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Under the pay-as-you-fetch management model, a water source caretaker is paid a monthly wage. Caretakers are no longer community volunteers as they used to be and this has improved service delivery.
Any job worth doing is worth doing very well. The axiom couldn't be truer than in the case of Mujuni James – the caretaker of Mugusu market borehole.
The 20-year old became caretaker in October 2016, when IRC Uganda rehabilitated the community borehole which had been non-functional for more than a year. Before that, Mujuni had been doing small scale farming, mainly growing vegetables for subsistence and commercial purposes. "But there were many challenges with farming. We relied on seasons which have increasingly become unreliable over the years. There were many uncertainties and it was hard to raise enough money from the sales," Mujuni recalls.
When he was approached by the water user commity (WUC) requesting him to take up the caretaker position, he had no reservations. Had it been in the days when water source caretakers were community volunteers, perhaps Mujuni would have turned down the request. Unlike caretakers back in the day, Mujuni is not a volunteer. He is paid a small salary – a percentage of the collections from user fees. He is happy with the job because it has given him employment – in a country where youth unemployment is estimated to be 83%. For Mujuni, being the borehole caretaker is a full time job. As such, he has no time to attend to his gardens, but has decided to invest in bricklaying which does not require his full time presence.
On a typical day, Mujuni opens the borehole at six o'clock in the morning. This allows children to fetch water before they go to school. "If I don't open by six o'clock, the children come and knock at my door," Mujuni says. His day may then stretch out to as late as 8.00pm, with a few off-peak hours during the day. Morning and evening are the busiest times of the day.
The caretaker's key daily tasks include: time management at the borehole; cleaning the apron and the surroundings; warning people with dirty jerry cans about hygiene requirements; warning users not to pump carelessly; look out for the state of the borehole, for example any changes in the sound may indicate a problem with one of the parts.
"I am busiest during the dry season. I may serve over 100 jerry cans in a day, each going for 100 shillings," Mujuni says. It is less busy during the rainy season as there are fewer people fetching water. "On a good day in the rainy season, I may collect up to 5000 shillings". Mujuni takes the money to the treasurer every three to four days.
Given its urban location, the Mugusu town borehole attracts too many users who are sometimes unruly. Mujuni says the water vendors are his biggest challenge: "They are very forceful and violent sometimes. It's like they are mad. Some of them steal padlocks so we can't lock the facility," he explains.
However, Mujuni has found a way to manage the crowd by making sure every user knows the rules. He says he is a "people person" who prefers to engage and talk to people rather than argue with them. "People generally obey the rules. I know how to talk to them. When the rowdy water vendors come, I maintain my cool demeanor and apply a convincing tongue. If they are not convinced I leave them."
Being a source caretaker wasn't always a coveted responsibility. Because it was a voluntary undertaking, many caretakers used to give up on the role, especially when it came to dealing with the negative attitude and fractious conduct of water users. With the new pay-as-you-fetch approach and the metering of boreholes promoted by IRC Uganda, the WUC is able to collect enough funds, part of which is used to pay the caretaker. This approach also adds value to the efforts to professionalise the Community Based Management System (CBMS) and ensure sustainability of water supply systems. The approach also ensures that young men like James Mujuni can earn an income and improve their economic wellbeing.
As for Mujuni, he says he is generally happy with his job as caretaker: "I love my community and I love my job because it is the patriotic thing to do."