The “dancing roads” and the WATSAN truck

The pot-holed Ugandan roads are taking their toll again, and the project truck upon which the staff team rely so heavily will need replacing soon. 

In December we shared with supporters the need for a new motorbike for Moses to help him negotiate the “dancing roads” to reach the remote villages of the Kinkiizi Diocese.

Your response was swift and generous. We have a small surplus, which we’ve put into a Vehicle Fund. This has been augmented by the Ugandan Team prudently offering the old clapped-out bike for sale to the highest bidder. 4 million Ugandan Shillings (about £850) was raised!

In 2015 the UK Support Group sent funds for a well-researched second-hand Toyota truck to transport the team and their necessary equipment and materials across the project area, which is about the size of Oxfordshire. Over these five years the dancing roads have taken their toll, requiring expensive repairs in Kampala over 200 miles away.

A replacement will cost some £25,000, sooner rather than later! So, once again we are seeking your generous support.

No vehicle – no project – the truck is the workhorse of WATSAN!

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Sir John Houghton

It is with great sadness that we share the news of the death of Sir John Houghton on April 15th 2020 at the age of 88. Described as “one of the greatest scientist statesmen of our time”, John was knighted by the Queen in 1991.

By Ian and Ellie Bensted

John and Sheila Houghton with Bishop Dan Zorecka

John and his wife Sheila, pictured here in Wales with Bishop Dan Zoreka, Bishop of Kinkiizi, have enthusiastically and generously supported WATSAN for the past 11 years. John took part in our first Walk for Water in 2011, and he and Sheila have been dear friends ever since.

As an Oxford professor and one-time Head of the Meteorological office, the world will remember John for his immense contribution towards the understanding of climate change, beginning with research as early as the 1960s. He continued to spread the message of potential “mass destruction” if no action were to be taken about global warming, with dogged determination to a sceptical world. This culminated in 2007 in his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Al Gore, on behalf of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), as their co-chairman.

In recent years John became frail, as sadly dementia set in, but lovingly supported and cared for by Sheila, he continued to delight in their garden, the sight of his much-loved Welsh hills, and in walking by the sea, right up until just a few weeks before he died with COVID-19.

A convinced Christian, an elder in the local church in Aberdyfi, Sir John lived an amazingly fruitful life, always putting his faith into practice. John leaves amongst other publications a classic university textbook on climate change Global Warming (5th edition), a book for enquirers into Christianity, “The Search for God – can science help?”, and his very readable autobiography, In the Eye of the Storm, which we warmly recommend.

How coronavirus is affecting the WATSAN team in Uganda

WATSAN’s trustee board is in regular contact with the staff team in Uganda. The country is in lockdown but as providers of key health-related infrastructure, our staff are still working on WATSAN projects.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be in its early stages in Uganda, with 55 confirmed cases at the time of writing. The Government introduced social distancing and lockdown measures in late March, and the WATSAN office was temporarily closed before our staff received special permission from the Resident District Commissioner to use the project vehicle to travel within Rukungiri and Kanungu districts to oversee projects, as long as it carries no more than three people.

Masons and engineers are exempt from the lockdown and so can continue to carry out our vital water and sanitation projects, which will support communities to be more resilient against the virus. This includes work on Buhunga gravity flow scheme, Kinyasano High School, and pit latrines at Kihihi Hill. This is on the condition that staff stay on site rather than travelling home in between working days.

Nonetheless, our Field Director Eric Baingana reports that many homes have a shortage of food, prices for domestic necessities have gone up and many people are out of work as businesses have been closed down. The trustees are working with the team to make sure none of WATSAN’s staff is in financial crisis at this time.

Staff have been given hand sanitiser and face masks to protect themselves and others, and will also be provided with some stocks of maize flour and beans to help them at home.

Eric has preached on one of FM radios in Rukungiri town in a Sunday Service on air (meeting in church buildings for worship is currently prohibited), and as part of this shared a coronavirus prayer sent to him by TearFund. He tells us: “According to the listeners of the service and my sermon in particular, we are immensely encouraged according to the messages they sent to me after the service.”

The trustees will be keeping in touch with the team and assisting them in whatever way we can in the current crisis.

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Positive fundraising news for WATSAN from many sources!

Thanks to various fantastic fundraising efforts and generous donations, WATSAN has significantly improved its financial position since the end of 2019.

When we last contacted our supporters with a newsletter in December, WATSAN’s financial situation was looking somewhat bleak. However, we are delighted to be able to share several pieces of good news, thanks to the support of our dedicated donors:

  • Emma Houghton, our WATSAN representative in Bishops Waltham, Hants, acted rapidly just before the Covid-19 lockdown to organise a very popular quiz night, which raised over £1,000 for WATSAN. Perhaps the last fun event for some time, alas…
  • Bishops Waltham Rotary Club also came up with £7,800 to alleviate the stressed water situation at Kinyasano school in Rukungiri.
  • Janet Campbell, who accompanied us on the very first WATSAN supporters’ tour back in 1997, died in late January aged 92. She and her family requested that gifts in her memory should be directed to WATSAN and a substantial sum was raised following her memorial service in March. WATSAN was represented at the memorial service by long-term supporters Tim and Margie Bushell.
  • Another faithful supporter, Joyce Currie, celebrated her 95th birthday this month with 30 birthday cards, and although now very frail, remembered WATSAN with a cheque, as she regularly does.
  • Our Patron, Bishop Andrew, used a favourite WATSAN image of a small girl in Ruhega village drawing water from a newly constructed tapstand for his 2019 Guildford Diocesan Christmas card, and donated to WATSAN the amount he would have spent on commercially produced cards.
  • Another £500 arrived from a family trust who support us from time to time.
  • An anonymous donation of £4,000 appeared from nowhere during March, for which we are extremely grateful!
  • Nykabungo school, where WATSAN has been improving both sanitation and the water supply, will shortly have sufficient water for both the school and the local village community, thanks to a gift of £2,500 from the Mary Wood Trust, initiated by Clare and Oliver Ramsden, who regularly accompany us on the Walk for Water weekends. Clare and Oliver returned recently from a visit to Uganda, which included Nykabungo, sadly cut short by the arrival of Covid 19 in Uganda.

And of course our warmest thanks to our 45 or so regular and committed supporters. Without your financial help WATSAN simply could not continue.

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Good progress on work at Kihihi Hill as project moves to final implementation

Following our fundraising appeal, we are delighted to have started making much-needed sanitation improvements at Kihihi Hill. 

At Christmas we appealed to our generous supporter base to help us get over the line at Kihihi Hill. This community was desperately in need of revived sanitation, with female pupils at the local high school sharing one squalid toilet cubicle between 64 girls. Thanks to the usual spirited response from our supporters, alongside a successful pitch at The Funding Network in London, we were able to send funds to the field and the team has completed much of the work already.

The two six-stance pit latrines that were the fundraising focus have now been constructed – one for the girls in Kihihi High School (pictured above), and one in the neighbourhood church. In their report to trustees for the first quarter of 2020, the team writes:

“This latrine consists of well aerated 6-stances of pit latrine and a changing room for girls. In addition, there is a provision for a ramp for the disabled girls, a provision for emptying the pit latrine once it fills up, a 300-litre rain water harvesting facility (tank) where girls wash their hands immediately after accessing the facility, and a front curtain wall for privacy purposes of the people using the latrine. We are happy to report that the above facility has so far been of a great help, especially in the reduction of congestion for girls accessing latrines within the school.”

Restrictions around the COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda had slowed progress on this project, and in particular this may affect their ability to carry out some of the ‘software’ (education) elements of the project. Whilst the ‘hardware’ (construction) components are still able to go ahead, the coronavirus crisis risks putting the WATSAN staff team and their projects in financial peril, for example because the cost of living is increasing and jobs within families may be very precarious.

We are therefore not resting on our laurels and are continuing to fundraise concertedly to ensure that WATSAN can supply some stability, and crucially continue to deliver water and sanitation to some of the most deprived communities in Uganda – something that will be all the more important in the present context, where awareness of and facilities for hand washing are even more critical than usual.  Our next priority water and sanitation project will therefore be announced soon, for which we will urgently need funds, alongside funding a new truck for the team on the ground.

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