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In Photos: Clean Water Initiative Makes Strides in Uganda

Water filter project improving health, supporting women’s leadership, and safeguarding environment

Photos by Joel Lukhovi | Survival Media Agency

Most people in the district of Gomba, Uganda, don’t have access to clean water. About 50 kids under 5 years old die every month from diarrhea and typhoid, both of which are connected to consumption of contaminated water. The women of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative — a partner of Earth Island Institute's Global Women's Water Initiative — recognized that there was a big public health problem, and decided to tackle it.

photo of biosand filtersPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Najjuma Mary and Annette Nakamya pour water into a biosand filter, which is filled with differently textured layers of sand and stones that strain harmful bacteria out of the water. Thanks to the initial project, more than 45 women have learned how to construct the filters in their own households.

In June 2014, the group used a $2,500 grant from Global Greengrants Fund to build 12 biosand water filters in two Gomba elementary and secondary schools to purify kids’ drinking water. Ten mothers and grandmothers participated in building the filters, which effectively remove bacteria by percolating water through various layers of sand and gravel. Although none had ever held a shovel, each was willing to break traditional stereotypes about the type of work done by women and activate for change.

Fast forward to today: The 12 water filters have been installed, and the women say their kids no longer suffer from diarrhea. School absenteeism has dropped by nearly two-thirds now that children aren’t getting sick as frequently, and the women report saving money they used to spend on hospital visits to pay school fees and feed their kids a balanced diet. 

Today almost 800 children have access to clean water; 45 women have been trained on how to build biosand filters in their schools and homes. And Betty Birungi, one of the women who participated in the project, was elected to local government, where she continues to advocate for clean water.

Godliver Busingi of the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative also notes the project’s environmental benefits: “Gomba does not have forests, but the trees we do have get cut for firewood and charcoal. Using firewood every day to boil water for a school with 260 pupils is not sustainable at all. The schools are a big consumer of firewood, and so having the biosand filters helps us keep our trees. If we preserve the trees, our environment wins."

To learn more about the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative project, scroll through the photos below.

photo of woman carrying firewoodPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency A woman in Gomba carries firewood that her family will use for cooking and boiling water.

photo of women drinking waterPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency "The number of times that our children got ill was very worrying,” says Nikuze Nastar (pictured). “Now that the worry is lowered, we have time to concentrate on other activities that can generate more income for our families. Right now, we have a solution and we are very grateful for these skills."

photo of child in schoolPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Cases of diarrhea at Joy and Grace Primary School have decreased since biosand filters were installed, and more children are able to attend school more consistently. Before, the school boiled water for the children every day. This meant it had to buy firewood, which directly led to the deforestation of the land and increased risks of disease caused by smoke.

photo of child at schoolPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency “We used to get sick so often,” says Nabadda Benitta, a student at Joy and Grace Primary School, seen here fetching drinking water from a biosand filter in her classroom. “It was mostly diarrhea or typhoid, and I would get sick at least once every term.”

photo of child at water tankPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Using a second grant from Global Greengrants Fund, Uganda Women’s Water Initiative build a brick water tank at Bukandula Parents Primary School. Thanks to the tank, Nabate Hairat, Kato Rogers, and Babriye Flavia can dedicate their time and energy to schoolwork, rather than spending it walking to fetch water.

photo of kids on way home from schoolPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Pupils from Bukandula Parents Primary School on their way home from school. School absenteeism has greatly dropped as a result of greater access to clean water.

photo of women making soapPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency The Uganda Women’s Water Initiative teaches women like Nakandi Jouanis and Namata Zanina to make soap for local schools using locally available materials like avocados, cooking oil, and antibacterial, mosquito-repellant herbs. Not only does the soap reduce the spread of disease among the children, but the women also sell it for income.

photo of women making soapPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency Nnnsikombi Oriver pours soap into molds. It takes a day for the soap to solidify so that it can be sold.

photo of women in GombaPhoto by Joel Lukhovi/Survival Media Agency "I got married at 25 and had two wonderful sons,” says Betty Birungi, one of the women who has benefitted from the biosand filter project in Gomba. “The marriage was good for a while, but later on, my husband kicked me out saying I was illiterate and uneducated because I couldn’t speak English. But speaking English is not a measure of my intelligence. I was reserved and shy, and my self-esteem was very low. When I left, my skills were limited to farming and with my small farm, I had to struggle to feed and educate my children.... The training from Uganda Women's Water Initiative has taught us skills that have helped us get access to clean water, and my children's health has improved. We learned how to construct Biosand filters, brick tanks and now we are learning how to make soap. I am very good at these tasks, which has made me very confident. Now, I have new skills that I gladly teach all that are willing to learn. My children are in better school; I can make more income. More so, being a woman counselor means I get to sit in the local government committees and deliberate on issues affecting the people of Gomba. I can campaign for reduced deforestation in the area, provisioning of resources for safe drinking water, and diversifying skills to encourage entrepreneurship. More people now turn up for training on sanitation and health, including men. It is very encouraging to feel their support." .

The grant that catalyzed the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative’s outstanding success was made by Global Greengrants Fund at the recommendation of Earth Island Institute.

Katy Neusteter
Katy Neusteter is the Vice President of External Relations for Global Greengrants Fund. One of the world’s top funders of environmental and human rights initiatives, Global Greengrants believes that when local people have a say in the health of their food, water, and resources, they are forces for change. Since 1993, Global Greengrants has made more than 11,000 grants in 168 countries.

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