I’ve recently returned from Uganda where I went with Project Officer and engineer Colonel Mike Reynolds and Senior Project Manager Melissa Campbell to assess Just a Drop’s work in the field, to monitor progress and evaluate effectiveness. To assess if projects we’d initiated a number of years ago were still functioning well and having the desired impact at a grass roots community level.
The fear for us is, having created the framework to support a community by providing clean water and sanitation, that over time things go wrong, pumps break down and don’t get fixed and a cycle of unwanted waste and destruction occurs, something that’s no good for the communities we’ve aimed to help in the first place, a total waste of our valued donors funds and an abhorrent outcome for us. Which is why regular monitoring and evaluation of our work in the field by our project officers is a key part of their role.
Just a Drop works on the He He principles. He He is a Tanzanian three legged stool where each leg represents water, sanitation and health hygiene education, and the seat itself represents the community which pulls everything together.
Whilst water, sanitation and health hygiene education are core to what we do, the most important values which sit in the DNA of our organisation are Sustainability and Community Engagement.
Before we operate in a location, with the help of local partners, we identify communities who are ready to create Self Help Groups. These groups elect a Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary and pull their community together to volunteer to support the construction of the project programme with the guidance and support from our Just a Drop project engineers and local partners. This can involve anything from the construction for example of a shallow well, rock catchment system, sand dam or school water tank.
The community through the Self Help Group are involved throughout in the decision making process, identifying what they would like to see, our engineers offer guidance and advice as to the best solutions give the environmental conditions and taking account of cultural sensitivities.
The communities volunteer the hard labour to undertake the work thereby ensuring their vested interest and commitment to the project. It’s not something that is built and then left for them to use. It’s something they create themselves with our help and support both financially and technically.
Our next step is to then train them to be able to maintain and look after the project and ensures it carries the test of time. They are taught basic book keeping skills so that each household is asked to make a small contribution to the maintenance of the pump/well/latrines so they have the means to replace spare parts and fix anything technical should the need arise.
So this trip was about seeing whether some of our communities and projects had developed since completing them three years ago.
As an organisation we’re quite unusual in that we monitor our work for a minimum of 7 years, but in truth we are in contact for even longer. The Just a Drop team is there to help whenever there is a problem, but we first want and expect the communities to initially resolve many of the issues for themselves due to the training they’ve had.
So what did we uncover in this trip.
First stop was Busaiyko Village north of Jinja where we put a water supply into a peri-urban environment. They weren’t expecting us and so our arrival created quite a sensation. The hand pump from the moment we arrived to the moment we left never stopped being in use. The women hugged me saying they were so “Happy Happy Happy”. It was a genuine out pouring but I wanted to understand why the water supply was making them so “Happy” as this went beyond normal reactions. We settled down for a community meeting and discussion. It transpired that before the shallow well was installed the women would often return from their normal ground water sources, without any water, as it had all dried up and their husbands would beat them up because they couldn’t cook for them. Alternatively if they travelled long distances in search for water, their husbands believed they were sleeping with other men and again this resulted in further domestic violence.
The change in their partners’ behaviour towards them had clearly had a huge impact on how they felt both emotionally and psychologically and their effusive expression of gratitude was symptomatic of this.
What’s more we learnt that the school had doubled in size to 700 pupils and that water borne diseases in the community had dropped to less than 5%.
The pump was working well, hadn’t had any major breakdowns but they’d modified the design slightly to make the handle less heavy for the children to use and had funded this through the Water User Committee collections.
The pride this community felt in their achievements was palpable and they were so keen to share how their lives had changed with us. They felt more in control, the women were able to undertake more productive income earning activities and their children could spend more time at school.
Everyone was safer and healthier and yes happier.
We will continue to monitor the community’s progress as we do all our work, but what was enormously pleasing was to see that all the effort made to create a sustainable programme, with ownership and leadership coming from the community directly had worked.
In Kenya we are enjoying similar success. Following the construction of a sand dam we teach the self-help groups how to grow drought resistant crops, this not only helps them feed their families more securely but leads to trading and trading helps them escape the poverty trap. One self-help group reported that after 3 years they had raised 1.2million shillings, that’s nearly £9,000. Household incomes had increased and they could pay the fees to send their children to school.
We always say “without water life’s an endless struggle, but with it almost anything is possible”
Yes Just a Drop and our sponsoring partners had given them that initial leg up needed, but they have gone on to use it to improve and transform their lives.
These communities have now a sustainable framework and the will and desire to keep it going in the long term.
To me that’s not charity but a worthwhile investment that has wider repercussions because people now have hope for better futures.
My thanks to the people who make this approach work. Our project sponsors and donors, project team and engineers, local partners and the communities themselves- this collective responsibility creates a framework that changes and improves lives and is sustainable in the long term.
I know because I’ve see it in action.