The first thing that came to my mind when I knew we were flying to Uganda for our social entrepreneurship project was, Kony and the story of child soldiers. This was a result of the phenomenal “Kony 2012” youtube video that I had seen, like millions around the world.
I was one of 6 MBA students from Westminster Business School who signed up for the module to work with an international NGO (The Great Generation) and a local charity (St. Francis Health Services) to provide safe drinking water to Ntinkalu, a remote community in Jinja, the second largest town in Uganda. Even after official briefing sessions, online and offline research, and speaking to African friends, the six of us still felt like we were off to explore the mysterious lands of the unknown. It was the first time we got so many jabs and “malaria” became the new frightening word of the day.
On the 2nd of September 2012, we landed in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda and drove for long hours through mad traffic from Entebbe airport to Nile Guest House, our new home for the next 16 days. It was astonishing how harmoniously the traffic seemed to flow given the lack of infrastructure, lane discipline, and rules for pedestrian – and even cattle – crossing closer to the villages. In Kampala, we stood out as tourists, and would often be stared at, but as we approached the village we were surprised by the countless amount of children that squealed with excitement as our bus approached, waved, and yelled out “Mzungu” (white person)!! We felt like celebrities waving back through out the road trip and came to discover that waving back to excited children and smiling women would be an integral part of our daily routine for the next 16 days.
Upon arrival to St Francis, we gathered for a team meeting and setting of our schedule and daily plan of action. Day 1’s plan was to deliver and setup the condenser and water purification system shipped from Germany and sponsored by AcquaIntegra to St Francis Health Services. Day 2’s plan was to identify a safe location to deliver the second device that was due to arrive soon to serve the community members independent of St Francis.
Unfortunately, the first device exploded upon plugging at St Francis, and needless to say, we stopped the shipping of the second. After endless attempts to repair the damage, we quickly decided to shift our focus to alternative solutions based on resources available within the community that would be acceptable, feasible and effective. After one week of data collection by visiting all water sources, observing habits and water usage, interviews, budgeting, community visits, and lab results, we decided to introduce lifestraws to the community. We gave out ten lifestraws (water filters) to ten members of our focus group – The Jajjas – who are an empowered group of grandmothers looking after their grandchildren as their own children have died of AIDS. Each filter would serve a family made up of an average of 7 or 8 members, for approximately 4 to 5 years. We installed the filters and trained the Jajjas on their use, whilst also educating the wider community about basic sanitation, hygiene and simple ways of purification like boiling water. Rainwater harvesting was another solution, and the team worked hard but with pleasure even in the midst of rain, children, musical instruments, and mosquitoes to fix the school gutters giving the community access to an additional 20,000 Liters of rainwater.
Sometimes, it felt as though I had travelled back in time, and the only proof that we were still in the 21st century was my iPhone, which transformed into a gadget from outer space overnight. However, there are no words to describe how it feels to hear loads of barefooted children – that are made to look hopelessly miserable in the media – literally explode with laughter just by greeting them in their language or showing them pictures and videos of themselves. Ideally, every ambitious MBA student or volunteer travels with dreams and hopes of changing the world or at least finding sustainable cost-effective solutions to better whole communities. Although I am a dreamer and an optimist, I’ve come to realize that time and resources will always limit project outcomes; but to be able to make even the smallest difference to a community deprived of the most basic need – and right – is priceless.
Beyond the Pilot
The team has provided 60 additional lifestraws post the Uganda trip and continues to fundraise, and search for more feasible alternatives and funding schemes for our friends in Uganda. Please support us by sharing our cause and donating to our charity.
Nermine Hassan – MBA Student 2012
“What made traditional economies so radically different and so very fundamentally dangerous to Western economies were the traditional principles of prosperity of Creation versus scarcity of resources, of sharing and distribution versus accumulation and greed, of kinship usage rights versus individual exclusive ownership rights, and of sustainability versus growth.” Rebecca Adamson