Monday and Tuesday, we visited Blood:Water Mission’s partner on the ground here in Lira, Divine Waters, who works with villages on health, sanitation and clean water solutions. On Monday, the focus was on communities whereby well projects were already scheduled, but not yet completed. For this, we went deep into the Uganda bush, only accessible by walking, motorcycle and 4WD vehicles like our Land Cruiser. We visited the Duganee community, who greeted us with songs and dancing, as they were soon to be getting their own clean water well. They shared with us the things they were doing on their community to prepare themselves, including disposing properly of human waste, proper handwashing techniques, and saving money for future well repairs.
From there, we visited a clean water well that was being built in a community in the bush, and saw the excitement that they had knowing they’d soon not have to drink water from a tainted and polluted water source they’d be going to before. It was great to see how the wells are built, and how it changes those communities. After this, we actually went to the water source they were using, to see the trek they made every day, carrying the 40 pounds of water in each can. I cannot imagine carrying this water everyday, and yet, that’s precisely what they do. Every day. The water was disgusting and filthy, yet it was their only water source.
From there, we visited a primary school that was scheduled to receive a well. The school had 850 students, 13 teachers, and no running or clean water. Classrooms have no power. Yet, the kids greeted us with songs and smiles a plenty. One thing I’ve taken away from this is that I have never seen smiles like the ones here in Uganda. These are soul-pure smiles, smiles that come from a real contentment and joy despite conditions we’d say are harsh. I played soccer with the kids, and made goat noises, something they absolutely loved and laughed very hard at.
Yesterday, we then visited a well in another village that had been completed, and were told that before the clean water well was finished, they had many problems of stomach problems and other issues that they constantly faced, and since the well had opened, they’d had NO problems like this at all. The community there was so grateful for all the help they’d received and wanted to share their appreciation for all who’d donated to make this happen.
We also visited a large primary school, where 1230 students attended with only 12 teachers. This school now has a clean water well, safe latrines with hand-washing stations, and these kids are teaching their kids better health standards. It was so great to see all these amazing kids, and they were so excited to see us! They, too, greeted us with song, and because of their numbers had completely surrounded us. April checked out the classrooms, which were very small, and again, no power. These kids were so full of joy, it was hard to leave them.
Today, we made the long 4 hour drive to Kitgum, in Northern Uganda, on one of the worst main roads in the world. Once we got here, we headed straight to the New Life Health Center and Food for the Hungry. There, we were greeted by their staff with a tour of their facilities, and a time of introduction to many of the folks they help there with HIV/AIDS testing, counseling and treatment. We heard stories of better, more successful lives, and they shared their thankfulness for the support that Blood:Water Mission has given, as BWM is the financial supporter of the clinic, and has provided them with better equipment than the local hospital has. After that, we headed out into the bush from there to visit a community that was benefitting from New Life’s programs.
When we got there, they were in the middle of their weekly community meeting. In their community meeting, they were sharing their financial meeting, which is where each week community members give into a Village Savings and Loan account. They also contribute into a “welfare” account, where they put in money each week in case of an emergency. The announce exactly to the whole community exactly how much they give, it’s tracked, and they also provide loans from the account. The community member shares why they need the money, the community votes on it, and the treasurer checks to make sure they’ve saved that much in their savings account and approves or denies it. They then have a month to pay it back. Any late payments result in fees. In the past 25 weeks, the community there has saved around $1000. When you see the huts these folks live in, with chickens, cows, goats and pigs roaming freely, sleeping on dirt floors, you will find these amazing.
These are not poor people. They have lots in savings. They have lots of fruits and vegetables they grow, from sunflowers, sorghum, soybeans, bananas, oranges, mangos, millet, corn and other things. They have chicken, cows and goats. With access to clean water, they have all they need, besides health things. That’s the one thing that most sticks out to me is that these people have PURE joy. They are the happiest, most excited, and most grateful people, despite the fact their homes are huts, their front yard is hard clay, their bed is the dirt floor, and their water requires a short distance walk with yellow jerry cans.
I have much to learn from this experience, and have only just begun to remotely process any of this. For those that supported April and I for this trip, I can assure you that it has changed our lives forever. I cannot, even at this moment, think about this deeply without starting the shed tears, then I back off so I don’t start. It’s insanely heavy. This place is magic, and has something special that the whole Earth could learn from. Lord know I’ve learned from. Both April and I have been gripped by the grace and love showed by these people, we’ve seen the purity of God’s love for us all, and we can never take back what we’ve seen and heard. The 6 young (under 4) boys walking with water cans, who despite walking to get water (like they do everyday), they were smiling and waving so joyfully. I could never unlearn what I’ve learned. And I’m fine with that.