Last year, the Redemption Song Foundation worked with Giving Tuesday - the Tuesday after Thanksgiving - to galvanize interest and raise money in our “Clean Water for Christmas” campaign. We exceeded our expectations! After reaching the goal of $7,500, Redemption Song Foundation (RSF) and our partner Buhoma-Mukono Community Development Association (BMCDA) started the hard labor. We hired Batwa and other locals to dig trenches and lay pipe to connect the existing gravity water scheme to where we expanded it to reach.
Getting the Batwa clean water was an act of environmental justice. Although BMCDA began the the gravity water scheme 10 years ago, harvesting water from a freshwater spring located inside Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the Batwa have never benefitted from it. Under a grant, BMCDA had built public tap stands in the market centers of Buhoma, Nkwenda and Buhoma, but residents had to pay 12,000 shillings per month - only about $3 US and although some Ugandans can afford this, it remained impossible for the Batwa financially. Instead, they drank water from Munyaga river because it was freely available - but so polluted with fecal coliform bacteria and other pathogens and parasites that they frequently have gastrointestinal illnesses.
Every 1 out of 5 childhood deaths in Africa come from preventable water borne pathogens, amoebas, and fecal coliform bacteria. The pathogens in dirty water cause the human body to respond with diarrhea, increasing the likelihood of fecal matter seeping into Bwindi, Uganda’s water, especially when they engage in open defecation - which they do more often with diarrhea because they can't always make it to the latrine. Bad water also causes people living with HIV to fall ill more readily, shortening their lives.
In March of this year, after all the pipes were laid, the concrete bases installed and tap stands constructed, everyone celebrated. The Batwa and others sang and shouted in joy as they carried the huge black plastic storage tank from Buhoma village up the hill to Kalehe - the settlement where the Batwa families with whom RSF works with live, owned in trust by Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT). The Batwa ate some pork provided by BMCDA and danced. sang songs and celebrated while technicians installed the tank. Filmmaker and photographers David Barron and Ruben Rassi were visiting and created a moving video of the day.
After the tank was installed, we connected the faucets and watched the clean water flow! The Batwa are finally receiving the clean, fresh water from the spring inside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest that they lost access to just a few decades ago. Getting clean water was one of the Batwa's requests to our director Wendee from the first community meeting held - and now they have received some justice for the wrongs that had been done to them from their loss of access to the park. Also, suffering due to preventable waterborne illness is reduced, so long as they continue to drink the water from the taps.
Everyone has the right to life and part of that right, is the right to clean water. Water is life! Watch the precious video above of the Kalehe Batwa kids enjoying water for the first time from their tap! We later added concrete around the faucet to make it more secure.
The gravity system is an excellent one because it reduces the chance something electronic or mechanical will break, costing further money or worse, eliminating the water supply. The system has supplied the region in an excellent manner for a decade and now the Batwa benefit! Everyone is so thankful!