Maria Stella from Kampala, Uganda, is a confident, engaging 12-year-old girl with big ambitions for the future.  She is articulate and fluent in two languages, including English, with a vocabulary and knowledge way beyond what you would expect for someone her age. There's no holding this girl back.

Maria Stella from Kasasa Junior School, Kampala, Uganda
Maria Stella proudly displaying her school Sanitary Prefect badge. Photo: Lynn Johnson / Ripple Effect Images

With dedication to her schoolwork, encouraging teachers, a supportive family and good health on her side, she has every chance of achieving her dream of being a radio journalist who will stand up for women's rights and take politicians to task over issues such as corruption. 

"I want to talk about corruption. If you have a budget surplus and there is corruption then it means the country can go into deficit. I would interview MPs [Members of Parliament] on the radio and tell them to go to Parliament and fight corruption."

In short, Maria Stella is thriving, and a promising future lies ahead.

Students at Kasasa Primary School in Kampala, Uganda.
Maria Stella, pictured front right, with other students. Photo: Lynn Johnson / Ripple Effect Images.

But things could have turned out very differently. At the age of just nine she nearly died from typhoid, a water-related disease she contracted by drinking dirty water from an unprotected well.  She told us:

"I had stomach ache and diarrhea, I was ill for a week. My parents were very worried about me, I was dehydrated and they thought I would die."

Thankfully, water-related diseases are a distant memory for Maria Stella. Since moving to Kampala from the countryside, her family has had access to safe water at home, and WaterAid has helped her school to build a rainwater harvesting system, construct new toilets, and start a hygiene club that promotes good hygiene practices and raises awareness of menstrual hygiene.

Students at Kasasa School, Kampala, Uganda, washing their hands with safe water from the new WaterAid rainwater tank.
Students washing their hands with water from the rainwater tank. Photo: WaterAid / Libby Plumb

Katherine Nakitende, Maria Stella’s mother, (pictured with Maria Stella at the top of the page), remembers her own life being consumed by water collection as a teenager, and is glad things are different for her daughter:

“I never had safe water when I was a girl, I am so glad Maria Stella has it. I used to fetch water from half a mile away. I used to carry three jerry cans, for the cows, for cooking food, and for washing clothes and plates. Maria has good opportunities compared to when I was young. Her life changed when she got safe water.”