Charles Okana and the seven men and women under his charge are repairing a broken pump. They assess the unit, replace damaged parts, then reassemble it. At first the pump produces murky spurts of liquid, but soon a steady stream of clear water flows.
"I left Kitenyi, Uganda, in 2004 with my wife and four children following attacks by the Karamajong and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army),” explains Charles. “They invade villages, pillaging food and property, kidnapping people, and torching houses. We fled for our lives and came here. But life in the Camp is not easy."
Charles is one of 16,500 people living in Northern Uganda’s Orom Camp for people displaced by the on-going civil war. The camp is extremely overcrowded – small mud huts built side by side number in the hundreds for a population well into the thousands. In the cramped camp, poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation contribute to the spread of cholera, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.
Sustenance comes in the form of meager monthly handouts from the World Food Program. "We don’t eat well, so we can’t fight illness,” comments Charles. And, “although Orom Health Center is close by, there are few drugs. Health care is a big challenge."
A water pump technician with AMREF's Kitgum Water Project, Charles helps brings clean, potable water to the Orom community. The role makes him something of a leader within the camp, especially since residents chose him as their Water Management Committee representative. As such, “I received a week’s training on basic water pump installation and maintenance, and AMREF provided us with training manuals. I learned about operating tools, water and environmental policy, health and safety, and bookkeeping so I can maintain records at the sub-county office. I monitor the 35 boreholes in Orom and prepare monthly reports to budget for repairs.”
He is also a certified trainer, meaning he can “pass my knowledge and skills to other community members." Charles understands the significance of his role in a community battling desperate resource limitations: "I am important in the community because water is so essential for us. Thanks to these boreholes, women and girls avoid long treks to fetch water at the risk of being raped or abducted. Women used to spend their days looking for water instead of tending fields and looking for food. Rivers and ponds were not safe sources of drinking water because they were tainted by animals. Now, fewer children are getting diarrhea because the water here is safer."
<< Read more about AMREF's work providing clean water in northern Uganda