given out by North Uganda Outreach Project this time. On average it would seem that each household in these rural communities caters for around ten people, so our hope is that we managed to bring clean water to up to 1,800 people in the area during the 2 days we spent carrying out this work. Geoffrey and Kisiiki will be returning to all of the villages in a few months’ time to follow up and report back to us any feedback they obtain from the communities, and we should be able to provide spare kits / parts for the filters via our supplier Theophile in Kampala, should they be necessary.

1,800 people might sound like a large number, but as we drove from place to place in Agago, and indeed through many other districts all over Uganda, we saw countless villages and homesteads that we firmly suspect are using stagnant water sources as their only supply. Our project is only able to help a tiny proportion of these people, but all we can do is hope that the people we have managed to reach will benefit as fully as possible from the aid we have been able to provide. If we have managed to improve their quality of life in any way then this is a huge success for us, and we are more than happy with that result.

Of course, none of the work we have been doing in Uganda could be possible without the generosity of our kind donors. So to all the wonderful family and friends, and even many strangers, who have been helping us raise money over the years, we give our warmest and humblest thanks, and hope that you enjoy reading about what your generosity has enabled us to do.

Lots of love,

Hugh and Bex
A huge thank you to all our supporters and donors