We christened it the ‘Tourist Toilet Trail’: a tour of Eric and Adrine Kamuteera’s garden on the outskirts of the Ugandan town of Rukungiri, complete with deep-pit and ecosan toilets, manure pits (composting material of both the bovine and the human variety), tippy taps (a simple but effective hand-washing mechanism) and the collection of biogas from the cows; and it seemed particularly fitting that four of Eric and Adrine’s grandchildren – who were building a little house out of sand when we arrived – should have begun by installing a sandy latrine block and rainwater tank before they started work on their little model sitting rooms, bathrooms and kitchens!
I first met Eric back in 1986, when we studied together at Ridley Hall in Cambridge – and we stayed in touch in the years that followed, as I moved to a curacy in Redditch and Eric returned to his home in rural south-west Uganda to head up the water and sanitation project in his district. More than twenty years later I was invited to become the Patron of Watsan – the project (now across two districts/Dioceses) that has developed from Eric’s excellent work – and was delighted to accept. Since then I’ve taken part in a couple of sponsored night-time walks of around 25-30 miles each, and have kept in close touch with the Watsan trustees and the various developments at the Uganda end – not least Eric’s retirement, and the appointment of his replacement Eric Baingana (affectionately known as ‘Eric 2’).
There’s nothing like seeing things at first hand, though – so when the opportunity came for me to travel to Uganda with Ian and Ellie Bensted (respectively the Chair and Secretary of Watsan UK) and Graham Piper (one of the trustees, and a former Water Aid engineer in the country), it was clearly an opportunity not to be missed. We duly set off for Entebbe Airport on April 4th 2014, before spending most of the following day driving along the grandly named (but alarmingly potholed) ‘Pan-African Highway’ from Kampala to Rukungiri, much enjoying the fertile countryside along the way.
There’s a joke doing the rounds right now, with reference to the appalling state of many of the roads in Uganda. How can you tell a sober driver from a drunken one? A sober driver weaves from side to side, while a drunken driver drives completely straight! Blessedly our long-suffering driver (the trusty Columbus) was stone-cold sober throughout, neatly negotiating his way through the treacherous potholes and quagmires that we encountered along the way.
Four days of the trip were largely spent visiting water and sanitation projects built by the Watsan team: most simply a series of rainwater tanks, toilets, tippy taps and girls’ washing facilities which had brought clean water and hugely improved health to a secondary school in the Kanunga area; more elaborately, a remarkable scheme (the largest ever undertaken by Watsan) which had tapped two springs high in the mountains, and which promises (though a series of pipelines and tap stands) to bring fresh water to around 8000 of the most water-deprived inhabitants of the region.
In each case the quality of the workmanship was superb (as the two UK engineers in the party concurred), and good work had also been done by the Watsan ‘software’ team, whose role is to teach good sanitation practices and to mobilise the community to get involved. On one project we met a group of men who’d agreed to provide the manual labour necessary, walking a mile or more up a steep hill in the heat of the day, with buckets of sand and cement on their heads. On other projects we met with members of the village committees (whose job it is to maintain the facilities) – some of them very effective, others in need of some attention. There was the odd bad-news story along the way (most commonly of illegal tap connections, poor maintenance of tap stands, or extravagant water use), but overall the visits were most encouraging – not least when we heard stories of the long and arduous journeys people used to make to collect (frequently brackish) water before the Watsan team moved in.
Interspersing our travelling and fact-finding trips were two Sundays (on which I was privileged to preach at the main morning services at Rukungiri and Kanunga Cathedrals) and a 3-day conference which brought together the Watsan team and Management Committee, the senior staff of the Dioceses, the Brits and various water officers with both regional and national responsibilities. The conference was a useful time to explore the history, vision and values of Watsan as an organisation, to look at some scripture together, and to iron out some of the team tensions that had (almost inevitably) followed the retirement of Eric 1 after quite such a long time at the helm. Meanwhile we were excellently looked after by a variety of hosts, not least Bishops Patrick and Dan and their wives Eva and Flora, with fresh bananas, pineapples and passion-fruit a particular highlight on the gastronomic side - though I can’t say I developed a huge enthusiasm for the ubiquitous goat stew, matooke (mashed green bananas), or ugali (millet bread, with the consistency of playdough!).
Our trip ended with a couple of nights in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, generously financed by Ian and Ellie as a retirement present to Eric and Adrine (with me as a grateful gate-crasher!). The boat trip was spectacular, with elephants, hippos, crocodiles, pied kingfishers, pelicans and fish eagles the stars of the show; while a disappointing lion hunt (which yielded excellent sightings of hyena, waterbucks and African cob, but no lions) was followed by a superb sighting of a huge male lion who’d been roaring around the hotel-site for the past couple of nights, and who kindly posed for the cameras just as we began our long and potholed journey back to Kampala.
Altogether a most memorable and useful trip, which has made me more committed than ever to the excellent cause of Watsan!