A local couple have renewed efforts to help residents of a Ugandan village retain a very precious commodity -water. Paula and Geoff Owen recently helped build a spring water containment tank while teaching health education in the village of Adakingo.
But assisting the people of Africa is nothing new for the couple. Last October, Squamish residents were offered a glimpse into the Owens' efforts to build a water catchment in another Ugandan village in the documentary Catching Rain, presented by Grassroots Assistance in Rural Development (GARD).
They had planned to help build a similar catchment for the people of Adakingo, but plans quickly changed when they discovered an opportunity in an unprotected spring that didn't dry up through the dry season. Instead of developing a large-scale catchment system that would only trap surface or rainwater, they helped develop a new tank design to contain and protect the spring. The tank was constructed with cement and concrete slabs and holds about 6,000 litres of water, stated Paula in an email.
"We have heard that the tank has had people from as far as an hour away coming to see it, and it has sparked interest for more spring protection in the surrounding areas," she said. "Other villages nearby also collect water from this source, so the population is a bit hard to gauge, but we estimate 1,200 people are using the source."
The designing and building of the tank took about two months with the help of seven paid workers. Meanwhile, the community contributed to the project by building a fence around the area to keep cattle out, and a road to the spring for transporting materials. They also collected clay that was used to protect the spring, and helped excavate the area needed for the tank.
The Owens also ran a biosand filter and education program focusing on sanitation and health care. Both were very successful, Paula said.
"They have changed the way they eat, and have started to teach others about the importance of good hygiene. It really has been amazing to see the changes," she stated.
After completing the project, the Owens travelled to South Africa near Cape Town where Geoff is earning a Masters in Geology at Stellenbosch University and Paula is studying Naturopathy. The transition from tight community to wealthy nation with harsh class and racial distinctions has been difficult, said Paula.
"We miss chatting to people on the street, having kids run after us, old men wanting to tell us their stories," she stated.
"I think, even though people are poorer in Uganda, they have a richness in not being so angry like people seem to be here. They are rich because they just are - they have their small homes and battle for clean water and to send their kids to school, but they are happy nonetheless. That is what we found hard to transition."