Memory of Headford priest sees Irish Water experts deliver safe water to developing countries

Fr Declan O'Toole pictured in Uganda.

Fr Declan O'Toole pictured in Uganda.

The memory of the work carried out by a missionary priest from Headford who was murdered in Uganda 20 years ago next week has inspired engineers to deliver water supply to needy communities in the African country.

Irish Water’s Tim O’Connor spends his days ensuring the people of the North West have a reliable water supply but in his free time his attention turns to safe drinking water in Uganda.

The engineer is among a number of Irish Water’s staff who have offered their expertise through Water-Share Ireland to help non-governmental organisations deliver sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH ) programmes to vulnerable communities in developing countries.

But for the Leitrim native living in Galway the connection with one country in East Africa runs much deeper than a desire to be charitable.

It was in Uganda where Tim’s brother in law Fr Declan O’Toole, a missionary priest from Headford, lost his life in 2002 as he attempted to secure peace.

He died with two locals from the diocese, Patrick Longoli and Fidelis Longole, when their Jeep was attacked by gunmen.

Fr O’Toole and his fellow missionaries were instrumental in securing a water supply in a Ugandan village close to the Sudanese border when they sank a borehole and erected a wind turbine.

Tim’s family will always have a connection with the Ugandan people and he and his wife Ita married in the Ugandan village that his brother in law called home for a number of years.

“I have a tie to the country; my wife stayed with her brother there, it was where we married and we will always have my brother in law’s legacy there.

So when Water-Share Ireland was set up and joined forces with Goal to help developing countries, Tim was eager to get involved.

Today he’s one of a number of current and former Irish Water engineers and Consultant Engineers assisting with a well drilling project to bring clean water to a village depending on a contaminated supply.

“It’s an awful story. Because of climate change the village’s well has suffered a lot with flooding from Lake Victoria. People must wade out to this well, the water is contaminated and there’s the possibility of snakes. It’s a real eye opener for someone from Europe to see the lengths people have to go to for water, and it’s not safe drinking water.”

The charity is hoping to raise funds to drill a new bore hole 2km inland from Lake Victoria near the Kenyan border and improve the supply.

“The capital city has certain amount of modernisation there but once you go up country it gets very remote. Ten years ago, when I was there it was amazing how mobile phones had penetrated the whole area. People wouldn’t have had a bicycle but a lot of them had mobile phones but no facility to charge them. The mission where Declan was had solar panel so there was a constant stream of people coming to charge mobile phone and they would give them the equivalent of five cent or whatever. Nobody has much money.”

The situation is much worse in some parts of Africa with no water or wastewater facilities.

Freetown, a city of more than one million population, relies on latrines for basic sanitation. However, Water-Share Ireland is working with Goal to deliver the Freetown Faecal Sludge Pilot Project.

Dr Róisín Bradford, Irish Water’s Corporate Affairs Project Manager and Civil Engineer, volunteers her time drawing up a strategy for the charity.

“It’s so rewarding. Covid19 put a stop to a lot of charity work I was doing here in Ireland, but this is a brilliant way to support the developing world without having to travel there.”

She sees Water-Share Ireland as having two objectives. The first is to gather funding from various engineering firms across the country to support these vital projects and the second is to provide expertise by tapping into the talent and generosity of their employees.

“We’re currently working with the Ugandan Government in terms of training them up in new technology and giving engineering advice on how a project might work. Experts in Irish Water are giving their own personal time to advise people in the developing world how best to build water and wastewater treatment facilities.”

Water-Share Ireland’s partnership with Goal means there are people on the ground to oversee the projects in the developing countries, but some volunteers have travelled to see the fruits of their labour first-hand.

With young children at home, it’s not the time for Tim O’Connor to offer his expertise overseas but he is hoping to return to Uganda in the future and “contribute positively from an engineering viewpoint

“The welcome you get in Africa is unbelievable. We talk about the Irish welcome but people in Africa have nothing and they would give you half of it. “


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