Can you imagine a 106 year old lady not having a toilet?
We didn’t have to imagine this last week on a Just a Drop project visit to Uganda.
I was travelling there as part of a press trip visiting Thomas Cook Children’s Charity funded projects. Joining me was Colonel Mike Reynolds, Just a Drop Trustee and Project Engineer, Nick Sandham of Thomas Cook, Rupert Murray of ‘Travel Weekly’, Malcolm Tattersall of ‘The Sun’ and Piet van Niekerk of INK, publishers of ‘Travel’, the Thomas Cook inflight magazine.
The group was in the unique position of being able to visit projects funded by Thomas Cook Children’s Charity under all stages of construction: one where the work had not yet started, one in progress and one completed. In doing so we were struck by the stark contrast between those communities that now had a clean water source and those that didn’t.
As journalists and fundraisers we didn’t expect to be shocked. We are accustomed to reporting on communities and people in need. The distance between the communities and our desks back in the UK somehow creates a shield that protects us from some of the horror in the stories. But seeing first-hand the physical difference between the children who had clean water and those that didn’t was shocking.
There is no other word for it.
At Hope Children’s Centre, where the clean water project was completed in 2011, the children were full of life, playing football, jumping and leaping around and generally being kids in every way you could imagine. They were attentive in class, learning complex formulas in mathematics, speaking good English. They aim to be teachers, doctors and, in the case of one boy, a spy!
But in Namakonkome, where Just a Drop project work is about to start, the children were quiet and listless; a number of them, such as Gertrude, still feeling the effects of a recent water-borne disease, or tired from the burden of carrying two, five litre jerry cans four to five kilometres every day.
In the case of Gertrude the physical impact of carrying excessively heavy jerry cans was evident in the height of her shoulders, one much higher than the other. The weight is already causing physical issues that could later result in problems during pregnancy. On top of that she also risks a dangerous highway, rape and kidnapping every morning and night to bring water to her whole family.
The parents say it is too dangerous for her younger siblings to go with her. Gertrude is 10.
The Namakonkome project funded by the Thomas Cook Children’s Charity involves building five wells, a spring tank, five storage jars at houses and five latrines across four villages. This is going to have a huge impact on Gertrude and all the children in the parish. (Read Gertrude's story here).
But it’s not just children who are affected.
The image that remains with me from the trip is that of 106 year old Jane and her great, great, great grandchildren Andrew and Regan. Jane and the children currently have no clean water source and have to resort to open defecation with all the issues of danger and dignity this brings. We saw their current ‘toilet’ and it was a hole in the ground covered up by planks of wood. It attracts snakes and lots of mosquitos. Added to this is the fact that Jane walks with a stick and so every toilet visit is a physical struggle.
As a part of the project in Namakonkome Parish Just a Drop is building a clean water source and latrine for Jane and the children. These will be Jane’s first. It really is as straightforward as that.
Thomas Cook’s Nick Sandham says:
“In the end it comes down to this – the solutions for clean water in the communities we visited are very straight forward and our combined charities are doing some fantastic work; we really are saving and changing lives. And if you ever get a chance to visit projects like these, embrace it with open arms – it will have a lasting impression on your life.”
Read about Nick's experience of the trip here.