Local RainCatcher coordinator Dennis introduced us to Sylvia, an amazing and delightful woman. She brought her sister Noeline when she came to see a demonstration of the clean-water system, but the simple meeting quickly shifted to plans to bring the filters to six schools in her hometown, Kirinda.
Four hours by car from where we were meeting. Tomorrow.
Sylvia, the first person in her family to graduate from high school, went on to major in environmental studies in college. She was identified by UNESCO as one of the top 45 students in Africa and traveled to Denmark and Paris to attend economic and environmental conferences. She returned home and set up a nonprofit.
She is concerned about the future of Uganda and is devoted to improving lives. At the urging of her father, Frank, she will return to school for her post-graduate degree next year.
As the oldest of Frank’s seven children, Sylvia was a trailblazer; each of her siblings are on similar educational paths, including Noeline and Sylvia’s other sisters. That rarely happens in Africa. Educating daughters is one of the last priorities for families who often struggle to come up with the school fees.
IF they have the money, they first will send a son, because the investment in a daughter doesn’t seem worthwhile in a culture where her professional opportunities are so limited and where many believe her only value is in keeping the home (including gathering water several times daily), being the breadwinner AND having babies. (As if balancing all those things isn’t a feat that demonstrates the woman’s incredible capacity!)
This is particularly interesting, since as she’s almost singlehandedly delivering a solution to the life-threatening water situation for thousands of people by partnering with RainCatcher, Sylvia is pregnant with her first child. At 29 years old, she’s an exception, because the average African woman has had multiple children by her age.
Sylvia’s leadership is so apparent that, within an hour of seeing the demonstration, she has selected a location for distribution, has whipped out her cell phone and gotten commitments from the head teachers of six schools, based SOLELY on her reputation and her command to “bring 20 – 50 of your students to see this tomorrow.” She’s built an impressive network of 57 local schools, so these six schools are just the beginning. Her power and her passion are jaw-dropping.
Sylvia explained how students often miss class because of illnesses caused by the contaminated water they are drinking at home. Since the only guaranteed “safe” water is bottled water, which is too expensive for the school to provide, the children often don’t have anything to drink during the school day.
When they make it to school, their level of dehydration makes it difficult to concentrate, difficult to learn. The children KNOW the water makes them sick – and can even kill them – but they have no choice! It’s hot. They’re thirsty. And they NEED water to live. So they drink it, knowing it likely will make them sick.
Sylvia is an ideal partner for RainCatcher: she knows where the need is great, where people are receptive, and where to find additional leaders so more people can be reached and the most lives can be saved. She’s also an incredible example to other girls and their families that an investment in their education can produce benefits they may not have ever imagined.