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Over the past few months, FSD intern John Allen has been involved in water development efforts in Jinja, Uganda. John’s internship has been hosted by Busoga Trust, an organization that seeks to extend the coverage of safe drinking water and sanitation to rural communities in Uganda. With his background in Civil Engineering, John has been working actively with the technical team at Busoga Trust to serve communities by facilitating the construction of shallow well sources. This has improved the health of residents in communities like Igombe, where villagers have worked together to construct a clean water source.
With some exposure to water development before coming to Uganda, I thought I had a decent understanding of the use of appropriate technology. Then I arrived at Busoga Trust and discovered something that confused me. I was disappointed to find out that my host organization preferred to implement hand-dug wells to boreholes. I was perplexed by the “slight compromise in quality” present in hand-dug wells, as was explained by my supervisor. Of course, the organization’s reasoning behind constructing so many shallow well sources was simple; they are about one fourth the cost of a borehole.
Nevertheless, I was not completely satisfied with my supervisor’s explanation, but I began my work in the field ready to oversee hand-dug well construction. It wasn’t until I first arrived at Igombe community for needs assessment that I fully understand my organization’s philosophy. A couple of Igombe residents took to me to the bottom of the hill to inspect the community’s “traditional water source.” This was no more than a rainwater runoff pond completely open to contamination from nearby livestock. At this point I realized that by constructing cheaper shallow wells, the impact of water development efforts would be maximized by serving more communities, and that a hand-dug well was infinitely better than the water sources rural communities accessed. Later, during the process of constructing the well, I understood another important reason for why shallow wells are constructed. Through the process of building their own well source, I was able to observe the residents of the village come together as a community. With each villager having his own tasks and responsibilities the community was able to work as a team with the knowledge that upon completion of their collective work, the village would benefit from better health that would result from the completion of a safe water source. This was further reflected in the interest garnered in health education sessions, as community members learned how they could take an active role to ensure their own health and that of their children. All of these activities of the community transformed my opinion of water development works, as I came to the realization that the technology which promotes community involvement and capacity building and has the widest impact range is the most sustainable.