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What does this child have to do with economic empowerment?

What does this photo of a child eating a bowl of rice have to do with economic empowerment?

Clean water is an essential first step of economic empowerment, but in order to create sustainable change you have to go much deeper than just water. Although Drop in the Bucket is mainly thought of as a water charity, drilling wells is just the first step. What happens when the wells break? Just like cars, computers or almost anything else that gets a lot of use, well pumps are eventually going to break. A routine repair that costs just a few dollars could leave a well broken if the community does not have enough money to fix it.

Savings groups are a logical solution to make sure that funds are always available to cover inevitable repairs. Built on community participation and access to funds, they are key to ensuring clean water for generations.

Drop in the Bucket’s community savings groups program consists of a highly structured system of saving, borrowing and lending money generated from local contributions, which provides a financial incentive for the community to keep the wells working. At each project we train local workers in basic pump maintenance and repair. These workers can then charge a fee from the community for their service. The goal is to create a sense of ownership and independence of the well. After the community has saved enough money to cover any repairs, community participants are invited to submit their ideas to the group for new business ventures.

Loans are voted on by association members, must be used for income-generating activities and paid back with interest. At the end of each year, the interest is divided among the group members. This not only provides a fund to cover maintenance on the well, but also provides an opportunity for the villagers to achieve financial independence.

So what does the photo have to do with our savings groups? Well, the child is eating a bowl of seasoned rice and the reason she is so happy is because rice is a treat where she lives in Uganda. What makes this day special is because there is no special occasion. It’s not her birthday, or Christmas, it’s just a normal day but she gets to eat the rice she loves.

Her mother is a member of a savings group set up to support the well Drop in the Bucket drilled at Father Omoding Primary School in Serere, Uganda. Her mother borrowed a small amount of money to get her business started and is now doing so well that her daughter can eat rice on days that aren’t holidays. Her financial independence is what puts a smile on her face. Her daughter’s smile might have something to do with how great her mom’s rice tastes.

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Meet Robert from the Dokolo Kamuda savings group

In 2014 Drop in the Bucket drilled a well at the Dokolo Kamuda primary school in Soroti, Along with the well, we also formed a village savings group for the local community.

A savings group is a structured system of lending and borrowing money that had been developed for use in rural communities. The idea is to create a village level bank where the villagers are the customers and the owners.

Money is collected before we drill by the community. This money becomes seed money that group members can borrow from to start small businesses. The members pitch their ideas for money making businesses to the group and the group selects the ideas they want to fund. People often start with simple projects such as raising crops or livestock, but as time goes on the ideas tend to get more ambitious.

Loans are paid back with interest and at the end of each year, the group members get to divide up the money.

The Dokolo Kamuda savings group grew so large, that the members had to split into two groups. Robert is a member of Group Two.

Robert spent several years working as an assistant to a vet. He later branched out on his own administering medicine to sick animals and handling routine procedures like de-worming cattle.

When Robert first joined the savings group, he already owned three young bulls. He had been looking to buy a third and was having difficulty saving the money he needed. He joined the Dokolo Kamuda village savings group and submitted his plan to purchase a fourth bull. He explained to the group that with a fourth bull he would be able to earn money ploughing fields for all of the local farmers..

Robert explained that he was going to charge 80,000 UGX per acre and that it takes on average about 2-3 days to plough a full acre. Because there is so much farming in the area, his services would be in high demand. The group agreed to lend him the money and they set an interest rate and a schedule for the repayments.

The first year went better than expected, so now Robert has decided to get a second plough. Because the bulls are now more mature, he will be able to use two bulls per plough instead of putting all four on just one. This will enable Robert to get twice as many fields ploughed each week and will also help the entire community to plant more crops during this season.

Later this year Robert intends to purchase a motorcycle so that he can increase the area where he works. This is a purchase he intends to make without having to borrow money from the group as his ploughing business is booming. The Dokolo-Kamuda village savings group has made so many things possible for Robert and he is so happy he is was able to join and participate.

Savings groups are a perfect example of how a small amount of money can make a huge impact on someone’s life. We are very proud of the difference groups like Robert’s are making and it is very exciting to see all of the small businesses that spring up from each group. It’s like each well starts a chain reaction of empowerment that ripples out through the community. We are grateful to be able to do this work and grateful to our donors for making this all possible.

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Astrophysics and Gender Equality

In a year of so many great losses, there is one you may not know about. Last week we lost a scientist who made a huge impact on the world. Although Vera Rubin, was not well known outside of the scientific community. In the scientific world, she was a star.

It may seem strange for a clean water nonprofit to memorialize the death of an astrophysicist, but it will soon become clear why we are. Rubin, whose work confirmed dark matter—the still mysterious substance that comprises about 90% of our universe—was a pioneer for women around the world.

She and her father built a telescope from scratch when she was a child, and her fascination with the sky never waned. Her passion informed her studies, eventually culminating in a Ph.D. at Georgetown. But she faced patriarchal obstacles all along the way. While attempting to become the first woman to observe at Caltech’s legendary Palomar Observatory in the 1960s, she was informed that there was no room for women—not even a bathroom. Undeterred, she cut a skirt out of a piece of paper and stuck it to the stick figure on the men’s room door and said ‘Look, now you have a ladies room’.

It was that part of her story that inspired us so much. In the communities where we work, girls are often forced to drop out of school for two main reasons: 1) they are tasked with the time-consuming process of collecting water for their families and/or 2) they must miss significant school time each month during their menstrual cycles because schools lack proper sanitation systems. In sub-Saharan Africa, too many girls have missed out on their full potential because they lack life’s most basic need—water.

 

In her book Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters, Rubin wrote:

“I live and work with three basic assumptions.

1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.

2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.

3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women.”

During her career, Rubin received the National Medal of Science, our nation’s highest scientific prize, and she became the first woman since 1928 to earn the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal. She also mentored scores of young female scientists and pushed for academic institutions to hire more women to their staffs.

Students from the Akolodong primary school in Uganda where Drop in the Bucket recently drilled a well.
Students from the Akolodong primary school in Uganda where Drop in the Bucket recently drilled a well.

At Drop in the Bucket, we believe that access to education, like water, is a fundamental human right. And while it is now uncommon to find schools here without toilets for girls, it is still all too commonplace in East Africa. That fact is driving us to install more sanitation systems and drill more wells than ever in 2017. What if all that stands between the world and the next Vera Rubin is access to a bathroom?

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The 2016 Drop in the Bucket Holiday e-Card

Oh the weather outside is frightful… Yes, it’s almost that most wonderful time of the year again, but as great as the holidays are, finding that perfect gift can also be stressful. This year we’ve made things easy for everyone. What’s the one gift everybody wants and that never goes out of style? How about giving the gift of health, happiness, and life. This year, give the gift of clean water with our easy and convenient Drop in the Bucket holiday e-card.

This year’s e-card features a beautiful portrait from our good friend, photographer Star Sargenti. Drop in the Bucket had just finished drilling a well for the Kyere Township Primary School in Uganda,  when Star took this photo. The image of a child enjoying his first taste of clean water really captured the moment. The absolute unbridled joy that children experience when tasting clean water for the first time. As soon as we saw the picture, we knew we needed to share the moment with everyone.

Blank image for the 2016 Drop in the Bucket holiday e-Card
2016 Drop in the Bucket holiday eCard.

 

These cards are the perfect gift for someone you love, work with, or just for that person who is difficult to buy for. After all, who wouldn’t want to change someone’s life with clean water this holiday season?

The cards have space on the right to add text. When they are filled out they look like this:

Drop in the Bucket 2016 holiday e-card image.
The perfect Holiday gift!

 

To get your card, just click this link, just enter your name, the name of the person you want to send the card to, and their email. You can also add a personal message to the email if you want and that’s it! We will take care of the rest, no waiting in line, no crowded stores and no items out of stock. Just the perfect gift everyone will love, because kindness never goes out of style!

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Back to School with Lucy Acomo

Meet Lucy Acomo

You already know this story is about her. She wears an orange and blue dress in a sea of green school uniforms. In a classroom full of teenagers, she sits with a smirk on her face and an infant snuggled and snoozing against her stomach. She is Lucy Acomo. She is 43 years old. And you can tell already, she isn’t embarrassed and she isn’t ashamed — she’s excited to be in school.

Lucy was born in the Katakwi district of Uganda during a civil war in Uganda. Like too many girls of her generation — and even now — she was forced to quit school in order to take care of her family. She never even learned to read and write. And like too many girls of her generation — and even now — she was forced to marry at the age of 14 to a man she hardly knew. Her husband, Echana Paul, only received a fourth-grade education and now works security at a local hospital. Together, they have nine children, from 17-year-old Ekokor Jorem to 6-month-old Acom Pascalina, the girl slung on her in the photo. To supplement Echana’s income — and to feed her family — Lucy grows crops.

Consider, for a moment, what a day in Lucy’s life looks like. Even before she wakes at first light to make breakfast for her children and husband and make sure they get off to school and work on time, she’s up at her infant’s cries several times. Once the rest of her family is gone, she splits her time tending to her land and maintaining her household — mending and washing clothes, buying and preparing food, cleaning her home.
It would have been easy for her to feel sorry for herself, or to blame the many factors that robbed her of an education and the opportunities that come with it — her parents, her husband, her culture, her country. But she never has.

One day a couple years ago, she visited some of her children at Aputiput primary school near her home. The teachers told Lucy not only about her children’s progress, but also about a new opportunity: an adult literacy program. Parents could sit in with students and receive the education they’d been denied. Lucy signed up straight away.

But of course it isn’t in Lucy’s nature to do something for just herself, so she found work at the school as well. She has volunteered to cook lunch for the entire school for free while she attends. And she also serves as the school’s treasurer, collecting fees and distributing money to the teachers and for school maintenance.

And she can now read and write.

To her husband and children, Lucy is an inspiration. Her children, especially, have learned to love education and appreciate the opportunities that they’ve received because of her hard work. They want to go to college. They want to be lawyers and veterinarians and nurses.

And Lucy? She wants to take social science classes and become a stronger math student. At the end of each day, her wrists ache from the writing and her back aches from the fields and her feet ache from the miles she walks, but she isn’t complaining — and she isn’t slowing down. She’s never felt better.

Every day, we witness inspiring stories like Lucy’s. In sub-Saharan Africa, adults and children alike are eager to learn, are eager for better lives, but they lack the same opportunities we take for granted each day. One of the biggest obstacles in creating a fair world for all people — most especially girls in developing nations — is lack of access to clean drinking water.

All over East Africa, girls drop out of school to fetch water for their families and are relegated to lives of service instead of self-fulfillment. Water is a basic human right, essential to keeping people alive and in good health, but when coupled with education, water has the power to change the world.

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The Story Behind the Photo

This is how the world changes: One school at a time, one class a time, one child at a time. The war in South Sudan had kept this girl from getting an education, but now the schools are open again and she is eager to learn.

This is her classroom. There are no computers or textbooks or even walls, just a blackboard leaning against a tree. The class is taking a break right now, but she remained to make sure she fully understood the lesson. What’s written on this blackboard alone won’t change her life, but her education can help pull her out of poverty and give her the opportunity for a future she deserves.

We are grateful that we were able to build a well at her school so that she doesn’t have to worry about anything other than what’s on that blackboard every day while she’s at school. And we’re grateful to you, our donors, from making this work possible.

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More Than Just Water

World Water Day March 22nd 2016

Some of you may know that today is World Water Day, though it would be easy to miss. Not a lot about water grabs our attention — until we need it and it isn’t available.
In less fortunate parts of the world, access to water is a daily struggle, something people can’t choose not to think about. For World Water Day, we usually post an article or video shining light on water issues in Africa, but this year, we thought we’d do something different.

The introduction of fresh, safe drinking water is the most immediate life-changing benefit of drilling a deep water well in sub-Saharan Africa. But there are other, longer-term benefits that are also impactful.

Agnes Akurut tends to her turkeys in Uganda. Agnes was able to buy turkeys after receiving a loan from a Village Savings and Loan Association group set up by the Los Angeles based non-profit Drop in the Bucket.
Agnes Akurut tends to her turkeys in Uganda.

 

Agnes Akurut felt trapped by her circumstances. As a child, she wasn’t afforded an education, and as a result, as an adult, she’d struggled to find work. She’d always felt that she had an entrepreneurial spirit, but she had a hard time convincing people to believe in her ideas. She was also a struggling single mother of three, so making sure her kids had food, clothing and an education was a priority that took up most of her time and energy.

Her biggest fear was that this cycle seemed destined to repeat itself and her children would also grow up to live in poverty. Agnes was determined to do everything in her power to make sure her kids would receive the best education possible.

“Where I live, there is nothing more important than educating your children,” Agnes said. “If you earn money, you send your kids to school and if you can earn more money, you send them to a better school.”

Joining a Village Savings and Loan Association

In June 2014, Agnes’ life changed when she was offered the chance to join a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) group set up by Drop in the Bucket at the Dokolo Kamuda Primary School in Dokolo, Uganda. The VSLA is a village run system of neighbors lending and borrowing money to each other to start small businesses. The system is linked to a local well and the money is collected in the form of monthly water user fees. Every family in the community, that can afford to, pays an small fee to access the school’s water well. The fees are collected each month at meetings where villagers pitch their business ideas. The villagers are taught which ideas are most likely to succeed and which ones are most likely to fail. The ventures are intended to spur economic growth throughout the community.

Agnes was one of the first people in Dokolo to qualify for a loan. She put the money — and herself — to work right away by buying 15 young turkeys with the 100,000 Ugandan shillings ($30) she borrowed. Agnes was so excited to get the turkeys

“This is the first time I have ever had money to invest in my ideas” she said.

Within a few months Agnes was able to pay the loan back and requested a second one – this time she asked for 50,000 shillings ($15), which she used to buy chickens and roosters.

Today, just two years since her initial loan, Agnes has 40 birds, which she sells to the local hotels for profit. Although she’s earning enough to make ends meet, she dreams of expanding her business even further. When she’s eligible for another loan, she wants to build a coop to better protect her investments and to make it easier to collect their eggs and make even more of a profit.

Agnes proudly told us that she is now able to send her children to the best school in the area.

“I will make sure they receive the best education possible,” Agnes says, “and, because of this, they may be the first in my family to make something more of themselves.”

Actually, that distinction must already go to Agnes.

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Lobule Village is now Open Defecation Free

Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)

When we think about clean water in the developing world, wells are an easy idea to support. By now, most of us are aware that a frightening number of people globally — about 1 in 10 — lack access to clean water. Clean drinking water is vital for life, and at DROP we’re committed to seeing that every man, woman and child on the planet gets it. But there’s another issue that affects more people around the world and yet is discussed much less frequently: Sanitation and more specifically, the practice of open defecation.

It’s often embarrassing to talk about toilets, but the lack of sanitation in the developing world is a devastating problem. According to the most recent UNICEF update on Sanitation and Drinking Water, we are making great progress in clean water.  In fact the population lacking clean water has been reduced by half in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, we have simultaneously fallen short in sanitation. There are still 2.4 billion people on this planet who lack access to proper sanitation facilities. That is one in every three people! In 2013, UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson launched a Call to Action on Sanitation. His goal was eliminating the practice of open defecation by 2025. It’s estimated that lack of sanitation causes about 50% of diseases globally.

Lobule Village

Drop in the Bucket was recently given a grant to help eliminate open defecation in Lobule Village, which is in Eastern Equatoria state in South Sudan. Like many people in the developing world, the people of Lobule would defecate in the open — most commonly in bushes near their homes. If it makes you uncomfortable to think about a village with no toilets, imagine how it would be to actually live like that on a daily basis. Nobody in Lobule Village had the convenience or privacy of using a toilet. In fact the entire community was living just steps away from their own waste. As well at the flies, smell and risk of disease, there were also other risks. Some children would be embarrassed and walk outside the safety of the village and were abducted after dark.

Open Defecation Free (ODF) Certification

In June 2015, we gathered the entire village — about 550 people total — and walked with them from household to household to see every family’s “restroom.” We brought food with us and sat it down as we began a presentation. The community listened to our presentation while watching flies buzz back and forth between the food and the feces. We showed them posters of flies’ feet and explained how flies carried germs and diseases onto your food and into your body. After the presentation we left our contact information and left the village.

Although this approach may seem harsh, it is essential. In many communities, we are battling against long-ingrained practices and behaviors, and we must be sure that the community wants to change. Many organizations will build excellent facilities but will not take time to perform adequate training and education. These are the projects that often fail. Creating structures is rarely the issue. Change happens with awareness and education. It only happens when communities want to change their own behavior.

Within days, the leaders of Lobule called us and asked to come back and help them. Our trainers went to Lobule and taught each household how dig their own a pit latrines. The results have been extraordinary. Women have more privacy, children are safer and the community is happier and healthier.

“There is no more feces in our surroundings, no more stench coming from our environment,” said Margarate Chongdok, a member of the village. “Thanks to Drop in the Bucket for helping us to build for ourselves these pit latrines.”

A reason to celebrate

There aren’t celebratory images to share of toilets like there are of wells. And that’s for good reason — using the bathroom should be a private, sanitary experience for every person in the world. It may not be easy to discuss, but in the developing world it is just as important to eliminate the practice of open defecation as it is to provide clean drinking water. At DROP, we’re committed to combating every aspect of the global water crisis. That is precisely why Lobule village’s open defecation free status is something to celebrate.

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A Vision For Giving Tuesday

Ivan Egaru has never seen, but he has listened. The only son of a blind mother and father, Ivan was born without sight. In his home as a small child, he would wash away his loneliness with music on the radio. Fortunately, Ivan’s parents found out about the Madera School for the Blind and sent him there in 2011. These days, Ivan can read and write braille and is learning several instruments. He also sings ceaselessly—both songs he picks up from the radio and his own compositions. Four years ago, he and his parents didn’t have much hope for his future. Now he dreams of being a musician, so that he can share with people the happiness he experiences when he hears music.

In Madera’s 60-year history, the school has never had a modern sanitation system. DROP has already built showers and toilets, but we need about $20,000 to complete the project by installing a solar pump that will give the school clean water forever. That figure may seem insurmountable, but so too do the odds of a blind boy in sub-Saharan Africa finding his vision for the future. Today, give to fund a brighter future for Ivan and the 100 other children at Madera by going to this link.

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Sometimes, It Just Can’t Wait – World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day 2015

Today is World Toilet Day, a day in which we stop and think about the fact that one in every three people on this planet don’t have access to the most basic of human rights, a toilet.

Drop in the Bucket works with many communities and schools who have no toilets at all. When people need to go, they go out and find some nearby bushes. This attracts flies, and flies spread diseases. One of the most common and deadly is diarrhea. Diarrhea kills approximately 2,195 children every day, according to a 2010 World Health Organization and UNICEF study on child mortality. In fact, diarrhea causes more deaths than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined! One significant difference is that diarrhea is easily preventable and treatable. It has a very simple and efficient cure — soap, water, and access to a toilet.

Drop-in-the-Bucket-Torit-World-Toilet-Day-school-health-club-play
World Toilet Day 2015. Drop in the Bucket staff and the school health club put on a play to teach better hygiene practices.

Sanitation Education

Of course, the most effective way to combat diarrhea and other sanitation related diseases is prevention and the best way to achieve that is through education. These photos were taken yesterday by one of DROP’s teams in Torit, South Sudan. The first picture shows the school drama club putting on a play for the students and the local community. The actors are talking about the benefits of going to a health center rather than going to a local witchdoctor. On the surface, the play is simply entertaining, but it also contains messages designed to educate the audience about healthier sanitation practices.

Open Defecation

Open defecation is a huge issue in many parts of the developing world and it is a massive problem in South Sudan. It is easy to build toilets, but getting people to use them can be more complicated. The challenge lies in getting community members to understand the ramifications to their health of open defecation and poor sanitation. The open air is sunny with pleasant smells, trees, and grass all around, so asking people to go into a dark and smelly pit latrine can sometimes be a hard sell. However, once you start talking to people about what happens when flies go from human waste to the food they are about to eat, that pit latrine might start to sound a lot more enticing.

Community Led Total Sanitation

This method of education is part of a program called “community led total sanitation” or CLTS, which was started a few years ago in Bangladesh. Although there are critics who suggest that it has not been successful in every area, for Drop, it has been extremely effective. Witnessing the joyful celebrations of villagers after it was declared that they were the first ODF (open defecation free) community in Torit county, really proves just how effective this method of education can be.

A four pronged approach

Although the numbers for how many people need toilets are staggering, progress is being made. Each community that gets certified as ODF is a huge victory. Not just because of the immediate health benefits, but also for the long term amount of lives saved. Then there’s the school and work days that won’t be missed due to sickness,]. Most importantly the children who may get to live past the age of five years old with proper sanitation. Toilets are one of the first steps towards better health and brighter futures. For us at DROP, water, sanitation, gender equality and education will always go hand in hand. We believe that this four pronged approach is the most effective way to reduce poverty in rural communities. It’s never too late to change where we go!