Uganda was somewhere I never thought I would experience; Parvin was someone I could have never anticipated meeting. Volunteering in the Wakiso District of Nansana is where we met, but that is far from where Parvin’s journey began. She is a beautiful child, tall for her age with glowing skin and a lease on life not yet encountered by a nine-year-old. She and I met on the playground at the Wakiso Christian International Academy when she approached and tricked me into getting tickled at my sides. From that moment I knew she was a trickster, I time I would come to learn the challenges she had faced. In the Katanga slum, a square mile labyrinth of dilapidated buildings home to 10,000 is where her story really begins.
Sitting together under the shade of the school yard tree, she and I spent time coloring, writing, reading and getting to know each other through the experiences that led us each to the Wakiso District. Life was not always as easy as it seemed in the rural outskirts of Nansana, because in the Katanga slum, anything goes.
She stood with pride to announce she is a child of Thread of Life, a program started to teach the women of Katanga sewing and bead making skills, as well as the importance of financial stability. We discussed the moments that made us the happiest, the most upset and the curiosities of the worlds we have come to understand.
Over time, through our conversation, I slowly understood that Parvin was not like many of the children at her academy. Katanga is a harsh environment for a child to spend her first and most crucial years of life. There is no garbage disposal system here, one arrives to the area atop a trash pile so tall it personifies the division between poverty and severe poverty. There exists a trash-laden channel to nowhere along an edge of the slum where waste water from neighboring Kampala is deposited. The cramped maze of housing structure conceals every possible means by which a child may develop a mental handicap. Ugandans use repurposed gasoline containers to collect city runoff water from an inch of pipe sticking out from mud-carved steps; the only source of water for the slum. The most upsetting aspect is that Katanga is far from being an isolated example of impoverished living.
While one must applaud the acquisition of water from a consistently available flow and good sense to boil it, this should not be held as standard. On a farm in southern Uganda there is an underground well, that along with seasonal rains, facilitates the farm’s needs. It provides the tenants with clean water with which they can drink, clean their hands, cook lunch and wash the resident toddler. Underground wells might be a practical solution for the people of Uganda who can afford them; the slums of Bangladesh or remote areas of Sudan might not have the environmental or financial capabilities to entertain such solutions.
What if families in these water depreciated areas were given a card that indicated, based on easily recognizable characteristics, the amount of water a family or individual needs per day?
Cards would contain information such as how many people are reliant on the card; an individual verses a family of five. Cards would also indicate need based on a calculation stemming from the average amount of water it takes to cook staple foods in a given region, and the minimum amount of water individuals should consume per day. These specifications would allow the card to be tailored to the needs of a reliant family or the individual. This information of course would all come from professionals in the nutritional or medical field in the region where this system is being implemented.
Families and individuals with the card should be able to go to a central location where community members are paid by the government to provide the service of collecting, boiling and distributing water. The service will be provided twice or more times a week in an effort to allow all families the opportunity to congregate at the water distribution location. Each card holder will be documented whenever they receive water, to ensure one group or individual is not receiving another’s ration.
This system would not only provide more jobs to the community, it will help families get the water they need. Families or individuals with the card will also be applying a new kind of responsibility to their daily life through preservation of the card and collection of rationed water. If we can help individuals gain more access to better water, we can aid their health, education about hygiene and illness, teach responsibility and aid in satiation. This system can be implemented wherever there is a need; there is likely to be water sources in a given region; its collection and distribution might be the difference between a healthy population and one riddled with illness.
Overall, the government supports the health of its citizens by paying citizens to provide the service as well as handle the creation and distribution of cards. Citizens gain a new source of income while aiding the families and individuals who utilize the opportunity to obtain water. Citizens who have a card are able to better provide for their personal or family’s understanding of hygiene and physical health.
Through working with governments and interested parties, these water projects can be implemented within the foreseeable future in any area deprived of clean water. We have the ability to immediately change the lives of children like Parvin on a global scale. In time, we can cultivate healthier communities; the solution need not be complicated, just acted upon.