This man has a big dream to bring safe water and sanitation to all the children Compassion serves in Uganda.

But it’s not only a dream; he also has a strategy, expertise and the experience to make it a reality. Ronnie Kaweesa is Compassion Uganda’s water expert with extensive experience in bringing safe water to communities.

Ronnie sat down with us and answered a few questions about our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs in Uganda.

What is your goal for WASH in Uganda?

My goal is for every Compassion centre in Uganda to have an improved water source within 500 metres. We are at about 60 per cent, although that will continually change as we grow. We have been blessed by the Lord. I am beginning to see what the Lord told me in the beginning, that “I will do this.”

Water of Life

What inspires you to help people get access to safe water?

I grew up in Kampala, Uganda, where I was used to just turning on a tap and having water. You begin to take it for granted. But I remember being in a rural area and seeing a girl going to fetch water. It was very hot and it was very far. It took her two hours there and two hours back. She would take a jerry can with her, and by the time she would come back, she would have drunk half the water because she’s too thirsty to make the journey without it. Seeing things like this really changes your thinking.

What’s one of the things you’ve learned in your experience with WASH?

To have any sustainability in your program, you have to have the involvement of the people. If you’re going to build infrastructure in a community, it’s so crucial that you involve the community in what you’re considering. The community will feel part of it and value it.

In our water program, we always have a local contribution in either money or labour because it represents them saying, “We value this enough to pay for it. We just don’t have enough.” We use local materials so they’re available to the community when they need to repair them. You have to determine what your supply chain system is and use local materials so it can be maintained and sustained. Then we train people in the community to be the mechanics for the hand pumps.

The Water that Literally Saved Lives

A lot of people are interested in helping people get access to safe water. Why do we also include sanitation (access to latrines) and hygiene training in our program?  

Water, sanitation and hygiene are triplets. You cannot separate them. You can have the infrastructure for safe water in place, but water still has to get from point A to point B and various things can happen along the way to dirty the water. It’s to bury your head in the sand to separate these components. Compassion includes both the “hardware,” the actual infrastructure, and the “software” components, the training such as how you maintain the infrastructure and how to have proper hygiene and sanitation.

How does Compassion’s model of partnering with the local church benefit WASH projects?  

The church is stable and it’s going to be there for a long time. They feel called by God to transform their community. They are part of the community and they are respected. We enable the church to be able to respond to the needs so that the community will see the church as the light.

The Water that Literally Saved Lives

What is one of your favourite stories from a Compassion Uganda water project?

My favourite is when a partnering church captures the vision and gains their own momentum far beyond even what you had anticipated. You see a WASH program actually transforming a community. People have caught it. They are transcending the poverty mindset. They are saying, “We have resources and we can do something for ourselves.”

There was a community that collected fees for their well, and they were able to use the profit to buy food from a bumper harvest. They stored the crops and were later able to sell them for a good profit. Another church built classrooms with the profit they made from their water project. Such stories make your day. Aside from looking at the health statistics and seeing an improvement, when you begin to see people taking charge and changing their mindset, when you see the church giving leadership, when you see children being involved, speaking out and making decisions, that makes your day.

Give today to not only ensure children have access to safe water, but also to help communities escape a poverty mindset and help churches be a light in their community!  

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Written by: Amber Van Schooneveld

Amber Van Schooneveld is the Managing Editor of Compassion International's blog.