Josephine's story

The sun beats down and it’s been almost an hour since Josephine took her place on the long line for water. As the wait drags on, frustrations boil over and pushing and shouting erupt – adding violence to an already time-consuming daily struggle.

Josephine collecting water at the spring.
Photo: Lynn Johnson / Ripple Effect Images

In her slum neighborhood in Uganda’s capital city Kampala, Josephine, a 25-year-old mother of two, is separated from her children but struggling to run a business with the hope of making enough money to bring her children back to her. A piped water system in her neighborhood could help reunite her with her family.

Without piped water, the natural spring is the community’s only source of drinking water. The pit latrines are built just a few yards away and everyone here knows having latrines so close to the spring means the drinking water is likely to be contaminated with sewage.

But with no other water source, Josephine, along with the rest of the community, has no choice but to wait in line to fill her jerry cans with water from the spring. It’s a long wait and she often needs to fight for her place.

Alongside women and kids collecting water for their families, men come to the spring with bicycles and motorbikes that they load up with jerry cans of water to sell to people who can’t make it to the spring themselves. With business concerns overriding politeness, some of the men aren’t happy to wait in line, and jostle for position to reach the front of the line faster.

Josephine told us: “There is scrambling and fighting to get water. There is a lineup system but some people disobey it, men mainly. They don’t like to wait in line because they are taking water to sell. They are strong, they often push us.”

Not feeling able to fight back, Josephine’s wait for water continues. As every minute ticks by, it’s another minute away from the charcoal selling business she runs with her sister Florence in a small store in front of the house they share on a nearby street. She has a particularly poignant reason to want her business to thrive: her dream is to be reunited with her children, who currently live with her mother in a village in the countryside. Josephine asked her mother for help after finding she was unable to afford to feed the children in Kampala.

Time away from the business means lost earnings she could be using to support her children and help bring them home.

Josephine collecting water at the spring.
Photo: Lynn Johnson / Ripple Effect Images

Josephine told us: “I miss customers because I am at the spring collecting water. If I had access to a tap I would save time that I could put into the business.”

WaterAid and local partner Community Integrated Development Initiatives (CIDI) have just started working here to help the community form a strategy with the National Water and Sewerage Corporation to extend the piped water system into the neighborhood. Josephine is hopeful that soon her time will be spent on her business instead of fighting for water and she will be able to bring her children home and care for them as a mother.