The poisoned water hole

In June 2012, RainCatcher had the opportunity to provide clean water to a community of 7,000 people near Mbarara, Uganda who had undergone a frightening experience…

Itendero Senior Secondary School

Sign leading up to the Itendero Senior Secondary School where the children drank from the poisoned water hole


The elders that told us the story of the landowner that poisoned the communities water source and the children that suffered

Five years prior to RainCatcher’s visit, there was an incident involving children fetching water from a local watering hole. It was located on a private plot of land where the children would cross a field to collect water for themselves and their families. The closest alternative for these children was an inconsistent source, and when available the water could be contaminated. Otherwise the children had to make a three-kilometer trip to a well that was sometimes shared with animals, and then carry large containers of water back to their village.


Measuring up the school for a rainwater harvesting tank. The field behind the school is where the poisoned water hole is located.


Where the poisoned water hole is in the back fields

The landowner was unhappy with what was going on. She did not want children running across her field, so she put up a barbed wire fence around the watering hole. This did not stop the children from coming; they easily slipped under the barbed wire and continued to collect water for their families, avoiding the trek to other unpredictable water sources. One night the landowner turned to desperate measures and poisoned her own watering hole. She would rather not be able to use the water herself than have these children trespass on her land. The next day, eleven children went to collect water as usual, and drank some from the poisoned source. Upon returning to their village, they suddenly became very ill. Thankfully the school headmaster saw the children and, deducing what had happened, acted quickly enough that there were no deaths resulting from the poisoned water. Having narrowly escaped tragedy, the people of this village recognized that they needed a source of clean water, especially for the sake of their children.


The poisoned water hole


The poisoned water hole

With their new RainCatcher rainwater-harvesting system, the 320 children attending Itendero Senior Secondary School have a sustainable source of clean, safe drinking water in their own village. They no longer have to take risks traveling or trespassing to access a potentially hazardous water source. Instead, they can collect water from the system built onto their school building, knowing that it will cause no harm to them or their families. They are free to attend school as they should, instead of missing class to fetch water or recover from water-related illnesses.


The newly installed rainwater harvesting system at the Itendero School

RainCatcher has been able to provide clean water to Itendero School, and many others like it, using the ancient technique of rainwater harvesting coupled with advanced filtration. This method has the lowest cost per person when compared to other types of water projects, and is more sustainable. Just one inch of rainfall on a 1,000 square-foot roof provides 625 gallons of safe drinking water. Mbarara, Uganda receives 34.3 inches of rain and 166 days of rainfall each year, making it the perfect environment for rainwater harvesting. RainCatcher regularly travels throughout Uganda and Kenya, searching for places like Mbarara to receive rainwater-harvesting systems. Thanks to our generous donors and supporters, we are able to give water, life, and love to the people in Africa who need it. As we continue to grow, we hope to greatly diminish the number of people in the world without access to clean water. Please join us in our mission.

Written by Danielle John

Water is Life

Here is a dramatic video of a young boy in Kenya. RainCatcher helps thousands of children every year in Kenya get clean water they need to survive. We have always been fond of the “Water is Life” phrase because it is so true, we see it all the time.

“Recently, we had an outbreak of cholera, so we had a lot of fears that if it strikes hard it could claim most of our community members, children included,” says John Overi Samwa, head teacher at Nyamone Primary School, where water from the lake must be used for more than 700 children when the rainwater in the school’s single barrel is used up. The cholera bacterium is transmitted by contaminated water and food.

“Some people die before they get to the hospital,” says Isaac Ogongya, chairman of the area’s community water committee. “Not all people take proper precautions with water. Some people boil it, some don’t boil. They just drink.”

In rural areas like these, there are few sources of clean water – about half of the population uses contaminated water for drinking and cooking. It’s common to see people filling their water cans or plastic bottles out of ditches or potholes in the road.

You can help RainCatcher bring clean water to the children of Kenya. Please consider donating today or sharing this page on Facebook or Twitter. Together we can make a difference.

Assessing the Future

People often ask us how do we figure out if a school, church or hospital is right for a rainwater harvesting system. A lot goes into how we assess our projects, more than most think about. First we determine if the area has sufficient rainfall and almost as important is the rainfall days and frequency per year. For instance, in India it can rain 80 inches per year, however all that rain comes during the monsoon season, so for 2 months they have more than enough rain then for 10 months, it is very dry. Masaka, Uganda gets on average 52.3 inches or 4.3 feet of rainfall every year and has 220 average rainfall days, which means 60% of the year there is rain. This will ensure that the holding tanks get refilled regularly and can always provide clean drinking water to the children.

Once we determine if the climate and conditions will support a sustainable source of water, we find the local leaders of the communities that help us get to the schools most in need. We look for schools with over a hundred students. Once we have this initial assessment, we make a trip to visit each potential project location.

Long rough road in Masaka, Uganda between schools

Long rough road in Masaka, Uganda between schools

Dennis and Julius - Assessing Itindero Senior Secondary School - Mbarara, Uganda

Dennis and Julius – Assessing Itindero Senior Secondary School – Mbarara, Uganda

This is the part that takes a lot of time. We travel constantly when we are assessing, rarely stopping on the road except when needed (or the always stopped at equator sign). Ten to twelve hours in the back of an SUV, we usually drive up to the location and get out with notebooks, calculators, iPhones (for GPS and elevation) pencil and measuring tapes. Scrambling to find reasonably sturdy items to stand on while measure, we measure and call out numbers, survey the building surroundings and quickly sketch a site map.

Dave, Dennis, Fred and Francis assessing Bulenge Muslim Primary School - Masaka, Uganda

Dave, Dennis, Fred and Francis assessing Bulenge Muslim Primary School – Masaka, Uganda

Dave getting roof elevation thanks to an iPhone with Fred and Dennis at Kirinda School - Masaka, Uganda

Dave getting roof elevation thanks to an iPhone with Fred and Dennis at Kirinda School – Masaka, Uganda

Martha getting GPS coordinates with Dennis measuring at St. Sebastiane Makukuulu Primary School - Masaka, Uganda

Martha getting GPS coordinates with Dennis measuring at St. Sebastiane Makukuulu Primary School – Masaka, Uganda

A visit to the headmaster or headmistress to verify the pupil count and to get their phone number and it is off again. As we drive to the next location, we are busy taking notes, discussing special needs and getting ready for the next stop. Sometimes we have to stop for a minor repair too!

Fred, Dennis and Francis tending to a minor bumper repair on the road in Masaka, Uganda

Fred, Dennis and Francis tending to a minor bumper repair on the road in Masaka, Uganda

Team RainCatcher - David Zielski, Martha McBride, Dennis Ssebuggwawo and Fred Mango

Team RainCatcher – David Zielski, Martha McBride, Dennis Ssebuggwawo and Fred Mango

In the end, this is vital information for us to get to our implementation partners – the more detailed we can be in the beginning, the more accurate costing we can get and the better reporting we can give to our donors. But, in the end, its all about getting these kids clean water!

Kids at their school that will be getting clean water in Mbarara, Uganda

Kids at their school that will be getting clean water in Mbarara, Uganda

Paying It Forward

All of our projects are gratifying. Each one is literally saving lives and establishing sustainable solutions that will, for quite a long while, continue to bring life-giving water to the communities they’re serving. That’s part of why we’re driven to this mission with RainCatcher, collectively and individually.

But, with RainCatcher, it’s not just dropping off filters and tanks and presuming our job is complete. In many situations, we encounter habits, traditions and some justifiable skepticism. This is why strong relationships with community leaders and continued monitoring are so crucial.

That HIV has had a devastating impact in Africa is not news, but it can be easy to forget what that looks like, day-to-day, in villages across the continent.

In the serendipitous way they sometimes do, a couple of the filters we’d donated in a community halfway across the country had made their way into a small area near Masaka via a small grassroots aid organization focused on serving orphans, CBIRD.
RestyJudeThe director, Jude Muleke, was eager to meet us during our brief visit to Masaka town in February and had contacted us via our partner Sula, who’d been helping bring portable clean-water systems to villages around Mbale. Sula had passed along the filters that were in use now, unbeknownst to RainCatcher, just a couple miles from the hotel where we were staying.

Jude wanted to both express gratitude and request our assistance in helping a woman he knew. We scrambled to fit in this unexpected visit as soon as we heard her story.

Resty had taken in five of her young relatives who’d been orphaned when their parents succumbed to AIDS. She was the sole relative and sole support for her five young charges and her own child, all younger than 12. She’d come to the attention of Jude because a couple of the orphans were being sponsored at their school by CBIRD.

He wanted us to meet her, because not only was she single-handedly keeping these kids out of an orphanage and off the street, but she is HIV positive. Jude had given her a filter, because, though Resty had gained access to medication, she was still quite weak, needed clean water to take her pills, and he wanted her to be able to leave the girls in school, rather than pulling them out to haul water and boil it for her.

The day we met her at her home, she brought out her bucket with the attached filter and proudly explained that she had boiled the water and was now going to filter it for us! Jude gave us a knowing look and we instantly understood the primary reason he wanted us to visit and visit TODAY. Resty needed a thorough demonstration of how the filter really worked and that she didn’t need to waster her limited resources “double treating” the water.
RestyJudeDennisWe sprung into action. Dennis, RainCatcher’s Uganda Country Director, conducted an impromptu filter demonstration in one of their shared languages so there would be no misunderstanding. Dennis and Fred, RainCatcher’s best teachers, trained the CBIRD reps on-the-fly and a crowd gathered on the road in front of Resty’s house, watching from a distance.
RestyJudeDennisDemoAs the unexpected demonstration on the lawn progressed, curious passersby moved in closer. Boys on their way back from a dirty water source about a mile away, pushing bikes weighed down by heavy yellow jerry cans, stopped, transfixed.
BoysOnBikeThe curious weren’t necessarily brave enough to try the filtered water, though. Dennis drank some. Then the American RainCatchers drank some. Then Resty. Then a brave volunteer from the crowd stepped up, leaving the other spectators to murmur and express their disbelief and disapproval. Though the courageous water sipper was the only “risk taker” in the moment, the crowd remained.

After saying goodbye to Resty and making further arrangements with CBIRD, we rushed off to our previously scheduled obligations. We were feeling really fortunate to have a partner like Jude in Masaka and looked forward to maybe meeting with him on our next visit to see what could be done next.

The very next day, Jude called to share the great news: Word of Resty’s magic filter had spread through that small neighborhood like wildfire and requests for demonstrations had been passed along to Jude.

Thrilled by the progress he’d instigated, Jude had already made plans to go back with more filters and demonstrate for a more receptive crowd, getting tools for safe clean water into more hands.

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