Investing in Clean Water Where Planning is a Privilege


3 minutes

Access to clean water is one of the biggest problems many Ugandan families face. SPOUTS of Water seeks to alleviate this issue by manufacturing and distributing sustainable ceramic water filters. I joined SPOUTS in September 2016 to help create marketing initiatives for the organization.

I’m working with Ronny, a local, to tailor specific marketing and training programs for our distribution partners. I’ve mostly focused on our partners Living Goods and FINCA thus far. Living Goods trains rural, entrepreneurial women to be salespeople. The women purchase high-demand goods - such as fortified porridge, powdered milk, medication, laundry soap, pads, mosquito nets, solar lights, and our filter - from a branch location and then resell them at a higher price to their communities.

FINCA bank provides microfinance services, including individual loans, school fee loans, and group loans. They have a program called “Bright Life” whereby an agent accompanies loan officers to loan groups and speaks about clean energy products that members of the group can purchase (group loans range from 500,000 UGX to 10 M UGX). Our filter is one of the products that Bright Life agents present to groups.

One of our SPOUTS water filters at a retailer
One of our SPOUTS water filters at a retailer
Photo courtesy of Michale G.

One of our goals is to have Living Goods and Finca sell more SPOUTS water filters. One hurdle we face is the short-term mindset that exists among many socio-economically disadvantaged Ugandans. Many don’t know what the next week or next day will bring. Will they lose their job? Will they have the same insurance?

Given the frequent shocks affecting their family’s well-being, they tend to make short-term decisions, which is why many don’t want to buy a water filter. Although the $20 investment will pay off in the long run (filters last at least two years), they can’t think about the long-term effect. There are too many other things to worry about now. The ability to plan is a privilege.

While there are real difficulties resulting from the impoverished conditions here, there is also so much to learn from the resourcefulness of the people here. In one area, I saw tires turned into literally every kind of item that could possibly be useful, including nice-looking shoes! The ingenuity is incredible!

When traveling to Bakka Parish in Central Uganda a few weeks ago, I passed students playing basketball with a hoop that was just a tall metal stick with a circular part at the end. There wasn’t a net or a backboard, yet this didn’t seem to affect the fun they were having.

Sunset on the street where I live in Kampala
Sunset on the street where I live in Kampala
Photo courtesy of Michale G.

One thing I have struggled with so far, and I’m sure I will continue to grapple with, are cultural differences. I met with a loan group of 12 people in a tiny shop with only five chairs. Since I was a guest, the hostess wanted me to sit in one. At one point an old woman entered the shop and sat on the floor in front of me. I was very uncomfortable by this because in my Jewish culture, we believe in giving up your seat for the elderly, always. While we eventually brought a bench so the elderly woman could sit, I want to leave this as something for readers to think about: what would you do if your personal culture contradicts the culture around you? I’m sure this is not the last time I will encounter such a situation. It is something I think about a lot.

Michale

Michale volunteered in Uganda with the help of a Christianson Grant, from the InterExchange Foundation.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation