Stewart Mackie was moved by one child's burden of fetching water every morning before going to school. He decided to provide a 40-litre barrel, but realised that the other homes also needed one. As Harriet Birungi writes, Mackie is now on a mission to provide over 300,000 families with water barrels
It is said 'water is life'. But what do you do if you have to trek miles to find it, queue for hours before getting it and carry the jerrycan for long distances? It means being late for the next chore and at times missing out on some. For a child, it means losing extra time to play, going to school in an unwashed uniform, and an angry mother at the door, wondering what took you so long.
But one lone stranger in Kayunga is changing all that. Stewart Mackie is providing 40-litre barrels to families to save them the numerous trips to a water source.
It all started when he visited Kayunga between June and July last year. Mackie and his wife had gone to visit Outspan Secondary School. And because he is an early riser, he took some time to study what the natives did in the mornings. He was fascinated by a little girl with dirty feet and a torn dress who seemed to have been forced out of her bed to brave the cold to fetch water.
Mackie recalls: "Like most early mornings, I woke up and went to see the borehole and how people were getting water. But one thing stood out, a little girl.
I was drawn to her. She seemed to be struggling with a 10-litre jerrycan; she was bewildered and frightened to see me. I spoke to her but she did not understand English. I offered to help carry the jerrycan as she led the way.
"We had trekked for a quarter of a mile on the main road when I started feeling the strain of carrying that much water for long. At half a mile, we turned off the road to a feeder one.
After walking another half mile, we turned to a house and that is when I met Irene Kinobe's mother. With the help of a male visitor from the neighbourhood, he explained to Kinobe's mother what I was doing in their home.
"I expressed how painful it is to carry water for that long distance and particularly so when one is a child. I shared with them about the scheme in the UK that supplied water barrels to various parts of the world, and I told her I hoped to provide a barrel for little Kinobe.
I explained that instead of carrying water, you pull or roll it. However, when I returned to Kayunga in November 2012, with two barrels, hoping to give one to Kinobe, I discovered she had changed location. Instead, the barrels were given to two other families.
But I never lost hope. I knew she was somewhere. "I asked a friend of mine to find out where and why they had moved, before the next visit. And in February 2013, we heard that Kinobe's father was in Nazzigo, and was a popular ludo player.
We went on the search for him in the trading centre. Up a narrow alley, we walked between buildings for what seemed like ages. We were directed to several places until a friend who remembered what he looked like, spotted him. Eria Kinobe was watching a ludo game, waiting his turn.
We approached him and requested to see Kinobe. We explained what we wanted to give her. "I was glad that I could finally meet Kinobe again.
Her home is on the edge of Nazzigo, which is uphill. We learnt that her younger brother had died. This time, I had brought three barrels, which other friends in the UK had paid for.
I distributed these to other children who have to trek miles in search for water. The other recipients were Sarah, Angel and Edith, who seemed delighted. I hope the barrel makes life easier in getting water home.
I would like to join hands with rotarians in Uganda and other well-wishers to pay any sum of money which will be topped up by the Rotary Club in the UK to pay for the barrels, so that people like Kinobe in Uganda can collect water with ease."he said.
Recipients speak out
Sarah Najjemba, 10, is the eldest of four children and is in P3. She says the barrel can be rolled easily, even by younger children, so they do not have to wait for her anymore to fetch water for home use.
Najjemba's mother never used to fetch water because of a chest problem, but now she can when the children are at school. She rolls the barrel to the borehole and gets someone to help her pump and the rest is a smooth walk home.
The mother is grateful for how the barrel has improved the situation of water in their home. Edith Kyazike, 11 says she got the barrel last year in November. I dreaded the trips to the borehole and the long queues.
Sometimes the water level would be so low, so I had to trek to another borehole, especially on hot days. I know the barrel will not change the times the pump breaks, but I get to take home water that lasts longer before the next visit. "Fetching water is no longer a burden, but a game.
I compete with my younger brother to fetch water at home. We fetch water with ease and it has motivated my siblings and I to speed off even before our parents ask us to go get water. Kyazike's mother says with the barrel, even young children can collect water with ease.
"Even a three-year-old can roll the barrel when filled with water. My children now fetch water with a lot of enthusiasm." Angel Nankabirwa, 13, says she used to hate fetching water. But now, I cannot wait to be told to go get more. It is like our recreation activity now.
I roll my barrel with my friend Sarah, who also got one. Can you imagine we even dance on our way to the water pump? However, my challenge at the moment is that the lid broke. It needs a replacement although we have improvised with a banana sucker.
Ruth Naigaga, 6, is being raised by a single parent. With five children to take care of, everyone must do at least one chore to ensure that the home is clean. Among the many chores she is tasked with is fetching water. In P1, Naigaga has to ensure that there is water at home before she leaves for school. Limping, she would arrive late to school because she would take longer to fill two 20-litre jerrycans.
Ever since she got her barrel, she has got a lot of admiration and made friends who want to have a feel of the barrel, so they help her roll it, further easing her work. Her barrel is shared with another family in the neigbhourhood.
It has created friendly competition between the neighbours and Naigaga's siblings in fetching water. Naigaga's father says: "An adult cannot carry that much water at ago. But now, even young ones can carry it with ease."
Irene Kinobe, 7, I recently got my barrel. I have not used it as I have been sick. I know I will have a field day bringing water home. My mother says she attracted a lot of attention when she went to the water pump. People kept wanting to touch it, they would stop and greet her, just to start some conversation.
Inspiration of giving out barrels
We give barrels because they are easier to use for women and children than canisters. It reduces journey time, and of course the extreme effort required to carry water. The inspiration was purely because I saw children carrying water and knew there was an easier way. Our barrels can be used in all places, hills, rough ground, even in muddy areas during the rains.
Why are children your main recipients?
Children seem to be the ones who have to collect water before school. It was appropriate that children should be the first to receive as it is a known fact that carrying water, either normally, on the head or the back, causes long term health problems such as skeletal deformity and compression of the organs.
How did you learn about the children's experience?
I saw these children first hand in Africa and also received reports from around the world. This is not specifically an African problem, not even a Ugandan problem but a worldwide problem to which we have the simplest solution.
Giving out barrels?
Communities will be identified, and some have already been identified.Barrels will be delivered to them through different organisations, which work in communities where water is a significant problem. All we ask the organisation is to give a barrel to each family. We just want them to have a somewhat better life. Collecting water is a significant part of their lives. We know that with help, they will be healthier, have more time to be educated and most importantly, have adequate supplies of clean portable water.
Are more barrels coming in?
The supply of barrels is endless. We hope to give out around one million barrels within Africa over the next few years and also ultimately to manufacture them, creating jobs and livelihoods. The barrels we manufacture have a lifespan of about 10 years and are made from virgin polyethylene to be sure they are safe for use. Our next stage is the provision of sanitary facilities in communities where the barrels are used.
How to plan and raise the funds?
Currently, we raise funds through Rotary International and private donations and trusts. We are hoping soon for government funding from recipient countries. This will continue. We offer these barrels free to families, but are finding that authorities are charging us to bring them into the country. We are sure that once they are aware of the significant difference the barrels make to the ordinary people and the fact they are free to the end users, they will be able to reassess the position and include the barrels on a list of non-taxable items.
What organization do you work with?
Currently, we work as an independent charity, Roll Out the Barrel, but also work closely with Rotary International and lately with schools in various countries, who are aware of the problem of children getting to school on time and fit enough to learn.
The objective of working closely with organisations is so the programme can be monitored to ensure the barrels are being used appropriately in different areas and to highlight any problems. To date, there have been no problems, only women and children benefitting for collecting water in an easier way.
We are aware that the Ugandan Government has a programme for water and we would welcome a partnership with ministers or officials to sanction major shipments of barrels to families in desperate need. Our sources say we may be able to help as many as 300,000 families, maybe more in a short time, with government cooperation. We want nothing more than to help. This is not a Western solution to an African problem as is so often the case, this is a solution to a problem that affects nearly two billion people every day.