The nearest constant supply of safe water is Lake Victoria , which is a two hour round trip from the village. Some villagers routinely make this trip three or four times a day, every day, which leaves very little time for other tasks.
St John’s has been working with the villagers to build tanks by their homes to harvest rainwater. During the rainy seasons (twice a year, about three months each) families with tanks can now have a good supply of safe clean water, which has a significant impact on their health and also frees up time that can be devoted to improving their lives in other ways.
One mother came up to us this Easter and told us that, thanks to the water tanks, this was the first year she could remember that none of the family had suffered from bloody diarrhoea.
Friends of St. John’s have sponsored the building of 16 tanks in Nyankanga village, including two at the church in the village centre. The tanks are built from timber, which is rendered with cement to prevent attack by termites, and then lined with plastic liners that we take out with us each time we visit. Each tank holds about 3700 litres of water, which can serve a family for several months after the rains stop.
The construction of the timber framework resembles a giant wooden barrel, with the upright staves held in place by laminated timber rings that the ladies of the village have become skilled at making. Teams from Blackheath showed how to build the first tank, and the farmers have successfully copied this design throughout the village.
At various spots in the village are muddy water holes, which are used by the animals but also by the villagers. The dirty water is likely to contain various organisms, which cause diarrhoea, typhoid and death.
On a recent trip we had a go at making a simple water filter, using an oil drum filled with alternating layers of sand and charcoal. The results are dramatic – one pass through the filter has removed the harmful organisms, making the water safe to drink.
The standard diet in the village is very basic and unvaried – ugali, ugali, ugali (a kind of grey porridge made from cassava – the crop grown throughout the area). By introducing dairy goats to the village, the diet can be supplemented by high protein milk, which is particularly beneficial for the children.
The goats are zero grazed (kept in small pens). This may seem undesirable by our standards, but is the most practical way to keep the goats healthy and prevent the hyenas from getting them at night. In 2003 we built the first pen (banda). When we returned to the village a year later we were delighted to see that each family had built their own pen and were looking after their first young dairy goats.
Friends of St. John’s have sponsored goats and farmer training for twenty families in Nyankanga. Last year saw the planting of several acres of napier grass, which is the preferred fodder for the goats. A goat is lent to the farmer: the first offspring are returned to the project, after which the original goat becomes the farmer’s personal property.