In 2001, Bob Dell was going to Uganda. As a retired water engineer with 40 years of hard work and experience under his belt, Bob was heading off on a trip to see what the next chapter in his life would hold.
On that journey, he saw over and over again how a lack of clean drinking water had a devastating impact on people’s lives not only on their health but on their education, economy and families. Pairing his own professional experience with extensive research, Bob found SODIS - a model for solar disinfection that simply uses the sun's UV rays to turn contaminated water into clean drinking water..
With initial testing in Uganda in 2004 yielding tremendous results, Bob connected with Fraser Edwards, the Africa Director at Compassion Canada - one of the world's leading children's charities, to see how they could work together to spread this technology to thousands more.
Together, they founded WaterSchool in 2007 and today their mission and vision to bring clean water for life to people in Uganda and Kenya lives on. WaterSchool has reached over 900,000 men, women and children with SODIS and its sanitation and hygiene trainings. We're excited to introduce you to some of our community members below - people who have learned from WaterSchool and now have clean, safe water - for life.
Naomi lives in Eastern Uganda. In her community and others in this region, health centres are reporting a 50% decrease in cases of waterborne illnesses over the past two years, including diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery. Our teams have been hard at work in these communities, teaching families the WaterSchool method of hygiene for the home
A 50% decrease in cases of waterborne illness is a big win for an entire whole community. And it’s an even bigger win success for Naomi.
Naomi has had typhoid three times, and has watched seven of her children suffer from the same disease. Constantly sick and worried about their survival, Naomi was exhausted by these entirely preventable diseases. Then she learned the WaterSchool method for keeping her home clean and disease-free, her family’s life has been transformed. They are healthy, happy and confident about their future.
Naomi is eager to share this new approach to life with others, and now volunteers to train families in her community in Eastern Uganda. When I asked her why she dedicates so much time, with seven little ones of her own to tend to, she answered, “Because serving people is serving God”.
Esther is a single mother raising two small children in Buikwe - a poor area in central Uganda. Resilient and creative, Esther owns a small farm to help her sell vegetables, chickens, eggs, and pigs in the local market to support her children.
To provide water for her family, Esther walked hours each day back and forth to a stream. This is a common reality for women in Uganda - on average they spend 36 hours a week walking to collect water for their families. Another common danger facing women like Esther is the risk of assault on the lonely path to the water source.
Every day, Esther tried to carry 60 litres of water back to her home -- but it wasn’t enough. Slowly but surely, the farm and the life Esther had worked so hard to build began to fall apart.
Later that year, WaterSchool’s team began working with Esther’s community to install Rainwater Harvesting Tanks at the local school and at a number of homes and farms.
Esther watched in wonder as a 6,000 litre Rainwater Harvesting Tank was installed in her back yard - fed by a stream of rain gushing off of her roof and into the tank during the rainy season. Given the long rainy season in Uganda, the tank fills up quickly and is a life-changing reserve of water for the two-month dry season.
“After the tank was installed in my home, I could not wait to restock my piggery and purchase some goats to give me milk,” Esther recalls. “And now the water is right here and my family and I are much safer.”
With the simple addition of clean, safe water, Esther’s life is transforming.
If you had visited the Ecwaku’s home in Soroti, Uganda just a few months ago you would have been shocked.
Without understanding why clean water and good sanitation and hygiene practices are important, Ecwaku, her husband and her children were living with regular bouts of diarrhea and most of the family had worms. Thinking that it was bad luck or witchcraft, the family spent lots of their money on witch doctors who promised to alleviate their suffering.
Then the WaterSchool team showed up at their door.
“With WaterSchool we learned how to keep our family healthy,” explains Ecwaku. “Together we did trainings and constructed a pit latrine, a tippy tap for us to wash our hands and a rack for us to lay our plastic bottles of dirty water in the sun to purify the water.”
Today, just a few months later, Ecwaku’s family is diarrhea free and are no longer struggling with worms. “We are able to use our family’s resources well,” she says. “Now, we don’t need to spend our money on medical bills or on witchcraft - we are healthy and happy.”
Learn More About the WaterSchool Story
In 2016, Bob wrote an inspirational book chronicling the remarkable journey he and Fraser went on to build WaterSchool, a clean water charity, and address the global water crisis in a unique way. Waterborne: The Water School Story shares Bob and Fraser's dedicated efforts to bring clean drinking water to the children of Uganda by combing innovative SODIS technology with hygiene and sanitation education. Purchase your copy of Waterborne here.
"This is a wonderful book about the early days of WaterSchool. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in using science to help your fellow man, nearing retirement, involved at all (leadership or donor) with WaterSchool, or involved in humanitarian work in any capacity. This book illustrates how to help by enabling those you are helping to rise to their potential in a sustainable and uplifting way." - Amazon.ca Review