Bringing Safe Clean Water to Kirinda Schools

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We got on the road early. It was going to take hours to reach Sylvia’s village and, due to her solid scheduling the night before, students from six local schools were traveling to Kyakajwiga Primary School to meet us at lunchtime. Many of those school groups were traveling on foot.

That road trip is how we learned so much about Sylvia and about a day in the life of the average Ugandan student. We had ample time to witness her determination, her brilliance, and her heart.

On the way, we passed children hauling a variety of water containers, many clearly empty. Gathering water is a daily, time-consuming chore. Crowds of children gathered around open pits by the side of the road and we knew that water was surely teeming with life-threatening microbes.

After about four hours, we pulled up to the school and a sea of different colorful school uniforms worn by unbelievably well-behaved children. How they managed to remain quietly seated as we got out of the car, started taking pictures and pulling out equipment is a mystery. Later, knowing how thirsty so many of them surely were, we would marvel that they still demonstrated such restraint as we passed very few cups of water around for only some of them to taste.

Sylvia was impressive. She had their complete attention as she alternated between making the students and the teachers laugh and impressing upon them the value of the systems. The children already knew the dangers of their drinking water.

Sylvia posed the question, “What are the bad things that happen when you drink unsafe water?” Their hands shot up as they answered her: diarrhea; fever; dehydration; cholera; typhoid…

With their training from the night before, Sylvia and her sister Noelene led the demonstration, with Jack’s assistance.

They gave clean-water systems to the headmasters of all six schools: Kyakajwiga; Mirembe Muslim; Kabandiko; Makukuulu; Bulenge; and St. Jude of Kirinda. Previously they’d had to either try to keep up with demand by boiling water or watch their students drink the dirty water they brought to school.

With this simple solution, each school now has an endless, clean water fountain for their students. Sylvia vows to do the same for the district’s remaining 51 schools and there is no doubt that she will do it quickly.

By the end of the demonstration, Jack was ready to initiate some fun. With the headmasters’ permission (the students would not have moved a muscle without it), Jack ran to play soccer with the children, balls donated by Nike, and a resident cow.

Their playful shrieks and laughter filled the air. When they had worked up a thirst, they were able to easily fill their cups with safe water for the very first time. And there was no threat that the supply was going to run out.

To see a slideshow of images from this day in Uganda, including more pictures of the students having a blast playing soccer, please Click Here

RainCatcher Passes Muster for Mbale

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To deliver clean-water systems effectively and reach the most people, RainCatcher works with committed partners with established networks in areas with great need. Some partners are large organizations with broad reaches, others individuals or newer groups who have programs set up in communities we’re trying to reach.

Suzanne and Whitney are an example of the type of caring people we seek out. They are Country Directors with a group called Help International, which sends them new volunteers every few weeks. Before this meeting, their exposure to RainCatcher was limited to a couple short email exchanges with Jack.

Yet, because they knew RainCatcher had set up a temporary base of operations not far from the airport, they decided it couldn’t hurt to stop by on the way to pick up their next round of volunteers. Why not give us a chance to show them how it all works?

Both Suzanne and Whitney were lovely. Friendly, savvy and more than a little skeptical, they visited Dennis, Jack and Martha for a complete RainCatcher lesson.

From the start, they had some very good questions. You see, it’s not uncommon for groups to come in, drop off a “solution,” and move on to the next project. Because the need worldwide is so great, it’s understandable that follow-up isn’t thorough and that the original group might never even see how their “solution” works out.

Having experienced the disappointing aftermath of some incomplete water projects, Suzanne and Whitney wanted data, they wanted details. And, because old-style filters wear out, get clogged, and become useless rather quickly, they really weren’t expecting much from RainCatcher. But, it was only a little out of their way, so they arrived, politely obscuring their low expectations.

So, we gave them the whole RainCatcher show! Dennis rigged up a way to fill the bucket from a sink in the yard. Jack showed them videos on point-of-use filters as a solution and pages of documentation on how the filters not only remove anything larger than 0.1 micron but how they last for years. (For comparison, the bacteria that causes Cholera is 0.5 micron.)

Then, since they were playful and there was a lot of teasing going on, we made the water extra dirty and let the results speak for themselves. They were flabbergasted.

After that, they couldn’t wait to get RainCatcher up to the Mbale area to distribute a solution to the Ugandans they work with, live with and love.

Plans were made: We’ll travel to Mbale soon to get a program started and deliver filters. By the time Suzanne and Whitney departed we had two more partners eager to teach people how to use the filters and help us save more lives.

Meeting Sylvia

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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.

Clean Water to 80,000 people – how it starts

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Hi,

All checked in @ LAX for 16 hour flight to Dubai. First leg of journey. Then 8 more to Entebbe, Uganda.

Top duffel on this pile contains 44 NIKE soccer balls. Other bags contain 400 filters. Martha is arriving same time (from NY) with 400 more.

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Together, with a host of amazing local networks, we will bring clean water to over 80,000 people.

I love bringing joy to remote village kids at the far edges of the world.

Jack Rose

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