Last week we heard from Abby Pulham, a former climate change political advisor from the UK who moved with her family to a rural farm in Valencia, Spain. During that conversation we touched on a subject that I felt needed to be explored further: how water is accessed by people, especially rural people, in the developing nations (the “third world”), and what if anything was being done to future-proof against water disasters caused by climate change in those countries.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ugandan activist and teacher Eddy Kaliisa about how he is struggling to provide safe and clean water for a community of over 400 people. That is quite the challenge for one man in a country where 21 million people (that’s 51% of the country’s population) have no access to sanitation whatsoever, no running water, no drinking water, and only the most basic of toilet facilities. After seeing the awful conditions in the rural villages, while on a trip to visit a friend, Eddy founded a free school for rural children, who are some of the most underprivileged of Ugandan citizens, called the Visionary Learning Centre. Here he is teaching local children, some of whom live at the school, useful skills such as sewing, basket weaving and gardening alongside more traditional subjects like maths and science.
In 2010, I was doing an internship with my University. A friend had asked me to go with him to meet his parents in Namaganda Village in Kamuli District. On the way, we passed hundreds of children in rice and sugar cane plantations; some weeding, some planting, some cutting – during school hours! We passed many other children along the road that looked unhealthy, dirty, and in either no clothes or ragged ones at best.Eddy Kaliisa. Our Beginning.
Projects like these are extremely important if communities in developing nations are going to survive and thrive into an uncertain future. Uganda is very vulnerable to variations in climate because its economy and the country as a whole rely so heavily on annual crops. In the past, unpredictable droughts and flooding have left the country with famine, disease and social unrest; and with temperatures set to rise in the years and decades to come, the importance of what Eddy Kaliisa is doing cannot be underestimated. Building resilience, sustainability, and food and water security at the grassroots community level is the very definition of permaculture, and that is why we’re so excited to learn more.
What are the main goals of your project?
We are trying to set up a sustainable school, where food will always be available for the children and their communities, where skills will always live with the kids.
What are some of the challenges faced by your students?
We are working with children aged 2 to 20, however after this age, we would love to keep them doing something, we plan on getting some big land where we can grow foods for profit and of course for those involved. In rural areas, when children have nothing to do, they are subjected to harsh situations. All of our students are from very difficult walks of life, many of the boys were stone miners or grew up working in sugar cane plantations. Of the girls some have survived early marriage, forced labor and sex slavery, they are taken as maids but the reality is sex. In rural areas it happens that once a young girl produces children, she is abandoned to stay and fight for their lives, this is unimaginably hard. This is why we plan to find a way we can stay together, working as a community to share food and small profits so that everyone is supported and no one is left behind.
What are you teaching in the Visionary Learning Centre?
We have two main classes: a nursery (2 to 5 years) class and a primary (6 to 17) class. The learning center aims to provide a good well rounded education, we study government recommended subjects like Math, English, Science, Social Studies, as well as our most popular subjects which include gardening, tailoring, animal and bird keeping, weaving, brick moulding, environmental care, child and elderly care, community development, pottery, and a few others with an aim of making food and some financial aid available in the kids’ families today and forever. Today we have 400 kids at school and a few who come only for lunch, and non-curricular activities.
How do you provide water for all these children and their families?
Since we started in 2010 we had a very hard time with water, like most Ugandans we used to fetch water from streams and from the swamps, this is where animals were feeding from and defecating. In 2016, together with our world friends, a borehole was set up to help benefit the communities and the school, this is where the community gets its water, however there is congestion. The borehole produces only a little water at a time, you need about 4 minutes to fill a 20-liter water can using a hand operated pump. As a result many families still use water from old streams and the swamps. At the school we are also forced at times to use the old water sources because the borehole cannot give us enough.
Aside from drinking, cooking and washing, what else are you using water for?
We use water for our crops, especially during the dry season when there is no rain. Without water, plants cannot survive but we need crops all year round! We also have goats, cows, birds and rabbits, they use the water for their survival. Water is also used in brick moulding and weaving where we have to first soften the weaving materials. We use water to grow our Azolla (animal feed)/ The children also love to use water for playing.
What would you like to do to improve your water situation?
Introducing a pumping machine and tanks to pump, store and supply water in large quantities in different places would be awesome. This would ensure effectiveness and easy supply here for work will be done easily and much quicker. We water the crops by hand so to be able to irrigate more easily would lift a heavy burden from us. However, because we are always struggling to provide even the most basic necessities for the children (such as clothing and food) larger projects don’t get the same priority. We have a fundraiser which has been running for 2 years but it was for general needs like food and medication, however we would love to tackle some bigger projects such as a girls dormitory and bringing electricity to the school. Generating electricity would be the first step towards pumping the water from the borehole so we hope and pray to be able to make this dream come true some day!
If you’re inspired to help Eddy and everyone at the Visionary Learning Centre in Uganda you can do that in several ways.
Firstly they have a GoFundMe where they are not far off their target!
Secondly, you can donate directly via PayPal using the address firstname.lastname@example.org – and if you like, you can specify how you’d like your donation to be spent. For example:
- Triple bunk bed: $160
- 10 kg (22 lbs.) bag of rice: $14
- 5 kg (11 lbs.) bag of maize (corn) flour: $4
- One mat: $5
- Pillow $3
- Wash tub: $10
- Mosquito net: $8
- Mosquito spray: $5
- Mattress: $32
- Blanket: $10
- Backpack: $10
- School Uniform: $10
- Underwear: $7 (Pack of 12)
- Socks: $9 (Pack of 12)
- Black Leather School Shoes: $15
- Athletic Shoes: $20
- Box of 50 Pens: $6
- Box of 50 Pencils: $6
- Crayons: $6 (Pack of 10 Boxes)
- Sanitary Pads: $1 (Single Pad)
- Toothbrushes: $6 (Set of 10)
- Toothpaste: $1.50 Per Tube
- Umbrella: $5
- Live Chicken: $8
- Live Goat: $75
- Birthday Cake: $6 (small, basic cake)
- Soccer Ball: $31
- Soap: $1.20 per bar
- Dental Cleaning Visit: $30
- Medical Check-up Visit: $15
Thirdly, you can sponsor a child and have a direct relationship with that child. Exchanging more than just money, you can become a pen pal and send letters, photographs, and toys.