Meet Emmanuel “Sunday” Ojara: Lifeline’s Senior Program Manager, WASH

By: Erin Peiffer

All of our work here at Lifeline is made possible by the incredible passion and drive of our team. We’re proud to introduce you to the talented individuals who power our work and mission.

“The most joy that I get is seeing transformations in communities, especially when we are drilling and we strike water. When people see water oozing from the ground, they celebrate that this is a sign of a healthy society and healthy life.
– Emmanuel “Sunday” Ojara 

Could you introduce yourself and your role with Lifeline?

My name is Emmanuel “Sunday” Ojara, and I’m a WASH practitioner. My background is in public health and I have a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH). I worked in this sector for 15 years before joining Lifeline, heading a country program known as ClearWater Initiative. In 2015 we merged with Lifeline, and now I’m heading the WASH department. My role is to oversee WASH operations like programming, planning, and implementation of projects, ensuring that the team working in the WASH department are doing things that are in line with the goals and objectives of the organization and in alliance with the government.

What made you want to pursue public health and, specifically, WASH?

In my youth in post conflict Northern Uganda, I had seen simple issues causing major problems. For example, the kind of diseases that people are suffering from, common diseases… most of them are water related. Going to study public health, majoring in health promotion, I saw that I can be a game changer, changing communities and behavior so that they can live a healthier life. I believe prevention is better than cures. Health promotion is basically a preventive measure for health-related issues. A lot of diseases could be avoided if people followed certain simple things like drinking safe water, bathing every now and again, keeping personal hygiene, and having proper sanitary facilities at home. I saw water was a great empowerment. Water is almost everything for life. Without water there would be no life. Every life centers water, and if you have safe water you are empowered, and you can turn things around. That’s why water takes a greater portion of planet earth than land.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

The most joy that I get is seeing transformations in communities, especially when we are drilling and we strike water. When people see water oozing from the ground, they celebrate that this is a sign of a healthy society and healthy life.

What are some of the impacts that you see from the work that you do with Lifeline?

I like using the word transformation and change in lifestyle. Some communities are now starting small businesses. [Through our community engagements and trainings] they learn basic life skills, planning for their families, budgeting for water, and using latrines so that they keep personal hygiene and avoid open defecation. Also, [we see impact by] influencing government policies because we are on the ground and see what communities go through. Then we hold meetings with the government to give our professional insight on some policies, such as the operation and maintenance framework for boreholes in communities. We played a great role in drafting that policy framework and our inputs were greatly supported. [Our policy work has] a great impact on all of Uganda, not just Northern Uganda where we operate, because the framework covers the whole nation.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging [part] is getting people to change their behavior, especially people wanting water to understand that they need to plan and pay to sustain their water sources once provided. We put a lot of investment in drilling boreholes for communities to get water, but people don’t want to pay for maintenance. I always compare water points with an automobile or a bicycle. If someone buys a bicycle and gives it to you, you need to maintain it. You don’t expect the person who has given you a huge asset to come and maintain it even if a tube or a spoke is broken. You have to buy and replace [those parts] which means that if you have such an asset you need to plan for maintenance.

Many people complain that they don’t have money, but I run through a simple exercise with them. I take a household and ask them, “Tell me what your budget is like in your household.” People talk about sugar, food, health, dressing, and they miss out on water. People think that water should be free because in economic terms water is a “free good”, it is readily available as a natural resource. If you go to any lake and scoop a cup of water, nobody’s going to disturb you; but to make that water safe, a lot of investment is poured into it. You only pay for the process of making it safe. For a community the investment cost is thousands of dollars to drill a borehole, but it takes a lot of time and effort to communicate why they should contribute one dollar or less per household to maintain it. There is no existing custom of paying for clean water access, so that is really a challenge for us.

How has COVID-19 affected your job in the last year, and the work that you do?

COVID-19 has really affected my work and the team, as well. We used to do a lot of community engagements, holding meetings with large numbers. But now with COVID-19 you cannot interact with communities freely, and you need to keep social distance which is anti-social. We have lost the human element, the connection and excitement. When you are drilling a water point and there is celebration, and people are happy. Now we have masks on which hide your facial identity and smiles, and can’t even shake hands, so it looks so weird. We are learning the new normal, so it’s very challenging, and it is difficult to adapt. And it has affected community contributions for paying for water points, because people [have been affected] economically. And right now, schools are not operating in Uganda so you can imagine the impact on education. When we have uneducated people, it’s very troublesome.

However, there are also positive impacts in the short term. For example, we had been advocating for hand washing for several years, and people were not practicing it. The first four months when COVID-19 was high everywhere in every household, you would find hand washing facilities. People were practicing hand washing with soap and keeping socially distanced. COVID-19 helped us to change people’s behavior, automatically, though with the relaxation now people are getting used to it, and they’re going back to the normal life. But at least there was a big change within the past six months when COVID-19 was very active and before when people were afraid of it.

Outside of the work that you do, do you have any hobbies?

I like playing keyboard and watching animated movies. [My favorite songs to play on the keyboard] are local gospel songs, and my favorite [movies] are the Lion King and Madagascar. And I really want to know how to play guitar, but I think God has not given me that skill. If I could play keyboard and play guitar, I would be so happy.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money and why?

I have a passion for humanity, so I would put it into charity to help people improve their health by educating people on water and health issues. I would promote education, especially for vulnerable children that are on the street without parents. I would also invest in teaching people about the value of family planning and adoption, so that we form a better universe and improve society. It pains me to see kids without parents moving on the street. If we have passion for humanity, we can help transform society and make a better world.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

In addition to my work, one thing I’m looking forward to is going to see interesting places, like Sweden and hopefully India when possible.