Water, Hope, and Resilience: A Reflection from Cheryl Richardson
I came to Uganda to meet the TAP (The Ayin Project)/NU-WRDC (Ndejje University Water Research and Development Center) team, make some connections in the Singiro community, share knowledge, and assess progress with current projects. I accomplished that; however, in my short 4 days in-country, I experienced so much more. As Lydia, the primary lab technician, stated during our debriefing session, “We are social beings, and we now know each other. We cannot undo that. We have entered each other’s lives, and we have relationships now that we didn’t have before.”
The range of emotions I faced spanned from joy to pain, excitement to frustration, and everywhere in between. I felt compassion like never before as I spoke to children in the Singiro village who sleep 4 to 5 in a bed, because there are not enough mattresses. These same children share clothes with other children of a similar size, just looking for something clean to wear. I was overwhelmed with sadness as I watched a small child (perhaps 4 or 5 years old) carry a 5-liter jerrycan of water up a steep hill, a hill that was challenging without lugging water, wearing ill-fitting shoes. Of note, later in the day, I transported a 20-liter (5-gallon) jerrycan from a water source for one of the children, and the next day my arms hurt.
These are brave, determined, children, who do not complain, who are grateful for what they have, and who must choose daily if they will drink unclean water that is needed to stay alive, yet also might leave them sick. In fact, the adults in Singiro told me that they must force the children to drink water, and most of the time they get water through foods like porridge. The adults know they should be drinking 2 liters of water per day, but admit that most days they get just 1 liter or less, because the water is not good. Going 3-4 days between showers and changing clothes is normal – there simply is not enough clean water to perform these hygiene-related activities more often.
On the day that I visited Singiro, one of the women was suffering from malaria. This woman had gone to a health center (about 10 km away) where they placed an IV and told her what medications she should be taking. She purchased the medications and then returned to her home where she needed to administer the medications to herself. When she learned that I was a nurse, she asked if I could assist her, as it was time for her medication for the day. What I found challenged my American nursing background. Here was a woman without any medical knowledge, who had syringes, needles, bottles of medications that needed reconstituted with sterile water, and no antiseptics. This woman had nothing to use for hand hygiene; nothing to clean her IV site, nothing to wipe the tops of the bottles, and the needles needed to be used for multiple medications. I had hand sanitizer with me, which I showed her how to use and left with her. I then did the best I could at maintaining a clean site while giving her both of her IV medications. I explained to her the importance of keeping the IV cap upside down when she takes it off, of not touching it on the part that goes into the IV – all the while thinking that in trying to make someone better from malaria, they have put her at risk for a blood infection, because she has no way to keep her hands and her IV clean.
So many of us take water and basic hygiene for granted. We turn on a faucet, or wave our hands under a faucet, and water comes out. We shower as often as we like - more than once a day if needed. We drink water whenever we want. In fact, many of us don’t drink as much as we should, but it’s not because it is not available; it’s because we choose not to. Because we have access to most everything we need, we never stop to think about what life would be like without it. I have seen what life is like without water.
I have seen an entire village that has access to 2 water sources, one of which is contaminated with bacteria, and the other is so acidic that it burns their skin. Yes, the water they have pumped to a tank has a pH of 2.7 (hydrochloric acid has a pH of 2.2). These people are getting sick. These people are making choices that most of us will never need to make. Yet, these people are not complaining, they are hopeful. They are praying that individuals from The Ayin Project (TAP) and Ndejje University Water Research and Development Center (NU-WRDC) will help them find a solution to their water problems.
I am also hopeful. During my visit, I learned that the team of researchers for TAP and NU-WRDC have discovered how to increase the pH of the water that is free from bacteria. During our visit, we collected more water samples so that they can find the exact amount of additive needed to keep the large water tank at a safe pH. We believe that by the end of this year, there will be safe water available to the people in Singiro.
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