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WEF Cover Story: Clean Water for Ugandan School
April 3, 2007

 Water Environment Federation


Clean Water for Ugandan School

In rural Uganda, school children have much more than homework assignments on their minds. Lack of clean drinking water, disease, and poor sanitation are issues that touch the lives of children and their families each day, sometimes forcing education to take a backseat to more pressing problems.

The Global Water Foundation (GWF; Naples, FL) is looking to change this. Founded in 2005 by the 2006 Wimbledon senior doubles champion, Johan Kriek, the foundation works to raise public awareness, provide technical assistance, and support research to facilitate access to safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries. Currently, GWF is working with contractors and community members in Uganda to improve the water and sanitation conditions at the Ndolwa Parents School.

Located in the southeastern Ugandan town of Budiope, the 983-student school has 150 students per classroom and is noted by GWF as being one of the poorest performing schools in the region.

A Global Vision
In 2003, Kriek - a native South African - attended the World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.

"Water was focus of first 2 to 3 days [of the forum]," Kriek said. "It was extremely interesting to me. When I listen to what is happening in third world, I thought, ‘what can I do as an athlete?'" Kriek felt there was something he could do - with the foundation of his celebrity status - to bring attention to water issues of the developing world.

Together with Minnie Hildebrand, a former water utility executive in South Africa, Kriek decided to start a foundation that would focus on improving the technologies that provide clean water and sanitation. Hildebrand said being a charitable organization with a focus on technology is an important aspect of GWF.

"There's a whole lot of innovative ideas ... to process sustainable water supply, which many of the other charities can't go for because they may not be the engineering or the technical type, or their founding statements may prohibit them or preclude it," she explained. "For us it was a very clear thing. The universities and the people who do [research and development], they often have the money to test and develop the product, but they have no money to get it out there."

Hildebrand said that as GWF grows, she and Kriek hope to introduce innovative products and present them to the community members within developing countries. This is a goal, she said, because not only are the current hand pumps installed in many poor and rural regions "archaic," but also because there is currently a lack in educating community members on how newer water technologies function and how they can be repaired.

"People in rural areas are poor, not stupid," Hildebrand said. "Poor doesn't make anyone necessarily stupid."

A Community in Need
The Ndolwa Parents School is located more than 4.8 km (3 mi) from the nearest water source - Lake Kyoga - according to Hildebrand. The lake is an unsuitable source of drinking, and according to GWF, many school children suffer from skin conditions and diseases due to its heavy pollution and the general lack of sanitation. The school was chosen as a GWF project, she said, "for no other reason than it was a community that had no water at all."

Often times, days that should be spent in the classroom are spent collecting water, she said of the school children.

"They live in squalor; they have no money," Kriek said, "and if they survive past certain age, it's a miracle."

Through a system of boreholes and pumps, GWF is working on getting the school clean water. Boreholes in the region typically yield about 800 L/h (211 gal/h), Hildebrand explained. The one GWF created on the school site yields about 2300 L/h (608 gal/h), and the groundwater - pumped out by Mono Pumps Solar Pumping System (Manchester, U.K.) - goes to a 2600 gallon storage tank. A second tank on the grounds is located in the school garden, providing clean water to grow vegetables, Hildebrand said.

"It's a little like mining diamonds," she said of the boreholes. "At some point the diamonds are going to be mined out. So boreholes do have an end. In this particular case we're lucky," Hildebrand added, as laboratory testing revealed water from the boreholes to be clean and free of metal pollutants. If it was deemed unclean from drinking, "what we would then do is probably put a very inexpensive solar pasteurization unit on the roof of the school, costs about $3 [U.S.] a year to run - and it gets replaced in 21 years and is about $42 to install."

Fundraising for Water
With the assistance of his friends - some of whom are well-known tennis professionals, including John McEnroe and Jim Courier - Kriek set out to raise money for GWF projects through various sporting and fundraising events.

Recently, Kriek, who resides in Naples, Fla., said he thought "maybe I can do something with the Cape Argus race - the biggest [bike] race in the world" to raise awareness of water problems and raise money for the foundation's projects. The 105-km (65-mi) Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour in Cape Town was just one idea Kriek had as a fundraising source. GWF also planned the 6.4-km (4-mi) Walk for Water in Sanibel Island, Fla. The walk replicates the average distance an African woman must walk to reach a water source, according to GWF, and typically when she arrives at the source, she learns the water is unsuitable for drinking.

Kriek said the reception the Ndolwa school project has been receiving among the local community members has been very positive. "It means everything to them," he said. "Healthy people mean a more productive community. Kids can go to school instead of fetching water."

"This is a foundation rooted in two very solid things," said Hildebrand. "One is water and sanitation provision to the poorest of the poor. And the other is never forgetting that there are technologies that one can apply where one can more or less guarantee the probability of sustainability."

As for future plans, Kriek said the school in Uganda is merely a start for GWF. "We hope to do thousands more," Kriek said of the school project.

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- Meghan H. Oliver


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