A journey in the dark

A boy’s struggle to stay in school in Uganda

I was scared of the dark.

Even before the attack, I was scared.

Every day I went out at 6am and I came back at about 7am. I did it three times a day.

We didn’t have a tap in our home, or near it. Sometimes it might take longer to get the water because more people would turn up at the pump.

When there are more people and animals, you just have to wait your turn.

I used to walk through the bush. The bush is a scary place in the dark. I didn’t know what was out there. There could be wild animals. Or snakes. I was a little boy, so I was scared of witches and wizards.

I left early every morning before the sun rose. I did this so I could get to the pump to…

…queue for water …

…crank the pump handle…

…fill my jerrycans…

…struggle home…

…give the water to mum…

…have a drink…

…have some food if there was any…

…wash myself if there was enough water…

…change into cleaner clothes if we were able to clean them…

…then hurry to school.

School is everything. Everything. I have to learn so that I can become a doctor.

It was one morning that it happened.

I met a man on the road.

He told me he was thirsty and asked if he could have some of my water.

I gave him the jerrycan I’d filled for my mum. He took it…

…and poured the water away.

I asked him what he was doing.

He started beating me.

I felt so much pain that I just thought: ‘My life is worth more than this, I will leave him with the water.’

When I got home, my mum said, ‘Okay, he didn’t kill you. He took the water and that’s all. We will make do.’

My water problem


“The rest of the day when you’re not collecting water is precious.”

Fabiano

My water problem

“The rest of the day when you’re not collecting water is precious.”

Fabiano

Every day, millions of people are affected by long walks to safe water. Not only is it time consuming and exhausting, but it can be dangerous.

Gathering water is time consuming, but it is so crucial for life. Without it, Fabiano’s mum might not be able to plant crops in time for harvest and therefore the whole family will go hungry. Because of its necessity, Fabiano and his friends risk missing school because they’re late back from the pump.

“I do it three times a day.”
Fabiano

It is tiring because, as Fabiano says: “I do it three times a day.” Fabiano walks for an hour, but some people walk considerably longer. No matter how long you have been walking, the physical toll is the same. You do not get used to it.

The walk for water can be dangerous because of wild animals lurking by the roadside or drinking at the pump after dark. Or, as Fabiano encountered, there might be people who want to harm you.

Fabiano spent every day of his life like this. He didn’t get to lie in at the weekend or take his birthday off. He would walk there every morning (and twice later in the day) because his entire family relied on him. Without the water he gathered, there would be nothing:

to drink
to cook with
to wash with
to clean with
to give the animals to drink
to water the crops.

And there are people in the village who want to build homes. They need water to make bricks.

Fabiano took an hour for each journey. He made three journeys a day. The walk is long and often hot and dry. Fabiano would return exhausted and needing a drink of water.

Three hours walking for water every single day of the year…

Think about that lost time.

The rest of the day, when you’re not collecting water, becomes precious.

Fabiano, who is keen to become a doctor or a teacher, made sure he went to school every day, even if he had no water. He would go to school exhausted from the multiple journeys and lack of sleep.

Sadly, there are other children in nearby communities that also have to do this. Boys and girls both young and older than Fabiano; women who have been making long journeys for clean water every single day of their lives.

Fabiano’s home is situated in a “drought prone” area. Drought prone means that water is hard to come by, and when water is hard to come by, crops die, animals die and people throughout the community struggle.

With your support we can reach those struggling communities and bring the water closer to them.

£8.75 can provide essential maintenance for a community’s solar pump

Where I live

"There is no gas or electricity here."

It’s early morning in Fabiano’s village in Karamoja. Across the region, there’s an amazing energy as people go about their business.

If you had come earlier, you would have seen the orange lights of wood fires flickering to life across the landscape.

Men are taking their animals from their homes to find water. Women, children, older people and those with disabilities stay in the village to continue the vital work that takes place here.

Fabiano’s mum is sweeping the floor of the home – she will go out to the field shortly to look after some crops. Fabiano has come back from fetching water. He is tying his laces, getting ready to go to school. He wants to look his best for school.

On the rough track next to Fabiano’s village, a motorbike taxi zips past. It goes to collect a passenger who might be a teacher on their way to school, a person making a journey across country, or a pregnant mother needing to go to hospital.

It can take a long time to travel across Karamoja if you don’t have the money for transport. And if you were thinking of walking to the capital of the country, Kampala? Without a rest, continually walking, it would take you 93 hours – nearly four days. If you walked 12 hours a day, every day, it would take just over a week.

Fabiano’s village is a typical Karimajong village. There is a tight wooden fence around homes, a spiky, coarse gorse around the outer perimeter (like a natural barbed wire), and doorways are low and narrow, allowing only one person at a time to enter. There is no gas or electricity here. The village, or manyatta has been built like this for hundreds of years.

The Karimajong – the people who live in Karamoja – have been marginalised and misunderstood for many years. They have been viewed by some groups as violent and resistant to education and modernisation. Because of this, they were abandoned.

The region has been left out of reach and denied help and support for many years. This is why CAFOD works with teams of water, health, hygiene, sanitation, farming and gender experts out here.

Just after Ugandan independence from colonial British rule in 1963, Prime Minister Milton Obote, visited the region. “We shall not wait for Karamoja to develop,” was his parting comment. Karamoja, like a forgotten child, was left alone for many years. Not just by government, but by business. The Karimajong were sometimes looked on from the outside world as resisting civilisation and they were persecuted for it.

“We shall not wait for Karamoja to develop”
Milton Obote

Six out of ten people in the region live in “absolute poverty”. This means being without some of the basic needs we need to survive – clean drinking water, a safe place to sleep and toilets.

During drought, people have only five litres of water a day for all their wide and varied needs.

Help bring water closer to the Karimajong by supporting CAFOD. Our local experts give us the unique ability to reach people like Fabiano and provide them with safe, clean drinking water just minutes from their homes.

£99 can provide essential training on water technology, hygiene and sanitation

The experts who helped us

“I want to help them because I am one of them.”

Daniel

Daniel has worked on multiple major water and public health crises. He learned his skills in school, college and working in water and health teams that deal with drought and disaster in Uganda, as well as South Sudan. He is now leading a team in Karamoja.

Daniel is a proud Karimajong.

“Why do I do this work?” he says. “Because working with the Karimajong is fulfilling. It fulfils me. I am one of them. I understand the language. I know the customs. I can talk with them. It is easy for me to work with them. I want to help them because I am one of them. I know these problems. I recognise them. I have experienced these issues.”

“The water pumps help the community,” he continues. “They change the life of the community. The burden of fetching water is lifted from the life of the family and they are free. If we install a pump or mend one, we have seen the effects. More children stay in school, girls especially. The burden of water is lifted from the women and they can find more work that will earn money for the family.”

“I lead a team to meet the needs of the people. We work in the service of the community. We make sure that communities have a working water point. We make sure they have clean and safe homesteads. We ensure health centres and schools have water supplies, so children and mothers are safer in childbirth and children don’t have to leave school to fetch water.”

When Daniel was a little boy – Fabiano’s age – he wanted to be a shepherd, just like his father and his grandfather. Karimajong men were shepherds. That was what you did.

”Our animals were everything. They were our future,” he tells me. “They were the solution to problems. If we needed money, we’d sell a goat. If we wanted to build a house, we’d sell cattle to buy labour.”

He was in his teens when the family’s animals were taken. He and his friend were taking them out to graze and for water. Cattle rustlers from another community started firing shots at the two teenage boys.

“They wanted to kill us,” said Daniel. “Years later, we had peace talks with that community and I met the man who I was sure was shooting at us. He said that his friend told him to ‘Kill those guys’. We were at war. I realised it wasn’t anything personal.”

“He told me he was glad he hadn’t killed me. He was sorry and I forgave him.”

Evelyn is a project manager for the WASH team here. She has seen Fabiano grow as well as the rest of the village and other communities she helps here. Her job is so varied, it’s difficult to describe a specific day. She might oversee a pump installation, stay with a community who have water problems, or prepare reports for local authorities.

She is a Karimajong. She understands many of the diverse dialects spoken in the region.

“I want to help here because I know the people. We are accused of being simple, but we are honest, hardworking and we have a very diverse culture. Saying we are ‘simple’ is to misunderstand the Karimajong completely.”

Your support helps CAFOD reach local experts with local knowledge, enabling them to help those who are most vulnerable.

"I am so grateful we don’t have to walk for water."

Fabiano

"I am so grateful we don’t have to walk for water."

Fabiano

If you were with Fabiano now, there’s a good chance he’d be in school. And if he wasn’t in school, he’d be studying. Learning is everything for Fabiano. He wants to succeed and to do something great with his life.

His hero is his teacher.

And even when he’s not in school and learning, he joined some of the adults nearby to learn how to grow different vegetables and chillies.

This is just like him. When school is finished, instead of playing with friends, he joins a group of adults to learn how to farm the land in different ways.

He gives the money from the crop to his mum so that she can afford more things for the home.

Now there is water near his home, Fabiano can go to school, clean, rested and with enough water to take him through the day.

While the future isn’t certain, with water near his home, Fabiano stands every chance of fulfilling his ambition of becoming a doctor or teacher.

If you could see Fabiano now, you would see someone who is determined to do well in life. And it’s all thanks to his sheer will, an amazing group of local experts and a pump on his own land.

The pump may not look like much, but to Fabiano?

“This pump means a lot,” he says. “It means life.”

What CAFOD does

Daniel and his team of trained water engineers at Caritas Moroto are just one of the organisations CAFOD works with around the world.

It’s through local experts like Daniel that we are able to help the most hard-to-reach people around the world.

We are part of the Caritas Church network – one of the largest aid networks in the world. This means we can reach out to people in 165 countries. And because we are part of the Church network, we can go into places other organisations are not able to, because they might be too dangerous, or the people don’t trust outsiders.

It is extremely important to us as a Catholic aid agency that we help everyone, regardless of faith. We live out our faith and see these life-saving and life-changing works as an expression of our faith.

Your support is crucial in allowing us to reach vulnerable people around the globe who continue to struggle with the things we take for granted.

Donate now and help Fabiano and others like him

Words: Mark Chamberlain
Design: Jessie Keable-Elliott
Photography: Thom Flint
Illustrations: Manzi
Built with Shorthand