Oscar McLaughlin discussing water access issues with local people, Kampala, Uganda, Spring 2013
When you work on issues of sustainable water or water security there are always so many things to write about, so much going on. From amongst a range of possibilities I have chosen to tell you about a student of mine who is truly inspirational. Final year Geography student Oscar McLaughlin has recently returned from a six month placement experience in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Whilst there Oscar worked with a variety of Ugandan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community organizations to help improve poor communities’ access to water services.
A key output from Oscar’s placement was a handbook for Water User Committees (WUC), who are responsible for managing their own improved water resources on a community or neighborhood level. This reflects the fact that although the WUCs are a legal requirement, many lack organization, community support and are sometimes subject to low level forms of corruption and intimidation (e.g. forcing payment for access to public water standpipes). Working closely with community members, environmental organizations and local civil servants and using a variety of participative techniques, Oscar has produced a document which sets out clearly peoples’ rights as Ugandan citizens to water and sanitation and the roles and responsibilities of WUCs. The document, translated in many local dialects, has been distributed to over 200 water user committees in the country and is already being used by them to, for example, challenge the illegal enclosure of communal water resources.
Oscar’s placement is in part a reflection of my department’s commitment to enable our students to apply their knowledge and skills in the field. UWE supported Oscar’s work through award of a UWE Better Together grant, which was used to finance printing of the WUC Handbook and hold a number of community consultation events in spring 2013. But his achievements were ultimately down to his personal drive and determination to make the world a better place.
I am delighted to have students like Oscar – their achievements inspire me to work harder to find support for more like him!
If you’d like to learn more about our water security work or about our Africa program specifically, do please get in touch.