New Ugandan club takes on challenges of a growing economy

Members of the Rotary Club of Nkumba, Uganda, help to refurbish a water well, resulting in a 40 percent increase of water flow.
Courtesy of Michael Muriithi

Despite three years of strong economic growth and a burgeoning middle class, the central Ugandan city of Entebbe is still mired in high poverty rates, inadequate health care, and water insecurity.

In 2010 the United Nations established the Regional Service Centre Entebbe, which is a logistical launch pad for UN missions in Central Africa. The permanent UN hub brought tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel and their families to the area. While the economic boost created a growing consumer class, it's failed to trickle down to the poorest citizens.

When Michael Muriithi moved there about a year ago, he knew a Rotary club could address the disparity.

"There are still large and immediate challenges facing our communities," says Muriithi, formerly a member of the Rotary Club of Kumpala East. "This is where Rotary is at its best, finding solutions to these problems."

Instead of joining the Rotary Club of Entebbe, Muriithi worked with its members to establish a new club that would address concerns of one of the city's largest villages, Nkumba.

Muriithi began recruiting members in early 2013. "I called my friends and colleagues and asked if they were interested in starting a new club. Once they saw how much impact we could have on the community, they not only joined but began to spread the word to their friends. It wasn't hard -- they were excited to get started, " says Muriithi.

After months of provisional status, the Rotary Club of Nkumba was officially chartered in December, becoming the 75th Rotary club in Uganda. Muriithi serves as the 40 member-club's inaugural president. The club has a young base with the average age of 35, according to Muriithi.

Members decided to focus their activities on improving health care in Nkumba and the surrounding area.

Earlier this year, the club raised more than $2,000 to dig and construct a new latrine pit for Nkumba's Kitala Health Centre after the old one was closed due to unsanitary conditions. The center is the only public medical facility in the area, serving a population of almost 600,000, most of whom can't afford private health care, according to the club.

At the start of the project, the club had the option of paying a company to do the demolition of the old latrine or doing it themselves. The decision was easy. "We made a promise to be a hands-on club, so along with other volunteers, did the work ourselves," he says. "This built camaraderie among our members. It also increased Rotary's visibility to the public."

They constructed latrines for women and for men, as well as one for staff. The club estimates the latrine pits will last up to 20 years. During the construction, the club also handed out new clothes and blankets to every new mother in the facility.

Club members also turned their attention to clean water. They funded and facilitated the rehabilitation of a major water well, resulting in an increase of 40 percent more clean water. Muriithi says they are planning on improving four more wells by the end of the year.

"I'm proud to be a part of this new adventure and excited at what we can achieve," he says. "But our success will only be defined by the work we do. This club is made of the people who are dedicated to making a change. That's the Rotary way."

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