“Nothing in my family was going well. The makeshift kitchen was leaking badly. When it rained, my family had to go hungry. That was not all. We didn’t have a toilet. We shared with our neighbour. Sometimes we defecated in the nearby bushes”, narrates Hellen Nekesa, a 30-year-old mother.
Hellen has five children. Her family of seven shared a small house which they used mostly for sleeping. She ran a small vegetable stall and barely made enough to cater for her family. She and her husband had to run here and there to search for daily labour. Despite their commitment to fending for their family, daily labour was inaccessible in their area. Life was hard. There are times they could not even afford to pay the house rent.
“We are far from town. We had to walk two hours back and forth to search for pieces of labour. Sometimes we got a job, sometimes we didn’t. When we got a job, we returned with some bread for our children. If not, we were back barehanded, and our children had to sleep without eating their dinner”, Hellen continues.
Hellen’s mind and soul were restless. She couldn’t sleep well. “I was always thinking of what and how could I feed my children. Nights were longer and heavier for me; I couldn’t sleep well. People were reading my worries from my face and advising me not to fret, but I couldn’t [not]. Worries were heavily weighing on as I felt inadequate”, she says.
While Hellen and her family were in unending turbulence, her son’s sponsor sent them a gift notification. “When I got the news, I danced, ululated and sang! I hugged my son so tight. I couldn’t believe my ears when World Vision’s community worker told me that Rome’s sponsor had sent him money. The money reached us at our critical time. We thanked God so much and prayed for Rome’s sponsor for [their] blessing”, she says.
A gift notification is when a sponsored child receives a gift in a form of a letter, money, greeting card, or an item directly from their sponsors. Each time a gift notification is received by a child in the form of money, the child, together with the family, decides what to purchase or spend the money on.
Normally, families spend money on basic needs. Other items could be teaching and learning materials for the child, or food supplies to support the family during the lean season. This helps prevent sponsored children from travelling to neighbouring communities in search of food and money.
For instance, some families receive livestock animals for breeding and are encouraged to donate to other vulnerable families whenever animals litter in order to improve their livelihood. Some children also use their gift notifications to buy secondary school uniforms and this motivates them to study hard.
Savings and the gift notification supported Rome’s family to build a new family house as the existing house was too expensive and small to accommodate the family. The family’s food and clothing needs were also addressed. The family built a modern kitchen to replace the old one, as well as a toilet with a separate bathroom.
“Before, I was always scared whenever relieving myself, especially in the night-time or rainy days. I had to be stealthy as a thief”, she recalls. Hellen used to relieve herself in a hole dug in her family’s backyard, which was smelly and attracted a lot of flies.
Today, in addition to benefiting from her family's new house, Hellen’s business skills have also improved. In the past, she had lacked the capital to expand her vegetable business and, as a result, her business fetched her very little income. Aiming to expand her business, Hellen was mobilised and trained in saving, business skills and entrepreneurship. Now as a member of a savings group, she is able to save, borrow from the group’s revolving fund, and repay loans at an affordable interest rate.
Hellen’s life has greatly improved via gift notification support and loans from her savings group. She and her family are no longer defecating in the bushes or inconvenienced by sharing a toilet with their neighbour. She is no longer soaked by rain during the rainy season due to leakages in the roof of the kitchen. Owing to improved sanitation and hygiene, diarrhoeal-related diseases have been eliminated.
“We spent little money on buying some simple materials and didn’t hire any bricklayers. My husband dug a hole to make our toilet while I roofed it. Since we started using the new one, my children have not been sick with hygiene-related diseases such as red eyes or diarrhoea”, says Winnie, Hellen’s neighbour.
Rome’s father, Yusuf Asaba, runs a cinema hall. With enough food and a bigger family house, as well as a community better united through World Vision Uganda’s Household Engagement and Accountability Approach, this is a dream come true. “We are what we are because of our sponsors’ support”, says Yusuf, who also runs a carpentry workshop. “If I met Rome’s sponsor, I would thank him for changing our lives. We’re now able to fend for our families. We are even healthier because of a cleaner kitchen and toilet.”
Before World Vision intervened in Busitema, Elizabeth Alum, Programmes Manager for the Busitema Area Programme says many families lacked toilets. “The situation was not different in schools where most toilets were full and dilapidated”, she says.
After attending a communication session on water and sanitation organised by World Vision based on the community-led total sanitation approach, many households like Hellen's decided to invest their small savings to build new toilets. At an event to mark this important achievement, Hellen and other villagers were introduced to various models of toilets. They then selected which model was suitable for their financial conditions.
Yusuf and other participants were especially affected by a demonstration made by World Vision staff during the learning event. The staff member placed a small hair covered in faeces into a cup of fresh water. The water remained clear and looked as if it were clean, but was certainly not.
“It is horrible! Now, I understand that it is the way that flies land on faeces and then land on our water and food. We usually drink that kind of faeces-contaminated water without knowing about the risk”, says Samuel, a member of the community.
After the session, Yusuf became the first one who volunteered to build a toilet. World Vision’s staff and volunteers gave him technical support whenever he needed it.
Many people across Yusuf's village started following him. Those who had enough money built a modern toilet including a tippy-tap for washing hands. Others who had a limited budget preferred simple but clean toilets. For those without enough money or the ability to do the labour, World Vision volunteers encouraged community members to share technical or financial support.
More than 405,000 people have benefited from World Vision’s sanitation programmes across Uganda. Yet, up to 27 million Ugandans do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.
Rome, 6, is among 39 sponsored children enjoying improved sanitation in his community, thanks to the generosity of people like you. With four more children benefiting for every child sponsored, you can be assured that your generosity and support will impact the lives of many vulnerable children by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice.
By Damalie Mukama Nankunda - Sponsorship Correspondence Assistant, World Vision in Uganda