One woman’s inspiring quest for clean water

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For most of us, access to clean water is something we don’t need to think about. Turn on the tap, and out it flows. It’s something we take for granted until there’s a power failure or water main break.

In many places around the world, though, people aren’t so lucky. Drought, infrastructure problems and a lack of potable water are a daily challenge. Water-borne illnesses and thirst are ways of life.

In the Kamwenge district of Western Uganda, a woman named Diana Keesiga is working hard to change that. The story of how she found her calling is nothing short of an inspiration.

As a child growing up in a series of small villages, Keesiga watched again and again as wells broke or ran dry. Villagers lacked the skill to fix them, and clean water was scarce. When the wells broke, the villagers turned to dirty streams or swamps to get their water, leading to frequent outbreaks of typhoid fever and malaria.

At a very young age — she thinks she was about 6 — Keesiga vowed that one day, she’d find a way to ensure that everyone has access to clean water.

That single-minded determination helped her attain a full college scholarship. She earned a graduate degree in civil engineering, and in July 2012 joined Water for People, an international, nonprofit humanitarian group that aims to bring people “safe drinking water resources and improved sanitation across the globe.”

Although the water problem in western Uganda is far from solved, Keesiga came up with a simple — yet brilliant — idea that’s quickly helping improve lives across the country. Her solution? A hand-operated water pump with a meter attached. The meter records how much water each villager collects, and they’re then charged about four cents for every 5 gallons. Part of that money is put into a fund to pay for the well’s upkeep; the rest pays wages for the people in charge of the pump. “Frustration over failure to raise enough to facilitate a trained person to assess or fix a well is very common and very disturbing,” she told us. The pump/meter system alleviates that frustration by not only providing money for infrastructure repair, but by giving villagers the opportunity to earn a living wage. This is inspiring more people to come forward and receive the training necessary for the water systems’ upkeep.

“My position requires one to think through things with a fresh perspective, be innovative, approach things differently!” Keesiga says. Solutions have to be tailored to each rural village, which means she’s always thinking outside the box. She says that’s what makes her job so exciting.

The next time you get fresh water from the tap, think about Diana Keesiga. Because of her determination and innovation, people across western Uganda are living healthier lives. If only we all could make such a difference in the world.