Standing at the foothills of Mount Moroto in Karamoja region as the sun dissolves into the horizon, I catch myself thinking about the considerations put into selecting a location from where one proposes marriage to another person. Quickly I decide that this exact place in the Mount Moroto Hotel Gardens would be a more than ideal one for me. Then I am reminded of one of my favorite writers’ 2009 talk about the danger of a single story; most importantly that it is not untrue, but it is incomplete. The story of Karamoja is definitely incomplete. Whereas some situations reinforce that you shall indeed not wait for to Karamoja to develop, the region has one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen; not to mention, Moroto town has the most enviable road network. Also, make no mistake, you can actually get decent groceries and a hot water bath, room service too. Did I mention coconut cooked rice might be on your food menu? Good times…
Boma Grounds is semi-arid land expanse without a blade of grass- the closest you’ll see is scanty brown dry grass every about 50 meters. In the estimated 31 degrees of the hot afternoon, the ground residue occasionally marries the dry mountain winds to form an almost vengeful whirl of dust and wind combined. Towards the boundaries of the space are a couple of under fed Acacia trees which provide a reasonable shed nonetheless. It is under these trees that plastic chairs have been arranged to serve as resting space during water breaks. 10 feet behind, a child is squatting in the shrubs defecating- many a Karamojong have normalized open defecation, precisely why we’re here.
Now, football has for years been a huge cultural and socio-economic impact on the world; in the next 5 days, Viva Con Agua Kampala, an NGO that seeks to bring clean drinking water closer to communities, would use the game to sensitize pupils from 14 schools in different districts of the Karamoja region on safe drinking water, general sanitation and hygiene. The inaugural exercise, part of the ongoing project dubbed “Football 4 WASH” in partnership with Welt Hunger Hilfe and Watoto Wasoka, (a local NGO which uses soccer to impact positively the lives of children in slums) is aimed at passing on information to this young generation through basic football drills, which knowledge they will hopefully then pass on to their fellow pupils through existing WA(ter).S(anitation).H(ygiene) school clubs, as well as to their communities through community water committees.
Participants who were all housed at a nearby residence would arrive at grounds every morning and do warm ups before breakfast. After breakfast, two professional football players from Watoto Wasoka, tutors of the project together with coaches would then conduct the named drill sessions including “Toilet Hygiene” and “Risky behavior” in which poor hygiene practices were taught against. In the “True or False” drill, pupils knowledge on safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene was tested while the “Forbidden Area” drill indirectly implied that open defecation was no longer permissible. At the end of the program was a friendly match between Moroto FC and Football 4 WASH FC which ended in a 2-1 win in favor of the Moroto Team.
So what do the pupils and their teachers have to say about the eventful week? Sarah Abura, a Primary 6 pupil at Kalotom Primary School in Napak wishes her little brothers were here too. Nevertheless, she’s determined to pass on this knowledge to them and other people back at home. Sarah who hopes to become a nurse in future says her mother will be happy she learnt these lessons. Teacher Paul who acknowledges that he didn’t know some steps of hygiene until now vows to spread the gospel knowledge back home where locals drink water straight from the same wells where they feed their animals. Is Karamoja region a work in progress? Absolutely. Are things looking up for the future especially with regards to safe water, hygiene and sanitation? I think you and I will agree that this too is an absolute yes.
This blog post contains the photography of PapaShotIt.