Last week a team of young men from Viva Con Agua and Watoto Wasoka, Kampala-based organizations, set off for Karamoja on a mission to sensitize and shift mindsets as far as Water, Sanitaton and Hygiene practices are concerned. This of course it wasn’t in oblivion of the impending outbreak of Trachoma in the region, but the cause was greater!
Viva Con Agua, a German-based NGO opened up offices in Kampala and eventually spread its branches up North, in the region of Karamoja which desperately needed interventions such as theirs. Viva Con Agua – loosely translated to mean “All for Water” is an all-profit organization that utilizes art, music, and many other fun unconventional activities both to raise funds towards Water And Sanitation-Hygiene (WASH) projects and to teach and create awareness about the use of safe water in homes, communities and schools.
Viva Con Agua, for this particular trip that I happened to be a part of, teamed up with Watoto Wasoka, an organization that likes to identify with the massive talent particularly that of soccer that’s hidden in slums, hence their “football made in slums” tagline. They use soccer drills and tournaments to introduce both practical and theoretical skilling, leadership basics and more to children in a fun environment. In Moroto, this team was to meet up with a group of no less than eighty pupils of primary school going age for a week of fun, soccer drills and WASH sensitization. They are the future after all, the children.
The 12 hour journey passed in a flash, what with such great company! Most of us only caught an hour or two of sleep on our journey that began as early as 7am in Kampala and ended just before complete darkness fell over Moroto town, leaving us to enjoy the sight of a full moon slowly emerging out of the mountain ranges concurrently with the sun setting in an orange bed of sky.
If one didn’t know just how relevant this mission we were on was, then our first sign was at a short visit to the Boma grounds, the site selected for the week’s activities to take place. Here I met a congregation (literally) of young girls chirping away, in a language I have long since believed I might not understand this year or next. On approaching them, the friendly lot burst out in happy Sunday greetings, all in English. How could they tell I didn’t speak their language! Anyhow, we talked about so many things like where they go to school, what church was about that day, introductions and lots of pleasantries. As we chatted away, a baby started to wail with an irritated discomforting cry.
“She wants some water to drink,” blurted out a perfect chocolate tanned and square cheek boned little girl. I couldn’t help the connection, when, while standing by my side, she revealed that she was called Apio Joan. (We instantly paused our conversation for a selfie. I didn’t come up with these things. The Information age did.) The heat that’s been punishing Kampala residents and perhaps many other parts of the country, that 30-35 degree patch we have been blessed with is something people in Moroto live with all year round. Seasonal rivers dry up leaving behind what looks like big galleys across the hilly landscape. But that’s not the worst thing you’ll see.
Ever been to a cattle grazing ground, in the countryside? Those heaps of dried ‘poop’ which you might as well call manure! Now, you’ll hopefully walk and not run into that sight in parts of Karamoja lands, except that it’s not just another animal waste dump but rather dried up human waste, lying around and sometimes around freshly constructed sanitary facilities like pit latrines. OPEN DEFECATION is alive and well among these communities.
The elders are still unwilling to use the newly constructed sanitary facilities due to behavioral reservations such as unwillingness by men to share toilet facilities with women or elders with children. Obviously without understating their concerns with this shift in one area of their way of life, you and I will definitely find it mind-boggling how one could be so adamant about making a shift “for better” as we have come to perceive the whiter and flashier sanitary ware in our homes and offices.
I told my new little friends about the week-long training on WASH at this very place that we now stood before said our goodbyes and prayed silently that they’d be a part of the group that was chosen to take part.
Football 4 WASH
Organizations like Viva Con Agua face the same hurdle as many “innovators” and entrepreneurs face in countries like Uganda which after decades and perhaps centuries have yet to examine their piece of the civilization cake; a shift of mindsets. When we sit down and draw up solutions for a people who seem to desperately need them, but are met with a wall of cultural blockades, one must match in with resilience.
Monday dawned, and we went about the business of briefing the instructors, getting familiar with the soccer and WASH drills, meeting and observing the children, before we dived into the action. Here’s why WASH is still a much needed intervention in Karamoja!
[Images: Papa Shabani Photography]