In 2009, my wife and I spent seven grueling hours hiking through the forests of Uganda to track the rare mountain gorillas. As we followed wild families of gorillas through the dense jungle, it soon became apparent that our porter, 16 year old Medi, was doing a lot more than carrying our packs. He always knew when we needed a helping hand, over fallen trees, across slippery streams, or just pulling me through the often ankle deep mud.
At the end of the day, leaning on our Land Cruiser with exhaustion, Medi shyly and politely asked if we could drop him at his parent’s subsistence farm, as he had many chores yet to finish before sunset. During the surprisingly long 10 mile trip, he explained that he walks about three hours every day to the ranger station, hoping to find work as a porter. And if there is no work, he walks the three hours back home empty handed to complete his chores.
Medi didn’t long for the same things that the average American teenager wants, he only wanted the chance to work every day. It didn’t take us too long to realize that a bicycle could save him four hours a day, time he could use to help his parents plow their fields, and harvest their crops, which are their family’s main source of food. With a bike, Medi could travel further in search of work, and add countless hours to his productivity. Yet a bicycle costs as much as three months of his gross pay, all of which is needed just get by. This is well beyond the reach of most of these villagers.
His story was just one of dozens I heard from these hard working people of rural Western Uganda. Many walk miles to their jobs daily, and just barely get by. Their children routinely walk up to twelve miles each day just to attend school. With a bicycle, this time and energy could be devoted to supporting the family farm, getting an education, or traveling further to secure a better job. A bicycle, basic in design, but strongly built to handle the road conditions in Uganda, costs $135. This small amount changes an entire family’s standard of living.
My wife and I returned home to create a small non-profit foundation that could raise donations and use the money to distribute bikes to this area. In 2011, the first bike presented through our wheels program went to Medi, funded by our own personal donation to our foundation. 6 bikes were purchased and presented in the first distribution. You too can change a life forever by donating to the Wheels and Wells program of the Clean Water Foundation.
HOW IT GREW TO INCLUDE WELLS
It was a two hour drive from our jungle tent camp to the ranger station where we were to start our Gorilla trek. What demanded our attention all along the roadway, were the lines of women and often children, walking with jerry cans of water weighing as much as 60 pounds. We found the source of the parade, a large mud hole from which dozens of women were skimming the surface with cups and filling their jerry cans with the drinking and cooking water for the day. I would have been hesitant to even put my hand into this community water hole. Often a 3 or 4 mile hike back home followed. This is a daily occurrence in fresh water starved central Africa, and why waterborne disease, particularly Cholera, is so prevalent and so deadly there.
A little research indicated that a deep water well could provide pure drinking water for an entire village. This small investment needed however, was far beyond the means of these subsistence farming villages. Quizzing our local guide and interpreter, we identified a village of about 1300 people in the very remote western Uganda, very near its border with Congo. Over the next few years, as this organization was established and slowly grew, and with the help and contributions of many, last year our first well was opened in Pandinga Village, in the Buliisa District of Western Uganda. The entire village’s explosion of joy that accompanied the well opening showed their appreciation of the change which was brought to the entire village, and to its future generations. Cholera, and other waterborne diseases, will now no longer afflict Pandinga.Clifford Steele is a retired attorney who lives with his wife Jane in Atlanta, Georgia.