Wednesday was World Toilet Day and we celebrated it at Amuria primary school.
Before the celebrations started we had scheduled a visit to the local government offices. We also had an invite to the local health centre.
We arrived at the district offices and met with councillors and government officials. In typical Ugandan style we had some 'brief' introductions to kick off the formalities. The head of the local council advised us that Amuria district was the most improved district in Uganda for ensuring its people have access to a toilet. In 2011 less than half the households in the district had access to a pit latrine, but with the support of WaterAid, local government and other partners the figure now stands at more than 80%. A huge achievement and a great message to start World Toilet Day.
We then visited the local health clinic which had a maternity ward and children's ward and also performed basic operations. This was the first clinic I have ever been in where chickens roamed free inside the wards. The maternity ward was overcrowded with mothers sleeping on the floor with their newborn babies. The conditions were shocking by any standard. The hospital didn't have an incinerator so placentas from births were put into a pit until they decayed which unsurprisingly made the area around it smell pretty bad. The existing latrines were full and new latrines were definitely needed. Once again in Uganda we saw a real determination to change things for the better but no funds to access the resources needed to make the changes.
A member of our group, Bernie, had brought some much needed hospital supplies from the UK which we handed over to the head doctor (the only doctor) at the clinic. I am sure they will be put to great use.
In contrast to the UK the family of the sick have to visit regularly or stay near the health centre to cook for their family or loved ones. This is probably a good explanation for the chickens roaming the wards. Food in waiting!
Unusually for me the whole experience made me quite emotional.
We then headed to Amuria school to celebate World Toilet Day.
The school was government supported and had much better facilities than the other schools we had visited, but even here there was only 1 latrine per 50 children. Classrooms were best described as 'cosy' with one classroom holding over 100 children. I had the opportunity to draw some sanitation pictures & messages with the children which was great. Needless to say their drawing skills were much better than mine!
We were welcomed by the children using the traditional Ugandan school welcome song which most of our group now know the words to! We were also treated to a show of local dancing and music which included three anthems including the National Anthem, the Teso region anthem and a local song from Amuria!
We had speeches from senior politicians including the Health Minister of Uganda. One of our group, Barrie, even had the opportunity to address the crowd and say a few words on behalf of WaterAid.
As was now tradition, the speeches ran to 'Ugandan time' but it was great to see the politics in action as local councillors lobbied the Health Minister for changes to the hospital we had visited in the morning, as well as campaigning for more latrines and greater latrine coverage. Even though Amuria district was at over 80% there was recognition that there was always more that could be done.
It felt great to be part of the celebration and made me realise that in the UK, World Toilet Day passes us by because we have toilets and take them for granted. However in other countries it is really celebrated as having a latrine can be a life changing improvement!
We brought the WaterAid wearable toilet to show what toilets were like in the UK as very few properties in Uganda have western-style toilets. The kids loved it!
Following the celebration the school broke out into a disco and we danced with the children before being ushered to the convoy of vehicles and the culmination of an amazing day.