The Messy Middle: What Goes On Behind the Scenes When Installing Taps

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (and keep re-learning) in my time in this role is that once the money is raised, the taps don’t “just turn on.” It sounds obvious, but sometimes in our attempt to tell a short (true) story, we skip over the long and messy middle.

It’s the messy middle that involves clearing a eucalyptus forest by hand, or lighting fires under boulders and smashing them with pick axes. The messy middle that involves negotiating cutting through over 50 people’s property, cutting up their land and not paying for it – just on the basis of goodwill and community benefit. The messy middle that requires hundreds of volunteers to come out, mobilizing and engaging them to show up on time without Google Calendar invites or Facebook Groups.

The Ugandan population manually removing an eucalyptus forest

And today, it’s the messy middle that happens when, after you’ve laboured for weeks, a 42,000 litre tank cracks once it’s filled with water. 

(Image 1. Cementing the tank Image 2. The “completed tank” Image 3. The crack in the tank floor)

The work we do is extremely human powered. It’s centred on hundreds of humans coming together to weave molds for the cement to be poured into, to haul bricks up the side of the mountain, to fetch water from the swamp, to mix the concrete. And while we’ve likely built more gravity flow systems than any other NGO in Uganda and North America, failure still happens.

This week, the tank for Muhaha developed a small crack in it as we were filling it with water. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion was met with grief as our team saw the tank, engineered to withstand the weight, start to crack. They suspect it was overloaded – something to do with the cement to reinforcement ratio was off. At 42,000 litres, the tank is among the largest we’ve ever built.

It’s a setback. It’s hours of community labour. It’s emotional. It’s financial. But it’s real, human work.

Every single project feels like a miracle to me. It’s a miracle that Canadians would give so generously to strangers, during this pandemic. It’s a miracle that the local Ugandan government would give in a greater dollar amount than ever before. It’s a miracle that hundreds come out to volunteer and that our team in Uganda would lead so well, with such wisdom and patience. And it will be a miracle when these taps eventually turn on.

Thank you for journeying with us as we give water and grow resilience. Failures, successes and the messy middle in between.

We’re so thankful for our team too. Just days before the tank cracked, Athens had sent us this great video update of the hard labour and progress:

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