21 March 2019 – Thoughts on Water

This morning we trained the Life Home aunties and mamas on the feminine hygiene curriculum. Previously our audience was teachers who spoke and read English well. Today we utilized a translator which was led to the identification of words and topics difficult to translate. For example, sickness is very easy to translate, but health is a more complex idea. We have come upon this again and again the past few weeks.

The idea that disease means unwell and absence of disease means health is a norm. As we have surveyed and spoken to people, the concept of wellness or “health” is not a common idea. It corroborates our identification of the need for awareness and education on healthy lifestyle. There is more to life than simply preventing disease. There is having energy to focus in school, strength to carry children, and avoidance of common illnesses to prevent more complex and dangerous illnesses. I hope prevention can become more of a focus globally.

Tomorrow is World Water Day (22 March), a day of awareness on water poverty sponsored by the United Nations. While some may portray water poverty as an issue addressed by drilling a well in a community, there is so much more to it. Being in Uganda during this day gives me an opportunity to think about water in the context of the things we are learning here.

First, I thought about a few reasons why clean water is especially important here: to drink to stay hydrated in the hot sun, to wash hands after work like farming or taking care of children, to use with baby formula for sick babies, or to maintain proper bodily hygiene. These are global needs for clean water, especially when dirty or contaminated water is what is most often being used for these things.

Second, I thought about the number of issues clean water could prevent: water borne diseases, malnutrition, and adverse physical effects especially for women who are carrying heavy jerry cans to fetch water every day. Every 2 minutes a child dies from a water-borne disease (water.org). Preventing diarrheal diseases will decrease infant mortality, decrease the burden on families in poverty to care for sick children, and allow public and private health organizations to use resources to treat non-preventable illnesses.

Third, I thought about all the additional things needed to sustain the positive impact of a clean water source: WASH education so people know the importance of things keeping jerry cans clean as they transport the clean water, proper sanitation facilities to prevent waste water from contaminating clean water, and frequent maintenance of clean water sources.

Here are a few other questions to ask when thinking about clean water:

  • Accessibility. Is it closer and more easily accessible than a stagnant water source people are using? Is it in a safe area for women and children to access?
  • Knowledge. Is there a team educated and tasked with routine monitoring of clean water sources? Is the team equipped with knowledge and resources to fix it if necessary? Are parts locally available?
  • Norms. Who most often fetches water in this community? How does the clean water source support this? Do people understand the positive health impacts not only from clean water, but from regularly drinking water?

UN Water’s theme for World Water Day 2019 is “Leave No One Behind.” Marginalized groups, women, elderly, refugees, disabled, students, and workers are all groups to be considered when determining implementation of clean water.

When I think about all of this, I get overwhelmed. In Uganda, an estimated 24 million people lack access to safe water (water.org). Water deeply affect health and so many streams feed into the ocean of issues that is access to clean water. I hope we created some new streams of health with this project as we equip teachers with basic lessons on hand washing, nutrition, and germs to teach their students. These basic principles will help them better understand and implement healthy choices into their lives. It may be small, it may be only in one town in Uganda, but the first few drops are how a flood begins.

-- Brooke Adams

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