Santa Monica Observer Article About Drop in the Bucket

This article was originally published in the Santa Monica Observer Newspaper on July 9th 2015

Local couple shining a light for sight impaired children in Uganda.

The first time Los Angeles transplants John & Stacey Travis traveled to Africa was in 2006. Their careers in entertainment had earned them some success, but left them feeling compelled to do something to give back. That opportunity came with an invitation to accompany some doctors from Stacey’s hometown on a medical trip to a small village in rural Uganda.

The doctors they were traveling with were setting up makeshift clinics to treat people for a variety of diseases. John, Stacey, their friend Cassie and a handful of other volunteers were tasked with wrangling the crowds into orderly lines.  It became quickly apparent that the doctors and volunteers had a big task ahead of them. “Literally everybody was sick with something,” said Stacey.  “And almost all of it was caused by the dirty water they were drinking. We knew we had to do something to help but we knew we had to get to the cause rather than just continuing to treat the symptoms.” The solution had to involve better drinking water.

After looking into various filtration systems and other ways to clean water, they found that the most cost effective and sustainable solution was also the simplest: drilling water wells!

Water wells Africa Uganda Drop In The Bucket Odoom Adar Community Primary School
A child holding up a container of clean water from a well.


That trip to Africa became the start of a long and unexpected journey that has now grown into an organization called Drop in the Bucket, a group which has now completed over 300 wells in East Africa.

One of their most ambitious projects is one they are currently working on at the St. Francis Madera School for the Blind in Uganda.  The school opened in 1955 and is the only school solely dedicated to educating visually impaired children in the country.

Being a child in rural Uganda already presents several challenges… being a blind child, considerably amplifies those challenges and adds many more. There are no paved roads, so every tree stump, pothole or rock becomes a hazard.  Unable to defend themselves, they are at risk of child abuse, abduction and abandonment. So often, out of protection, the children are kept in a very sheltered existence of a small village, a few huts or sometimes just one room. These children have had to struggle to survive.

Like many of the schools in Uganda, Madera was built out of necessity. Visually impaired children did not have facilities that could treat their specific needs. In fact, local communities often didn’t see the need to educate handicapped children at all.

Word quickly spread that there was a school in Soroti that would take blind children. Many parents from all over the country had brought their special needs children to Madera and left them there, never to return. As a result, Madera became a full-time boarding school with students living on campus.

The school turns the future around for the now nearly 200 students. For the first time their lives become full of hope, possibility and potential.

The children are taught to read and write in Braille and receive vocational training, but more importantly, the students develop social skills and friendships they could have never experienced before. They help each other learn and grow as a family.

The marching band made up of sight impaired pupils from the Madera School for the Blind in Uganda
The marching band made up of sight impaired pupils from the Madera School for the Blind in Uganda


Some of the biggest breakthroughs have occurred through the children’s love of music. The school even formed a marching band that performs any chance they get. The instruments they are playing may be held together with duct tape and they may be using large twigs instead of drumsticks, but these kids are happy to be playing music together and put the same energy and enthusiasm into performing as they would if they were playing the halftime show at the Rose Bowl.

Through this marching band, they have discovered a way to connect with each other and develop a strong sense of belonging. The band is bringing the community together through the joy of music.

The marching band made up of sight impaired pupils from the Madera School for the Blind in Uganda


Drop in the Bucket is working with the Madera school to improve the living conditions. Plans are in place to install a solar pump for access to clean, drinkable water, and specially designed showers and toilets for the sight-impaired will be installed in both dorms.

The organization has already raised the money to fund the construction of two sets of toilets for the school, which are currently being built. The toilets themselves are unique in that unlike most toilets in the developing world, they actually treat the sewage rather than just storing it.

They are still raising money to do more work at the school and that includes a specially designed well to supply the school with water for the toilets, the kitchen, hand washing stations and even showers (a first for the organization). “This is the biggest project we have ever taken on for a single school,” said John Travis.  “But the children’s needs are so specific and unique that almost everything we are doing has to be customized to work for the sight-impaired.” He continued, “When you live here in Southern California you end up taking so much for granted. Until this most recent drought most of us didn’t have any reason to think about access to water. That all changes when you go to parts of Africa where for most people finding some water to drink is their number one daily concern.”

To learn more about Drop in the Bucket and find out how you can help the Madera School for the Blind, please visit:



Progress at the St Francis Madera School for the Blind

An update on our work at the St Francis Madera School for the Blind

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has donated to our fundraising campaign to provide clean water and toilets at the Madera School for the Blind in Uganda. This is the largest project we have ever taken on for a single school and it is considerably more expensive than anything we have done in the past, but it is also one of the projects we are most proud of.

Construction at the boys' urinal at the St Francis Madera school for the blind in Uganda.
Construction at the boys’ urinal at the St Francis Madera school for the blind in Uganda.


Two sight impaired children walk past the new toilets at the St Francis Madera School for the Blind
Two sight impaired children walk past the new toilets at the St Francis Madera School for the Blind


Here are some photos that show the construction that is coming along nicely. Both sets of septics are now finished and both sets of toilets are almost done. In the photos you can see a sink and the boys urinal that are close to being finished. We still have to finish the showers and we still need to raise some money for the solar pump. If you are interested in making a donation please click here

Thank you so much for making this all possible with your amazing generosity and support.


Hope Junior Primary School Article From The New Vision

At DROP, we love sharing stories of our work but it’s always nice when someone else see the significance of our work and decides to share it, too.

Below is an article from Uganda’s largest newspaper, the New Vision. We were pleased with the piece but need to point out one inaccuracy: The story says that the technology behind the toilets is from South Africa. In reality, we first designed and began building these types of sanitation systems in Uganda in 2007 using a roundabout pump we had custom built. The South African based NGO, Water For All, donated 20 similar pumps, one of which was used for this project.

This particular school project was made possible by a donation from an Ohio-based company called Earnest Machine. Every time a donor sponsors a well, we like to include an inscription of the donor’s choosing, and Earnest Machine decided to have us inscribe their slogan, “Intentionally Better.” We loved those words because they a standard for something to aspire to for everyone involved in the project, from Earnest Machine to DROP to Hope Junior.

The school is new performing better than ever at their end-of-term exams. Before the toilets, many children—primarily girls—were forced to drop out. Not only are many of them back in school now, but other kids in the district are coming to the school as well. Since we built the toilets, the school has hired new teachers and added three buildings, including a separate nursery school. Now allow New Vision to share with you our latest success story.

New Vision – April 11th 2015

New Vision Uganda - Drop in the Bucket - pupils of Hope Junior School washing their hands after visiting bio-digestion toilets.
Pupils of Hope Junior School washing their hands after visiting toilet.


Photos and text By Francis Emorut

Government has been asked to adopt new flush toilet technology from South Africa for schools across the country to curb poor hygiene.

The flush toilets technology the first of its kind has been installed at Hope Junior School in Soroti district.

According to Julius Olobo the manager of Drop in the Bucket the new technology has become a model of learning in Soroti district.

The toilets are clean and are used by a population of 324 pupils of Hope Junior School.

Water and sanitation officers in eastern region appealed to government to replicate the technology countryside to combat poor hygiene and relief from a burden of digging pit latrines after they become full.


New-Vision-Uganda-Drop-in-the-Bucket - Pupils of Hope Junior School fetching water connected to flush toilets in Soroti district using new technology.
Pupils of Hope Junior School fetching water connected to flush toilets in Soroti district using new technology.


“The government should take advantage of the new technology and spread it countryside,” Bony Komakech, the environmental health officer in Nakapiripirit said.

Komakech was supported by Ronald Ssebuliba a technical water officer in Wakiso district who said the new technology would facilitate good practices of hygiene and therefore, government should spearhead the crusade to have such facility installed in every school.

Sr. Christine Nanyazi the head of women’s Group in Kaabong district said the new flush toilet technology is ideal for schools since they have big population and it will promote good hygiene

The flush toilets are constructed in the form of pit-latrine separated for both boys and girls but has underground water tank of 4,000 litres while the tank erected up contains 1,000 litres of water.

The two tanks supply constant water to the toilets using a motorized system.

The motorized system is connected to the borehole, wheel pump and to the tanks.

“Many interested parties including the ministry of education have visited this place to learn how the flush toilet technology works,” Olobo the manager of Drop in the Bucket told water and sanitation regional officers.

The water and sanitation officers were in a field tour organized by Water and Sanitation Network Uganda (UWASNET).

Olobo explained that technology is the first pilot project in Teso region while in Acholi and Lango sub-regions the technology is available in six and five schools respectively.

According to Olobo the technology was borrowed from South Africa and it costs sh80m.

Olobo said the flush toilets can be used for a period of 20-50 years. It has septic tank.

He said it’s ideal because it saves school administration from constant digging of latrines.

“It has become a centre of learning in Teso region,” Olobo said.

The cleanness of the toilets has contributed to retention of girls in school.


New-Vision-Uganda-Drop-in-the-Bucket pupils of Hope Junior School in Soroti district playing using a wheel pump that is used in the new technology.
Pupils of Hope Junior School in Soroti district playing using a roundabout pump that is used in the new technology.


“Because the place is clean the menstruating girls can pad themselves,” the school’s headteacher Julius Edwonu noted.

Edwonu also pointed out that both the boys and girls supervise each other and this ensures cleanness for both toilets.

The technology enables pupils to sit on the wheel pump (popularly known as Mary go system) and rotate themselves around moving in a faster speed.

Earlier the water and sanitation officers were trained in documenting success stories in the water and sanitation sector.

“You should be able to document a success story that informs your partners of achievements made in water and sanitation,” Rehema Aanyu the UWASNET liaison and advocacy officer said.

The water and sanitation officers promised to ensure that the flush toilet technology is adopted in their respective districts.


Water and sanitation officers examining a septic tank for the flush toilets of Hope Junior School in Soroti district.
Water and sanitation officers examining a septic tank for the flush toilets of Hope Junior School in Soroti district.


This article was originally published in Uganda’s New Vision newspaper. To view it on their website please go to this link.


Obey Awareness Program

Founded in 2007, the Obey Awareness Program, operated by Obey Clothing designs, began as a way that artist, designer, and humanitarian Shepard Fairey could support causes he believes in by selling specially designed merchandise and donating 100% of the money raised from that merchandise to hand picked organizations and their causes.

Shepard is a strong believer that clean water is a human right and this year Drop in the Bucket was honored by being one of only two causes chosen for the 2013 season. This year’s other organization is Jail Guitar Doors which provides musical instruments to incarcerated people.

We are extremely honored to have the support of Shepard and everyone at Obey Clothing and are very excited to be able to see these great designs turn into clean water and toilets at schools in Africa. To pick up your stylish shirts please visit Obey Clothing’s online store today!


Ayum Mary Diny

Ayum Mary Diny
Level 1 – p2 Salam Girls School, Aweil South Sudan
19 years old

Ayum Mary Diny loves school. Unfortunately due to decades of war she spent most of her childhood unable to go to school, like so many of her friends in South Sudan. Npw that the fighting has stopped Ayum is now 19 years old and only in the second grade.

When Ayum was in the first grade, her mom got sick, so Ayum had to leave school, go back to her village to take care of her ailing mother along and the rest of her siblings. Ayum being the oldest felt she had to assume responsibility for her brothers and sisters and make sure they were well cared for while their mother was sick. Unfortunately their mother died, so Ayum felt even more burdened to act as the parent to her brothers and sisters, especially since their father was not around.

Ayum spent her days making meals, washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the home, and more. She was so exhausted by the end of each day that she could barely think, let alone keep up with her studies.

Ayum realized that she was spending almost five hours everyday fetching water walking from the closest well, so she decided to dig a well herself. She thought that if there was a well nearby she might actually have time to study. However, her hand-dug soon started attracting mosquitoes and became a risk for malaria and other bacteria. Ayum knew the water was unsafe to drink, but didn’t feel like she had any other choice but to use the polluted water.

During this stressful time in her life, Ayum would often become discouraged and depressed. She felt that she would never get to go back to school. Things turned around for Ayum and the family when her uncle returned home from the war. He was able to take on the role as caretaker for the Diny children, and Ayum was finally able to return to school!

Ayum is not in the same class as any of her old friends. They were able to stay in school the whole time she was absent and are now in more advanced years. But Ayum doesn’t mind at all, she is just so happy to be back in school, writing poems, learning about infectious diseases, and hanging out with her friends during class breaks. Ayum knows she has a great future ahead of her. She hopes to one day become a doctor and discover the cure for malaria.


Alworo Primary School

The well at the Alworo Primary School of 593 children was completed in February 2008. The toilets, septics, hand-washing station, roundabout pump and underground reservoir tank soon followed. This was also the first school at which we upgraded the doors from wooden doors to steel doors.


Imanyiro Village

Our good friend Robinah set up a nursery school named after her father in Imanyiro. She also runs a Primary school in the Jinja area, but “Pop’s Place” in Imanyiro is a particularly great school. Rather than trying to educate hungry children, Robinah makes sure that all the school children get to eat at least one nutritious meal daily, and now they also have a well.

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