Monday 8 December 2014

Water of Life

How many times a day do you turn on a tap?   How many taps are there in  your house?

Way back in May 2012 when I first visited Kahokya it was immediately obvious that two of the biggest challenges facing that community were lack of access to energy, and lack of water.  As you know we addressed the energy issue with a solar project in December that year.  A project that was then successfully replicated in 7 other remote and rural Baptist churches.

However, the water issue was more of a challenge.  I knew that the high rainfall for most of the year would lend itself to rainwater collection, but the church were in a transition from their old wood/mud building to a new brick one, and anyway although its easy to put guttering up to gather the rain its harder to figure out an affordable and secure way of storing it.

In September this year I went back to Kahokya to visit the now-completed new brick church with Gulu-based BMS colleague Tim Darby, who is a water and sanitation engineer.  We were there to establish the charcoal making project, which we've already done in several other places and which is a process requiring a fair amount of water.  As ladies trudged up the hill to the church with heavy jerry-cans slung from their heads, I was reminded about the difficulties of getting water there and so picked Tim's vastly-more technical brain on what we could do.  On the way home on the newly graded mountain road (which used to terrify me but is now safe and easy to drive) we measured the distance until we reached the communal public pump-tap at the bottom of the hill:  8km.  Yes 8km, or 5 miles, is the distance that people of Kahokya, - mostly women and children, walk every day to fetch water in 20 litre jerry cans, which they then lug back up the steep hill for the return 8km to their homes near the church.

Tim gave us instructions and pictures for how to make a ferro-cement water tank, and did lots of clever engineering maths on a spreadsheet to calculate the optimum size of tank based on the roof dimensions, slope and material; and the average rainfall for that area.

In late October we received a generous donation from a friend from church.  Now we had the technical plan and the funding, we just needed the skilled labour and materials.  Another visit and a meeting lead to agreement that Kahokya BC would collect the 25 sacks of sand required (from the side of the newly graded road!), gather all the water needed (more trudging 8km from the tap), provide unskilled labour and mountains of food for everyone involved.  The donation would purchase gutters, pipes, metal bars, metal mesh, binding wire and several bags of cement.  Isaiah, Pr Alfonse and Pr Ezekiel from Kikyo BC would provide the skilled labour, and I would be the driver and general lackey/builder's assistant!

In the end it took a week and I was taken sick in the middle with D&V and ended up on a drip in hospital, which we hadn't originally planned.  However, the job was eventually completed and Kahokya BC now has a 5,500 litre rainwater tank, which fills up every time there's a big rainstorm.  Thanks to Tim's clever "first-flush system" it's also pretty clean water as the initial 10 litres or so which is full of dust/leaves etc gets disposed of before collecting all the cleaner water which follows.  There's been a bit of leakage around the pipe, which we'll be addressing this week, but the tank is strong, the guttering works beautifully and members of the community have already enjoyed having water on tap right where they are.  This project should especially benefit the church's nursery school whose hundred pupils find their attention flagging in the afternoon from thirst and who rarely wash their hands after using the latrines because there's not been any water to wash them with. 

Now if you visit Kahokya Baptist Church you can pay to charge your mobile phone with solar-charging, do your homework for free with solar-lighting, buy some clean renewable cooking fuel, and get some water, as well as the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That's what the phrase "integral mission" means to us.  It is likely that this project will be replicated in some of the other remote rural Baptist churches which also suffer from lack of access to water, but that will be entirely down to the considerable skills and organisation of the other members of Kasese Baptist Association of Churches - Development Committee (KBAC-DC), especially Isaiah and Prs Alfonse and Ezekiel, as I'll be back in the UK by this time next month.