As a professional in the international development sector, I have the immense privilege of telling some inspiring stories of human resilience and potential across the world. Recently, I travelled to Uganda to see how clean water is transforming the lives of individuals, families and communities in need. There I met Esther, a determined 14-year-old girl, who lives in Kasanje District, central Uganda.
Sparkly-eyed with a cheeky smile, Esther struck me straight away as a smart, confident girl. “Welcome to St Balikuddembe”, she declared when we first arrived at her school, “My name is Esther and I’m the chairperson of the school health club.”
After a warm welcome, she and her classmates began to describe the challenges that unclean water and a lack of basic sanitation had caused: “We used to collect water from an open well shared with animals,” explained Esther, “We had to miss many lessons due to sickness.”
This open well was 2km away from the school; it took children two hours to collect water, and children from Esther’s class would make the trip four times a day. Children like Esther were also at risk of violence, sexual assault and other dangers when walking long distances for water.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of All We Can supporters, clean water is now available from the school’s water tank, new latrines have been built, students and teachers have received hygiene training and a health club has been established for ongoing maintenance and to ensure cleanliness. As a result, water-related illnesses have reduced, school attendance has improved and pupils are looking forward to healthier, happier futures. As Esther happily explained, “We no longer miss lessons and feel much healthier!”
Amazingly, the change didn’t stop here. At Esther’s home, I interviewed her father, Eric, a local farmer who grows maize, beans and sweet potatoes on his land. He described to me his surprise when one evening he and his wife came home to find that a tippy tap (a foot-operated structure designed to wash hands with clean water) had been constructed outside his house. He was in total shock! Who could have done this he thought? It only happened to be his own daughter, Esther.
With a massive smile and beaming with pride, he explained how the education Esther had received at school had now transformed his family’s life: “We are not getting sick anyone. There has been a total difference from when [Esther] received her training. Not only has my daughter taught us about the changes…. she has supported the whole family including her brothers and sisters.”
As the interview came to a close, I said to Esther, “You should be an engineer?” She replied, “I would rather be a doctor…… I want to be a doctor to carry out more education to people that they may be clean and healthier.”
Children like Esther are a symbol of hope. Neighbours are now asking her father when Esther will come to their homes and build more tippy taps. She and many like her are teaching others in their community about the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. As her father says, “I feel joyous because she is a future leader of tomorrow.”
When I got back to the UK, I found out that the name Esther means “star”. A few years ago, her family was suffering from sickness and water-related diseases. Now, because of this gifted little girl, a family have a chance to start again. One little girl changed her family for generations with one simple act. Esther now dreams of becoming a doctor and sharing her passion with others. Who knows what she might achieve? Even in the midst of extreme poverty, Esther sparkled.