Skip to main content

Martin Ssemulugo on Promoting Hygiene and Sanitation for Peace in Uganda

I-House Resident Interview Series

Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis "My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."

The next Davis Projects for Peace award recipient interview features Martin Ssemulugo from Uganda, a master’s student in Developmental Engineering at UC Berkeley. Here are some highlights of our discussion:

Hello Martin! What’s your Davis Peace Project about?

The name of my project is Hygiene & Sanitation4peace, which is a community outreach project that is aimed at promoting sanitation and hygiene, social friendliness, and peaceful coexistence of fishermen and locals at the Ndese village located at Kigungu landing site in Entebbe, Uganda. 

That’s so cool! Could you tell me a little bit about the cultural background and history behind your project?

I grew up in a fishing community back in Uganda and for years, I saw persistent violence and conflict among us the locals and the fishermen. And this caused a lot of economic stagnation, but also hindered peaceful living at the landing site, for both the fishermen and the locals. So one of the major causes of conflict in the area that I’m talking about is poor sanitation and hygiene that is caused by the dense population, given that the fishermen keep coming to the area and the land is decreasing but the population is increasing. And with only one pit latrine in that area, it became very challenging for such a densely populated area to have only one sanitation facility.

Map of the Kigungu landing site in Entebbe, Uganda | Source: BMC Health Services Research.

According to a survey by Catholic Relief Services, in 2021 alone, this poor hygiene and sanitation problem caused diseases like bilharzia, dysentery, urinary tract infections, and diarrhea to at least 42% of the population, and mortality rates stood at 4% for the infants and 2% for the adults. The natives and fishermen are ever in conflict and according to the local Police, up to 52 cases of violence were recorded and these resulted in two fatalities, personal injury for 22 persons as well as destruction of property worth over 33 million Uganda shillings which is equivalent to USD 8,918. This clearly indicates that if nothing is done to this end, the death rate might rise to 6 per 1000 people by the end of 2023 resulting from violence and poor sanitation and hygiene. 

So, my Davis Project for Peace focuses on constructing an additional modern sanitation facility in the area to support the growing population and reduce conflict and violence. And that’s what I’m working on at the moment.

Community-building through hygiene and safety training sessions with the locals and fishermen of Ndese village

Thank you so much for sharing! What inspired you to come up with this project?

Of course, like many of us, when you are growing up in a community, you tend to look at the different challenges that people are facing in the community. And then those challenges inspire you that some point in time, when you get a chance, to come up with a solution and work with partners to do something—to make sure that you lessen the tension or lessen the problem. So that’s the kind of inspiration that I have. I grew up and worked in the same community for some time and I was familiar with and had a good understanding of the challenges faced by this community. And so I was able to at least come up with a project that can address one of the challenges.

That’s amazing! It’s so inspiring to see you do this for your community. So how has your project been? Where are you with it at the moment?

Yes, so at the moment, we’ve done a couple of things. We have already had several stakeholder meetings and established a peace-building committee at the landing site. And right now, the team that is part of the stakeholder committee is conducting quite a number of continual sensitization of the local population about the project, its benefits, and sustainability as well as peace-building in the area. We also were able to acquire land, and now we’re constructing a sanitation facility containing latrines and bathrooms to boost sanitation and hygiene in the area.

Ongoing construction of a sanitation facility with latrines and bathrooms

Wow, I can’t believe that you’re already in the construction phase after only having started your project this summer! On that note, I was wondering how has the impact of I-House helped you to bring your project to life?

I believe that I-House offers an amazing experience. It was my first time living in a diverse and multicultural environment, and I-House exposed me to a wide range of perspectives, traditions, and experiences—at a certain day, or a certain meal it’s very likely that you’d bump into somebody who comes from a different part of the world. This exposure helped me get a greater understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and perspectives which was applicable to my current Davis Peace Project that involved some degree of cross-cultural communication and collaboration, especially among different fishermen and locals from different ethnic backgrounds across Uganda and speaking different languages. So my stay at I House definitely taught me how to address the different perspectives and scenarios that came with my project. I believe I will face similar scenarios in future projects and will apply my I-House experiences to navigate through such encounters.

Yes, that’s so true! I also really appreciate how diverse I-House is and the conversations I have with people in the dining hall with other people! So what advice would you give I-House residents who are thinking about starting their own Peace Project?

Yeah! I remember when they had advertised the notice about the Davis Projects for Peace, calling for applications. I really kept gazing at that advert for some days and months, trying to think of what can I do, and it allowed me to reflect on my community. And I think that residents who are hoping to take part in promoting peace in their communities should get involved in understanding the challenges facing their communities, and the kind of impact they want to put forth. And from that perspective, they will be able to come up with appropriate solutions to solve problems in their communities or in communities that they are concerned about.

I think that’s really great advice, especially since I-House is filled with residents who are very passionate about their home communities and learning more about how they can help the issues that their communities face. Thank you so much! So, where can we find more information about your project? Is there an online platform that we can help promote?

At the moment, I’m thinking through and talking with the different stakeholders to come up with a website for our project. So yes, we are planning to open up one and will avail information once it is set up.

Sounds good! Looking forward to following your project online once everything’s sorted out! Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the entire I-House community, including the staff, fellow residents, and all those involved in creating such a vibrant and nurturing environment. The opportunities you have shared with student residents like myself have been truly life-changing, and I am incredibly grateful for your unwavering dedication to our growth and success.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your project, and for continuing to inspire residents and people from your community with the work that you’re doing! All the best!

Thank you!

Read previous interview: Dinah Lawan on Advancing Projects for Peace in Nigeria.

Learn more about I-House’s annual Davis Projects for Peace Awards!