Lee Vasey, a Building Services Manager based in Cumbria, recently spent three weeks in Africa with African Sustainable Tourism Care Foundation (ASTCF) helping to repair natural spring wells in rural Uganda. Lee tells us about the project and why he was compelled to help out.
“Last year I decided that I would like to do some volunteer work, and as I had previously been a plumber I thought I could utilise this skill to help those in the developing world who don’t have access to running water.
With encouragement from my senior management team, I began to research opportunities and I came across ASTCF. The organisation has only been operating for four years but is already making a big impact. The Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) initiative really caught my eye, as I felt I could make a real difference. In Uganda 8.8 million people are without access to safe drinking water, over 22 million do not have adequate sanitation. The ASTCF are aiming to build natural spring wells in fifteen villages throughout rural Uganda. This is the cheapest way to ensure a village has access to clean water and each natural spring well costs on average £2,800.
The ASTCF empowers local communities to take the lead on each project, not only with funding the build of the well but by ensuring local people have the knowledge to sustain the well, so each one has a long life-span. In July 2018, I travelled to Uganda for three weeks to help with this worthwhile project. Whilst working with the ASTCF, I spent majority of my time repairing the wells that had become contaminated. These wells had been in use for two to three years and roots had grown in to the natural filtration catchment area.
The natural spring wells are constructed around a water source. Once a water source has been identified the area is excavated to create the main catchment area. A bulkhead is created using stone and the side and base given a concrete layer to create a basin for the water to be held, usually around 3000 litres. The catchment area is then given three layers, sand, coal and gravel before being covered in plastic sheets and covered over with dirt. Through the stone bulkhead is the outlet pipe which is regulated by a gate valve and an overflow.
The repair works we carried out required us to excavate the catchment area, remove all roots and debris, and remove the coal and gravel to clear the outlet pipe. Once the catchment area had been cleared, we reinstated the natural filter system. Some wells needed the bulkhead to be re sealed, meaning we needed to make 500 metre trips out of the ravines back to the village, carrying 50kg of sand cement mix so we could carry out the repairs. The first well we repaired had not provided clean water for a number of weeks. Once we had completed the works, local school children came to help us clear the pathway down to the well. This was much unexpected and quite moving, the children seemed to be grateful for the work we had carried out and wanted to help.
Whilst in Uganda I also helped with some sanitation work. This included the construction of pit latrines. These were the toilets for all inhabitants of the local village. A 60-feet hole is dug and a slab placed over the top with a hole for use and a hole for a vent pipe. An outhouse is then constructed around the hole and a door installed for privacy, another loose slab is placed over the hole for hygiene purposes and to keep the flies away. Once the pit latrine has been filled by human waste, the pit latrine outhouse is knocked down and the hole covered over. The building process then begins in another location.
Finally, the day before leaving the project I was asked by CEO James Nadiope, if I would like to join in with the Women’s empowerment group the ‘Kahangi Women Weavers’. This was an area I spoke to James at great length with, as I am involved in a similar project with a charity in the North-East of England (Cornerstone Supported Housing). Within the women’s empowerment group, the Kahangi village women are taught about micro-financing and also manufacture products for sale within the local and surrounding communities, including businesses.
The products from the Kahangi women weavers are mainly woven baskets, place mats, trays and bowls. All products are made from natural materials such as millet weed, papyrus and banana fibre. Where colours are used they are dyed using flowers and boiling water. The Kahangi women’s latest venture is the production of natural soap, which aids not only in their hygiene, but also creates revenue for the village.
My time in Kahangi, Uganda was short, but life changing. I cannot thank Atalian Servest enough for their support. I encourage you to read a little about ASTCF and its mission. I have also set up a funding page to help contribute to their next natural spring well construction https://www.gofundme.com/ASTCF. All donations go directly to the organisation.
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