Service Above Self brought to Life

Men at Work

The international service organisation Rotary's impact goes beyond what a Google search would reveal. Many stories aren't told. And.. this is not about me, rather how a chance fellowship (as we call our weekly meetings) had a nation running to raise funds for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in public schools.

2012 or thereabout (I had been inducted into the Rotary community a few months earlier)... a young engineer, Moses Nuwaha, was invited to speak to the Rotary Club of Kampala South about green energy (biogas) from toilets. At that point, Moses' company PSEM Africa Ltd had been declared best contractor under SNV's Uganda Domestic Biogas Project. I happened to head (German Cooperation) GIZ Uganda's sanitation initiatives, and was looking for an integrated WASH solution for Kampala's public schools. Moses' presentation at our club’s meeting had me at hello.

Whereas Moses had excelled at domestic biogas, I was interested in their competence wrt populations larger than a household. I asked Moses to take a couple of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) folks and I to the only institutional biogas project they had (and only one in Uganda), then. A public school near the Source of the Nile, in Jinja. We were impressed. Hitch: governments don't rush to adopt technology.

With a small budget to toy with, my then employer GIZ Uganda financed a benchmarking visit for three KCCA folks (two technical, one councilor) and I to Nairobi. (KCCA was relatively new: the trip intended to expose the public officers to Kenya's way of doing things.) Top on the agenda: community biogas projects in Nairobi's world-famous slum Kibera. After taking chai/tea prepared using biogas from a community library's toilet, we had found a solution. And returned to Kampala - to implement.

With $30,000 at my discretion and boss' blessing, GIZ financed an integrated school WASH project for the (one of Kampala’s 80+ public schools) 1,000-strong Kansanga KCCA primary school. The $30 per pupil investment catered for rain water harvesting, 14 toilet stances, hand-washing and menstrual hygiene (incinerator for pads) facilities. The cost is comparable to school toilets that require regular emptying, and have zero energy benefits. It became a national benchmark. Complete with innumerable tours.

The Integrated WASH facility

What followed.. KCCA approached the nation’s largest telecom MTN Uganda to roll out the concept. For years, the telecom giant’s largest corporate responsibility event has been the annual MTN Marathon. For two consecutive years, Kampalans (and other East Africans) ran for 'water and sanitation in public schools.' UGX 1bn (USD 265k) or so was raised — and availed for several more school WASH facilities. Belgian Cooperation (Enabel) has since adopted the bio-toilets approach for educational institutions. Ditto Uganda's Ministry of Water and Environment.

It all started at a Rotary fellowship.

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