Friday, September 17, 2010

come to the waters

What's my favorite number? That's right! It's 3. God seems to do things in my life in increments of 3. Example: 3 weeks before I boarded the plane for Uganda, I started what seemed at the time to be an enormous feat of raising $2500 for what I thought was going to be a water well. I prayed. I begged. I pleaded. I got people to share a link to my blog post on Facebook and then I prayed some more. The money came in at a steady pace, but from the looks of it, I was still going to be raising money when I got to Uganda. That's when God showed up and showed out. 3 weeks to the day, the "well" was fully funded. It was exactly 3 days before I boarded the plane that I that God raised the final donation that put us at the $2500 mark.

The day before we went to the village for the first time, George and I had a meeting. I was very excited as I explained to George how God had raised $2500 for a well for the village. It was then that I learned that the $2500 wouldn't be enough for a well that provided clean water. It would only provide a shallow well and the water drawn from it would be contaminated. I was heartbroken. I remember seeing George's mouth move but I had to ask him later what he had said. I kept thinking about what all I had done in those 3 weeks to raise money for this well. I was too focused on "clean water" that I felt myself rejecting the suggestion that George was offering. I didn't want to accept that I didn't have enough money. I didn't want to accept that I could not give them clean water. When I finally stopped giving myself a hard time about it and started to listen to George, I quickly realized that he was the only one that knew what the village needed. He lived there and knew what would be more useful.

He gave me two options:
1) Raise another $5000-$5500 to provide a borehole, which is a type of well that is drilled deep down into the water that is not accessible from the surface. By keeping the water in a closed system until it reaches the tap, the interaction of that water with surface pollutants is minimized. This type of well is the most reliable and secure source of clean water for people.

Here's a video of me pumping water from a borehole for the very first time:

2) Use the $2500 to buy as many rainwater harvesting tanks as we could. Rainwater harvesting is a pretty process. Rain falls onto the roof, runs into the gutters and is collected in a tank that is closed off from all the outside elements. The only immediate issue I saw was that the water would not be clean, so it would still have to be boiled.

Since I came thinking we were going to be using the money to drill a well, I had already researched them. But this tank business? Oh, I had no idea about these. When I have my heart set on one thing, it takes a bit of convincing to get me on board with a new idea. But I listened to George. I listened to him explain how the women and children spend hours on end walking and hauling water to their homes. I listened to him explain his desire to see the day when those women and children could spend more time at home with their families. I listened to him explain how there are 120 homes in the village and one borehole wouldn't be enough for everyone. I listened to him explain how the borehole would have to be placed in a central location and the women and children would tire of spending long hours in line and revert back to the contaminated wells for their water. I listened to him explain how strategically placing the tanks at specific homes throughout the village would create community, by having the surrounding homes share the tank. Then the conversation came full circle as he explained that by getting their water from the nearest home that had a tank, they would be spending more time at home with their families. I was sold.

But what was the cost? How many could I get for $2500? Would it be enough to make a difference? I had a million questions. And since it had been a while since George had purchased a tank, he didn't have any answers to my questions. But he knew someone who did. He suggested that we take a ride and go see the tanks. I thought we were going to ride around the campus and see some of the ones they were using there. But we didn't. We went through the security gate and down to the main road in Mukono. Right across the street sat the people that would be making the tanks. We got out to look at the tanks and gutters and ask about prices. I tried not to laugh as they stood there and bargained. I even heard George say to the guy, "That is not a good price. Stop looking at her. She is not going to pay." It was then that I realized we were getting the "mzungu price"! You see, mzungu means white person. And we often got charged more for things than Ugandans, so that's how we coined that term. Since the guy didn't seem to be budging on the price, George said he would come back later and bargain with him. And believe me, I was all about him getting a "Ugandan price"! I snapped some photos of the tanks before we left.

Although I hadn't been to the village yet and didn't fully understand this whole tank business, I was excited. I asked George if he would take me by the ATM so I could make my first withdrawal. Because we had already been in Uganda for a whole day, I had pretty much figured out Dollars vs. Shillings. But when I went to the ATM and withdraw 1,000,000 Shillings, there was still something exhilarating in handing George 1,000,000 Shillings instead of 500 Dollars. Seriously, people. Wouldn't that excite you, too? It was then that I declared I would be talking in Shillings instead of Dollars from there on out. The notes I took in my iPhone are even written in Shillings :)

When we returned to the house, we were so involved in conversation about the tanks and how much 1,000,000 Shillings actually equaled in Dollars, that we didn't make it out of his truck for at least another hour. We tried to figure out how many tanks we could get based on the figure that the guy gave us. We talked about how the homes that would be receiving the tanks would be chosen. Somewhere in the conversation, George mentioned that the families receiving the tanks would need to provide certain items on their own in order to receive a tank. I wouldn't have any part of it. I let him know really quickly that I had worked hard to raise that money and I wanted to spend it all on whatever they needed. That's when I heard him say something I never thought I would hear. He said, "The worst thing you can do is to go into the village and start handing out things." I was heartbroken. There I was trying to help and I didn't understand why he wouldn't let me do what I had come to do. He told me that he had worked hard to build the community through leadership training and he felt it was important for them to take ownership in what they receive. So he suggested that we buy the tanks but make it a requirement for the families receiving the tanks to buy their own gutters and provide a concrete or brick foundation for the tank. By providing their own materials for the tanks, they would take pride in maintaining it.

He told me about a pilot project they had done the year before where chickens were purchased and a coup was built and given to a family. The family started with a couple of chickens and now has 20+. They sell the eggs for extra money. The success of the project put a fire in the hearts of that family and they took the extra money they made and started investing in their home. And although these tanks won't make anyone any money, I'm hoping it will start a fire in the families that receive them and they will be moved to do the same thing. Most of their roofs are really rusty, so maybe they will take enough pride in their new tanks to invest in new roofs as well.

The next afternoon, we went into the village for the first time. It was then that I realized what a blessing these tanks would be to so many people. Up until this point, we had been staying on campus at UCU, where we had a shower, a toilet, and even running water from the faucets at the kitchen and bathroom sinks. Besides having to boil the water before drinking it, nothing was different thank being back home. But in the village? Everything was different in the village. Look at their previous "rainwater harvesting systems":

The first delivery of tanks arrived while we were there and 3 tanks were brought in at one time. There God is with the number 3 again :) When discussing the cost, we failed to figure in delivery charges. And until the tanks were delivered, we didn't know what those charges would be. The tanks were 370,000 Shillings each and they delivered 3 tanks for 150,000. So that left each tank costing 420,000. There I go again with my trusty, rusty, scientific calculations for those of you who have never been in a math class. Yeah, it's only like 4am and I'm still bloggin'. There was a point. The question I getting to it??? Ok, $2500 is roughly 5 million Shillings. After we got the new price per tank with the delivery charges, we realized we could only get 12 tanks, and I had to pay an 40,000 for the overage (which by now you can figure out for yourself is only $20). So the final tab for 12 tanks was $2520.

The next week, George and I went back to stay in the village while Dan, Rachel and her parents went on a safari. We had planned to go around and profile each of the 12 families that received a tank. We ended up leaving the village the day before we had planned, but we went around to each of the 9 homes that had already received their tanks. The last 3 were coming the next day. George profiled each family and then I took pics of them with their tanks. The first thing I noticed when we arrived at the very first house was that 3 of the children, who were all old enough to be in school, were playing in the front yard. I asked George why they weren't in school. Yep, you guessed it. They were 3 of the 200+ children that could not afford to go. I asked George to make that one of the things we made sure to note as we visited each home. God had already planted a seed in my heart to build a new school and I wanted to show that as we went around profiling the families for a totally different purpose, we found tons of children that needed sponsors. I wanted to ensure they could attend school once the new school was built.

Let's meet the families that received the tanks!!!

Samuel & Joyce Migabo; 5 kids - 2 at school, 3 at home

Asuman & Harriet Kaddu; 3 kids - all go to school

Salongo Bulego; 4 kids - 1 goes to school
*no one was home when I took the photo

Rose Mayemja; 7 kids - 6 go to school, one out of school

Joseph & Specioza Kakembo; 6 kids - 3 go to school, 3 stay at home

Rose Nakoto; 7 kids - 4 go to school, 3 stay at home

Mohammed & Sarah Kantunsumbi; 7 kids - 5 go to school, 2 stay at home
*the 2 pictured have since been sponsored and started school just this week!

George & Zaituni Kawulukusi; 5 kids - all go to school

Franko & Justine Musisi; 8 kids - 6 go to school, 2 stay home

Charles Kitake; 4 kids - all go to school
* no tank yet - another shipment of 3 was on its way :)

How stinkin' cute is that last guy, Charles? He didn't even have his tank yet and he was still smilin' big. Not everyone could say "thank you" and quite frankly, not many of them even knew what to say had they known how. But they all were proud. They were proud of their tanks. I pray with all my heart that you can see the renewed hope in their eyes.

If you donated to what you thought was the "water well", I hope that I have shared this story in such a way that you are proud of the decision that was made to purchase the rainwater harvesting tanks instead. And while George and I have discussed raising funds for an actual borehole one day, I am excited to see what changes the tanks make for the village. I am excited to see what kind of community is created here. And I will get to see that firsthand, because I am moving into the village next month :) God has provided the funds for my one-way ticket but I need some help with expenses once I get there. If you would like to help, please do so by donating on my blog or sending a check to PO Box 401, Alabaster, AL 35007.