The primary purpose of our efforts here in Gulu is to provide the training for marginalized youths who spent much or even most of their lives in the IDP camps created during the Joseph Kony and LRA violence of 1986 to 2009. Our objective is not to find water or repair hand pumps, but to train the students to do so. Being practical in nature, though, the training involves field surveys and field repairs. Myself and my 3 IsraAID colleagues do not choose the sites, as it is up to the students to identify the village (usually their own), identify the problem (broken pump, additional well needed, etc.), organize or identify the community contribution (labor, cash, food, etc.), and direct us to the location (always an adventure!).
Things do not always go as planned. On Tuesday, one of the students, Kagwar, took us on a long drive to a small village in the Omoro District, south of Gulu. Other than the handle having been removed (i.e., likely stolen), the hand pump worked fine, and was located a mere 15 m from a crystal clear alternative water source flowing from a carefully constructed and protected boxed in spring. Before we could become too irritated, though, he said there was another broken pump nearby.
Abili village, in fact, was not so near, but the pump was definitely broken, and the area was certainly high need- 50 households depended on the well, and the only alternative water source was a cloudy puddle that seeped out of a clay wall. The well had been drilled in 2005 or so while almost the entire village had been interned in a nearby IDP camp with thousands of Acholi. The well had not functioned since 2008.
The history of the site was given to us by a very articulate and gracious woman, Joyce, who lived only 50 m or so from the well. Besides the history of the well, she voluntarily told us her own story including 12 children, a widow from HIV, kids lost to HIV, and the challenges of raising a family while living with HIV. The reality, though, is that even in small, impoverished villages, those who acknowledge and directly address HIV can receive drugs, health care, and carry on.
The site was well suited for a geophysical survey. The need for a functioning well was there. And the pump assembly was a mess, with pipe lost in the hole, the downhole pump cylinder needing to be fished, the chain that connects the handle to the pump rods missing, etc. It was a disaster, exactly what the students need to see. Unfortunately, the missing piece was that the village pump maintenance committee had no money, and was completely unprepared to make any contribution of any kind. 3 riser pipes, a pump handle, 3 rods (that connect the handle to the piston in the downhole cylinder), a cylinder (the downhole assembly of pistons and valves that pushes the water to surface)...it all adds up to about 650,000 Uganda Shillings or $200 or so.
Fortunately for me, I just find the water. It is these community mobilization efforts that are completely unfathomable, as well as stressful. Resty, the IsraAID Ugandan field coordinator, did all the negotiations with the LC1 (the community leader), and she is no pushover at all. But given we were there, and the story of the village and what we could see with our own eyes, she decided to carry on. Not an easy decision, but probably the only one. The class had carried out two geophysical surveys on their own, repaired the pump, and shock chlorinated the well before we returned to town. Though Resty and I felt a bit duped, the class was buzzed from a job well done, and we certainly could not have simply walked away from such a wretched situation.
Blogging by Paul Bauman