It’s more than just being tough!
by Tracey DeGraaf, Director of International Programs
I have been going to East Africa for over 20 years as a humanitarian worker – working with teams that do humanitarian programs in very poor communities. Programs that are designed to give people the basics needed to grow healthy food, drink clean water, go to school and get a good education in remote rural communities and tough environments. What I love most about my job is the people I meet along the way. They inspire me. They are kind. Gentle but tough. Smart. Driven. I marvel at the innovation I see in the most remote regions of the world. But sometimes all these things fail to allow communities to grow and thrive! So we started focusing on what a resilient and thriving rural community looks like. We took that image and made it our goal. To reach that goal, strengthening resilience is key.
Resilience is having the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, challenges, traumas, and even natural disasters. It’s knowing how to use resources around you to overcome what comes your way. And sometimes it takes having access to key resources to move you forward.
People living in the last mile villages of Kicuzi, South Western Uganda, have known well the unending stressors caused by water poverty. Unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene kills 3.5 million people every year. Perhaps this is why the people of Kicuzi laboured tirelessly alongside our construction team over these past 3 years to build water and sanitation infrastructure across the hills and valleys of their communities. This effort demonstrates what “stronger together” really means because, in Kicuzi, waterborne disease has been overcome!
On January 12th, a celebration was held to mark the end of many stressors related to water poverty in the Kicuzi region. Worms, typhoid, and diarrhoea have virtually been eradicated in these communities because 100% of households are now spending less than 30 minutes to collect water from a nearby tap. Compared to the 2 hours they spent previously to collect water, this leaves people with more time and energy to make themselves more resilient to poverty.
How does this make them more resilient to poverty? People are earning more income. We know that 3 years ago 91% of households were earning less than $18 per month. By December 2021, only 4% of households reported earning $18 or less per month.
The key to building resilient communities is to enable resilient people to alleviate their own poverty by leveraging their own assets and abilities.
The people in Kicuzi took the skills they learned from our program and created cooperatives for selling hygiene products, such as soap and handwashing stations. The sale of these products generated more income for their families – this was not a goal our project set out to achieve, but a sure indicator of communities becoming more resilient to poverty.
Ultimately, the goal of our project was to help communities become free from open defecation. This is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal #6 and it is critical for people living in developing communities to enjoy good health. But projects do not achieve development goals, people do. Projects are just a timeframe of activities; it is the people who achieve the results! Community members worked cooperatively with ACTS’ staff members toward the goal of becoming free from open defecation. This involved helping each other to construct adequate latrines at homes and schools, and diligently practising good hygiene, such as handwashing. People motivated each other, and helped each other to achieve that goal. This too is why Kicuzi communities are free from waterborne disease today. By improving their sanitation and hygiene practices, they literally broke the chain of waterborne disease!
Resilience is not just about being tough. It’s about being quick to learn, quick to apply those learnings, and having the ability to move forward.
The people in Kicuzi have shown us what resiliency looks like. And, it looks like this…