The Shitirira area is highly vegetated with trees and farm crops. The setting is rural and peaceful. Most of the houses here are semi-permanent with iron sheet roofs. Community members keep livestock and grow crops such as maize, sugarcane, maize, and beans. Some people are involved in trade and small retail businesses for their livelihoods.
210 people in Shitirira depend on Shisambula Spring for water as their closest and only year-round water source. The unprotected spring is not seasonal and it has served the village for many decades without going dry. But the spring is open to all sorts of contamination, compromising its ability to serve the community well.
Shisambula Spring looks like a two-tier puddle; water collects in a small pool in the upper tier, and mainly flows through an opening through a mud and stone wall the community built. This water then flows into the lower puddle, which is mostly standing water due to a lack of a drainage system.
Using the opening in the mud wall, the community has improvised flowing water without a discharge pipe. But the open spring is constantly being contaminated by surface runoff from the rains. These deposit farm chemicals, residues from animal waste, and soil directly into the water.
During the rainy season, the runoff carries so much soil into the water that community members have to wait for it to settle before fetching water again. Algae, rotting leaves, and insects are constant companions in the water as well. The earthen wall the water passes through before community members collect it further puts the safety of the water at risk.
"The water is not safe for consumption because the spring is open to contamination," said primary school-aged student Rose.
Most community members said they have used a lot of money on medication for their waterborne illnesses, which depletes their families' financial resources. Some families cannot afford the medicine or hospital visits, risking their lives in the process.
"My wife had diarrhea and when she went to seek medication, she was told that she had taken dirty water. The medication cost was too high," recalled 38-year-old John Shisambula, the spring's namesake and landowner.
Time and energy lost to water-related illnesses mean less productive time for adults, and often less income as a result. Children have to stay home from school when they get sick after drinking the spring water, often causing them to fall behind in their studies.
Accessibility is the other major concern at the spring. To reach the mud wall where the water comes through, community members must stand in several inches of water and mud while they fill their container. This is not just uncomfortable, but risky for their health. Snakes, dangerous insects, and mosquitoes that carry malaria all prefer the standing water around the spring, putting people at risk of further illness or injury every time they fetch water.
What We Can Do:
Protecting the spring will help provide access to cleaner and safer water and reduce the time people have to spend to fetch it. Construction will keep surface runoff and other contaminants out of the water. With the community’s high involvement in the process, there should be a good sense of responsibility and ownership for the new clean water source.
Fetching water is a task predominantly carried out by women and young girls. Protecting the spring and offering training and support will, therefore, help empower the female members of the community by freeing up more of their time and energy to engage and invest in income-generating activities and their education.
Training on Health, Hygiene, COVID-19, and More
To hold trainings during the pandemic, we work closely with both community leaders and the local government to approve small groups to attend training. We ask community leaders to invite a select yet representative group of people to attend training who will then act as ambassadors to the rest of the community to share what they learn. We also communicate our expectations of physical distancing and wearing masks for all who choose to attend.
The training will focus on improved hygiene, health, and sanitation habits in this community. We will also have a dedicated session on COVID-19 symptoms, transmission routes, and prevention best practices.
With the community’s input, we will identify key leverage points where they can alter their practices at the personal, household, and community levels to affect change. This training will help to ensure participants have the knowledge they need about healthy practices and their importance to make the most of their water point as soon as water is flowing.
Our team of facilitators will use a variety of methods to train community members. Some of these methods include participatory hygiene and sanitation transformation, asset-based community development, group discussions, handouts, and demonstrations at the spring.
One of the most important issues we plan to cover is the handling, storage, and treatment of water. Having a clean water source will be extremely helpful, but it is useless if water gets contaminated by the time it is consumed. We and the community strongly believe that all of these components will work together to improve living standards here, which will help to unlock the potential for these community members to live better, healthier lives.
We will then conduct a small series of follow-up trainings before transitioning to our regularly scheduled support visits throughout the year.
Training will result in the formation of a water user committee, elected by their peers, that will oversee the operations and maintenance of the spring. The committee will enforce proper behavior around the spring and delegate tasks that will help preserve the site, such as building a fence and digging proper drainage channels. The fence will keep out destructive animals and unwanted waste, and the drainage will keep the area’s mosquito population at a minimum.