Charles' Story

Charles Okana, 35 years, Volunteer Water Pump Technician

Kitgum Water Project
Orom IDP camp, Kitgum District, Northern Uganda


Charles is a pump mechanic, trained by AMREF, working to provide clean water in internally displaced people's camps in northern Uganda Charles is a pump mechanic, trained by AMREF, working to provide clean water in internally displaced people's camps in northern Uganda “If it wasn’t for the war, I would probably have become a successful farmer,” Charles Okana says, wiping sweat from his brow. Charles supervises seven men and women 2 km from the Orom IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp, They have come here to repair a water pump. After carefully taking apart the equipment, they replace broken parts and reassemble the unit. At first, the pump produces murky spurts of liquid, but soon a steady stream of clear water begins to flow.

Charles talks about life in the IDP camp…

I left Kitenyi in 2004 with my wife and four children, following attacks by the Karamajong and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). 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.

The camp is overcrowded. 16,500 people live in hundreds of small mud huts built too close together. There is only one toilet for every 25 people. Poor hygiene and sanitation are major health threats and cause cholera, malaria and HIV/AIDS. We don’t eat well, so we can’t fight illness. In fact, we rely on the World Food Programme – for a few kilos of maize and beans, cooking oil and porridge each month. I now have six children; the youngest are twins and are always ill. Although Orom health centre is close by, there are few drugs. Health care is a big challenge.

Charles talks about his work as a pump mechanic…

I was chosen by the camp to represent them in the water management committee. 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, and water and environmental policy, health and safety, and book keeping so I can maintain records at the sub-county office. I monitor the 35 boreholes in Orom and make monthly reports to budget for repairs.

I am now a qualified trainer, so I pass my knowledge and skills to other community members.

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 diarrhoea because the water here is safer.
 

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