by Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder and Chairman of Just a Drop

I’ve recently returned from Uganda, a destination Just a Drop’s been working in for the last 13 years. It’s a fabulous country with so much to offer and made increasingly famous due to its amazing wildlife including the Gorillas. Kampala is slightly crazy city, with busy streets full of street vendors, bicycle shops and a hive of hustle and bustle. But when you escape to the countryside you are met with the most amazingly beautiful green undulating countryside and the warmth and friendliness of the people creates a lasting impression. Plus our local team are a delight to work with and always make us feel very at home.

I’ve returned to Uganda a number of times since I set up Just a Drop, and during my visit this year I was keen to really assess the impact of our work in bringing about the desired outcomes which ensure long term benefit for the communities we work with. And if anything (and there’s always something), we can do to create even greater impact and benefit for these communities.

One of the schools I visited during my trip was Bibbo Primary. I remember how shocked I was when I’d first visited in 2016. There wasn’t any water at all, toilets which had been built only six years earlier were in total disrepair and frankly dangerous. The children went to school from 8.00am until 5.00pm but had nothing to drink until they went home at night. They were listless, lacked energy and struggled to concentrate. The teachers confessed to feeling weary and despondent given the challenging circumstances and attendance had dropped to as low as 100 pupils.

Two years on, with Just a Drop having committed to putting in two water tanks, a toilet block, and carrying out sanitation and hygiene training - wow what a total transformation.

The school now has 232 pupils and 14 staff, it’s more than doubled in size. The kids were full of energy and enthusiasm to see us. They proudly showed us their latrine block and how they kept it clean on a daily basis, and one of the girls explained to us the difference this had made to them all. Most pleasing of all was that thanks to the availability of water, the school had started growing their own vegetables - spinach, carrots, maize, beans, aubergines, cabbage and matoc - and now pupils and staff were fed porridge for breakfast as well as a meal at lunchtime.

  

Bibbo Primary School students next to their new latrine block

For me Bibbo Primary School demonstrates conclusively the seismic shift that can happen when a school or community is supported in the right way. Two years ago this school was really sad and dejected with staff and pupils lacking energy. Now it’s a thriving community taking pride in its growing success and achievements.

We’ll continue to monitor the school’s progress to ensure this continues for the long term, but I walked away feeling that we were making a hugely constructive contribution to improving these youngsters’ lives and other school children in the years ahead.

The following day we visited rural communities whose lives have been transformed through the access to safe water we’ve worked together to provide. Prior to Just a Drop’s involvement, community members accessed water from dirty, stagnant ponds. Now they collect water from a protected borehole with a hand-drawn mechanical pump. What completely blew my mind was the sheer appreciation expressed by the communities we visited, and the pride they took in their new water facility.

Bylaws had been established to ensure the borehole is properly looked after. Children can’t play in the area, livestock are kept out by protective fencing, jerry cans for collecting water have to be clean - and fines are levied if this is not respected. Community members collect a small sum every month to cover the replacement of spare parts. Everyone was hugely appreciative of the fact that they are no longer plagued with constant illness, or the burden of having to find money for medicines.

They’re now able to spend more time undertaking more productive, income generating work rather than trekking to find a source of dirty water. The value of their land has increased with the benefit of a clean water supply. The elderly can now access safe water closer to their homes and so can remain more independent. Women commented on how much cleaner their clothes are. The children are safer as they don’t have to trek long distances for water, risking abduction or drowning by falling into open ponds.

The impact has been so broad and extensive it’s incredible that something so simple can be so transformational and I quietly reflect on how much we take for granted – turning on a tap to get clean water.

Teopista washes her hands using her household tippy tap

On my last day I returned to the Namayumba Health Centre after initially visiting in 2016.  Back then, the facility serviced 40,000 people with an operating theatre, maternity ward, HIV clinic, diabetes clinic, laboratory, and youth clinic – yet there wasn’t access to running water in any of the hospital buildings. Water came from a hand pump located outside the hospital grounds, which nurses would have to run to and queue up at if they needed water during a delivery! Quite unthinkable but true.

The latrines were in an incredibly bad condition, and there wasn’t an incinerator for medical waste. Instead, it was bagged up to be taken away, yet would often be uncovered by local dogs - increasing the risk of the spread of disease and infection.

Last year Just a Drop set about building a 16-stance toilet block with running water and private washing facilities for men and women, together with handwashing facilities. We built an incinerator for burning medical waste, a borehole for access to safe water, and a pump house and distribution system to bring water to all of the buildings on the site.

The outcome I witnessed was fantastic – a much healthier, cleaner, safer environment for all. Holding baby Grace, born just 12 hours earlier, in a ward with running water with her mum safe and well felt very rewarding.

What I have learnt over the years in running Just a Drop is that in the interests of the communities and our stakeholders, sustainability sits in our DNA even before water, sanitation and hygiene education. It’s our aim that among every community we work with our solutions are there for the long-term and create a lasting legacy and something everyone - be it our funding partners, the Just a Drop team, our local partners and the communities themselves - can be proud to be associated with.  Thank you to one and all. 

- Fiona Jeffery OBE, Founder & Chairman, Just a Drop

Fiona with the Buguluube community collecting safe water from one of the village's shallow wells