Monday, 17 November 2014

Family life in Ojolai

After a very early start from Soroti we drove 2 hours through a beautiful sunrise along dusty red roads, bumpy dirt tracks, then thick tall vegetation, to arrive in the small rural village of Ojolai. It really seemed like this pretty village of 588 people living in very simple dwellings was in the middle of no where. This very rural location and poor access, coupled with a very low water table, are some of the reasons why Ojolai does not yet have a clean drinking water supply.

After a quick authentic African toilet stop in one of the community's very simple but clean pit latrines (along with fierce gang of resident wasps) we were introduced to our fantastic interpreters and guides for the day. Paul and Evelyn were bright and charming and took our group of 3 WaterAid supporters to meet our host family for the day. Although just packed down soil, the family's compound area was so clean and well swept.

Our wonderful host family of 6 were very welcoming and seemed genuinely pleased to meet us. A smile and a quick 'yoga' (meaning 'hi') was the perfect greeting. Paul, the father, had just returned from weeding his cassava crop with a hoe, and Aguti Agnes, the mother was breast feeding her 18 month old twins, a girl called Acen Robin and a boy called Opio Brian. Their 4 year old son, Opongo Calvin, was hiding from us as he was scared, and their 8 year old daughter Apedo Machret was at school.

The first task we helped the family with was to collect cow dung, add water, mix it, and smear it round the base of the family's pit latrine. Women do this every 3 months to strengthen the building. I felt silly using gloves when Aguti Agnes didn't and the family and several onlookers thought it was hilarious to see us visitors obviously using bad technique to do an easy job!

I must admit that seeing the water source that this and 113 other households depend on was a shock. The interpreters used the word 'well' so in my head I'd pictured a neat round brick well. Instead, it was a dirty murky looking pool of water surrounded by sticks to stop livestock drinking from it. Most definitely not a clean water source and the reason why many of the local children often suffer from diarrhoea. Aguti Agnes walks, often carrying her twins, half a kilometre 6 times a day with heavy Jerry cans to collect this unclean water for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning.

The family's next activity was not easy to watch - the slaughter, plucking and preparation of a chicken for lunch. Hard for us to see but real life for these families. I wonder how many people in the UK would still eat meat if they had to slaughter and prepare it themselves? Cooking of the chicken, beans, cassava and a green leafy veg, took place in one of the simple mud brick, thatched huts in metal pans over a very hot fire, with smoke stinging our eyes.

Off to another further unclean water source, I had a go at carrying a big water container on my head. My neck ached after less than 5 minutes and I resorted to carrying the heavy container by hand, whilst walking behind the family's 17 year old niece who had no problems balancing a larger container on her head for about a kilometre. We were shocked to hear that in the dry season these two water sources dry up and the community have to walk almost 3 kilometres to a borehole to get water.

We showed the family our postcards and photos we'd bought from the UK. Our postcards of the Queen were particularly popular. We sat and shared our packed lunches with the family, and others who joined us, and they shared their lunch with us. The family's old aunt was particularly taken by us, asking us to sit closer and telling us via the interpreter that 'we're all human'. After some thank yous and good byes we were sad to leave our lovely hosts, touched by how friendly, welcoming and generous the family and community had been to us, and how content they are with their lives.

Next, we visited Ojolai Primary School, and were warmly greeted by a beautiful welcome song by the children. Amazingly this school of 301 pupils and 7 teachers was set up 18 months ago with no permanent classrooms, changing rooms or staff room and only 2 simple pit latrines. The biggest issue is that there is no water source so he children have to bring water from home (collected from the dirty water sources) which often runs out by lunchtime, leaving them thirsty.

The headmaster, chair of the Parent Teacher's Association and sub-county chief all welcomed us. They had never had such a big group of white people visit before and the children were fascinated by us, some of them having never seen someone with white skin before. We helped sweep the school yard and planted some trees, which the children will care for. It was lovely of them to name a mango tree 'Sophie' when they planted it! The kids also loved playing football and doing the Hokey Cokey with some of the other supporters!

All in all, a wonderful, inspiring and touching day. It was hard to leave but fantastic to know that these hard working, positive people are trying to change their community for the better for future generations, and that WaterAid Uganda are planning to help them to do this by enabling a safe healthy water supply to be installed.

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