My name is George Oryangotum, and I am a Public Health Assistant working with Oxfam. In June 2020, shortly after COVID 19 lockdown in Uganda, I got the opportunity to join Oxfam under the mentorship program designed for graduate trainees, to learn comprehensive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) implementation, interpersonal and organizational skills in the Humanitarian response.

Upon arrival, I could not fully comprehend implementing WASH in a humanitarian emergency setting. There was a lot to learn about my role as a public health promotion trainee but within a few weeks of learning on the job and with guidance from my supervisor, I was assigned to implement and oversee public health promotional activities in the 3 zones of Buliti, Bukere and Itambabinga of Kyaka II settlement.

Buliti is one of the nine zones in Kyaka II refugee settlement, Kyegegwa district, where refugees fleeing the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo are resettled. It holds a population of about 2,500 households and It is divided into two villages, A and B and in both these villages; Oxfam is implementing an integrated WASH project with funding from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). Most of the refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo speak Kiswahili, which I gladly had some knowledge about. It was the most effective language for communication with the leadership structure and refugee community in Buliti, as opposed to English, French and Ugandan local languages. 

My scope of work in Buliti zone involved engaging leadership structures like Village Health Teams (VHTs), Refugee Welfare Councils (RWCs) and other leaders to verify, support, and report ongoing hygiene and sanitation practices in the refugee households. These range from latrine and bath shelter construction, to ensuring the presence of basic household items like hand washing facilities (tippy taps) and a drying rack. These are all humanitarian interventions to improve the state of sanitation and hygiene within Buliti, and eventually Kyaka II settlement; thus preventing diarrheal and communicable diseases among refugee communities. 

Extending Water to Persons of Concern

Water is life, but safe water is a better life, as per the sphere standards – the bible that I always referred to while in doubt. This comes to life when I think of Buliti zone, which is served by 6 water points (4 tap stands and 2 boreholes). Oxfam supports the different activities, for example, water supply, Household sanitation and Hygiene activities through the distribution of latrine construction support items such as; dome-shaped slabs, poles, door shutters, tippy taps and soap for jerry can cleaning with an objective of maintaining safe water chain through clean receptacles. Maintaining a safe water chain has, however, had its challenges at each water point, including blocked wastewater channels, broken tap locks, bushy surroundings, and lack of handwashing facilities at water points causing marshy and dirty surroundings, water wastage, dirty hands and water collection containers.

All these challenges have been solved through; formation and reactivating (training) of functional Water User Committees (WUCs) that mobilize community members to maintain water points, through cleaning campaigns (both the water points and the water containers or jerrycans). Community members have been encouraged to pay water user fees, intended to support repairs and fencing all the water points.

Over time (4 months), the continued collection of water user fees has enabled the Water User Committees to have savings of up to three hundred thousand shillings (300,000). This money facilitates the operation and maintenance of water points which has resulted into self-sustaining and reliable communities in terms of safe water access. There have also been noticeable achievements in ensuring that every household in Buliti Zone of Kyaka II settlement maintains a safe water chain including cleaning of jerry cans twice a week.

Introducing innovations for more sustainable water supply

With the introduction of the water ATM project to Buliti by Oxfam innovation hub, I am sure of better and safe water usage practices, ownership among the community members and efficient leadership structures.

I will always be grateful to the leadership structure of Buliti zone for the cooperation and their commitment towards safe water chain management among the refugee community.