Kabahango Filter Distribution

Partnering with women in Uganda

Field Note #232

For the women of Kabahango, a filter is more than clean water, health and education. Filters free up time previously spent boiling water over open fires, reduce dependencies on firewood and bottled water, and allow women to invest in a micro-enterprise that gives financial independence and pays children's school fees.

This village is like most in the rural regions of western Uganda - there is no municipal water, no sanitation system, the electric grid is limited, the dirt roads stretch for miles with no maintenance, schools are under-resourced, healthcare is practically non-existent, and employment is hard to find. Families depend on their gardens and livestock, micro-enterprises, and each other. Women collect water from streams and hand dug "wells" where natural springs bubble up to the surface during the rainy seasons. Of course, all of this water is contaminated.

The Humura Women's Coop was started several years ago by Traxier Komuntale as way to help rural women in the Kabarole District meet their family needs and pay for school fees. The first 25 women starting making paper bead jewelry, then they sold traditional baskets, and now they have basket contracts with a UK buyer that provides income for more than 350 women in the coop. I asked some of the women what this micro-enterprise meant to them.School fees is what most women use their income for, but their growing financial independence is clearly visible.

"We can look smart," Rose told me, "I have my own money now and don't have to ask a man to buy a dress."

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In partnership with Wine To Water, leaders from the Humura Coop started using filters as a cost effective way to filter water collected water from highly contaminated sources like streams and open "pools." Without filtration, women are cutting or purchasing firewood in attempt to boil contaminated water over open fires which leads to greater deforestation in these mountain areas already facing environmental stresses. Alternatively, families drink water without filtration which leads to even higher rates of waterborne diseases or use precious financial resources for bottled water creating a dependency on plastics.

"I enjoy drinking water," one coop leader said. Before the filter she explained, it took so much effort to collect water and boil it, she saved the clean drinking water for her children only. "Now I take a drink whenever I am thirsty," she told me.

After several months witnessing the impact of the filters in the homes of coop leaders, all the weavers are ready to invest in their own filter as way to get access to clean water.

I arrived just a week before a large basket order was due and the filter distribution was definitely an interruption in their weaving schedule. I counted over 100 women all sitting on the ground with their weaving supplies spread out, working on baskets while mothering infants and toddlers. The women purchased their filter buckets as a group to negotiate a good price and used income from their last basket sale to invest in water.

While they were anxious to keep weaving, they were ready for their filters. The moment the WASH training started, weaving stopped and even though only 64 women were getting filters on this day, the entire group of over 100 weavers came in hopeful anticipation that the rest would receive filters from the next distribution.

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There was a buzz of excitement and a sense of urgency. Leaders had a list of names, each women who had invested in the coop as an "original" weaver was chosen to receive a filter on this day and her names was carefully checked and crossed off. The women drilled their own buckets, assembled their filters, and patiently stood in long lines to have the two younger women write thank you notes in english back to filter sponsors.

One by one, they gathered their filters with weaving supplies and children in tow, and drifted away into dirt paths and roadways to continue working.

-Tina Owen, Vice President of Fund Development