We’ve said before how the day the community receives clean water is one that they have hoped for, worked hard for, and prayed for. It’s a day that you as part of the Acts community – whether here in Canada or anywhere else in the world, are also a part of. So too was a day like today.
I didn’t quite get it initially. When Richard told me there would be a commissioning ceremony, I thought back to a year ago – to the spontaneous dancing and the drums, when the water flowed for the first time, and I imagined it would be the same.
This day held that, but it held so much more. You could tell that today, the actual commissioning day was one that, just like when the taps turned on in December, they had worked for, prayed for, and wanted to share – with me, with our staff, with the dignitaries and many more.
It was far more formal and far more of a production than anything I had been to here before. I commented about this to a staff member and they replied, “Well, it’s a bigger project than we’ve ever been a part of.” Not necessarily bigger in terms of the number of people served, but bigger in terms of going deeper with the community – through things like health and sanitation training in the households, latrines and health training in the schools, and so much more.
We started at the Reservoirs – commissioning them as the start of this giant project. Together, they hold 75 000 litres of water. The representative of the President, an elderly lady, took off her high heeled shoes because she wanted to climb up to see the water for herself. Some objected, but she insisted. I followed suit. You can see my foolish attempt.
The team then wanted to show me a “model home”. This was one of the homes the team felt represented the best in household transformations that had happened in this region. Clean water is only as good as all of the “other stuff” that surrounds it and this woman beamed with pride as she showed us her kitchen, her household latrines (which she built herself) and her drying rack. She was so proud of her hard work – and really she should be. The transformation she undertook to learn new ways of doing things she’d been doing her whole life was incredible.
Later we gave the top 20% of houses prizes (soaps, clean jerry cans, buckets and blankets), which included this woman. To see this woman honoured for her hard work made me so proud of the team for their patient persistence in walking alongside Kogabi for the past year.
Then we made a quick stop to see the latrines at one of the primary schools that you all helped us make a reality. These latrines help us “close the loop” on the health of this region – ensuring literally thousands of children will have a clean, safe place to use the bathroom while at class.
This will also have a profound impact on the enrollment and education potential for the young girls in this community. Thank you.
Then FINALLY, the ceremony itself. But wait. Still more ribbons to cut. My favourite scene happened just seconds after the ribbon was cut on this tapstand; the kids jumped in to start playing in the water. The elected officials eventually kicked them out, but such incredible joy!
And then the community paused and were determined to feed about 100 of us with their collective offering of matoke, maize, rice, goat and chicken. While huddled in a dark (electricity free) classroom, I could look out of the window and see the men and women working over the fire to keep the food coming.
Speeches, prizes, songs, dancing and so much more followed the meal. Nearing the close of the evening, the Senior Elected Official called the Acts Uganda team up. He quieted the area and in front of the hundreds who had gathered, he said:
“I have been in office for 15 years now. I have seen many NGOs come and go over this time. I have never met a staff like yours. They work with even the most stubborn of community members, they won’t take bribes and they are out here till it is dark. They are honest, hard working and patient and they have become like one with the community.”
It’s a humbling, uncomfortable and challenging place to be, sitting front and centre, as kids come to sing to you, elderly women come and grab your hand, stare into your eyes and tell you how grateful they are, and as teachers talk about the improved health of their kids and attribute it to you. I’m the fortunate one who ended up with three initials after his name that brought me to this seat, but on days like today, it truly feels “bigger than anything I have ever been a part of.”
Thank you for celebrating, for investing and for being a part of this community’s bigger story.