By Elizabeth Buhungiro

Mercy and her Grandma, Susan, cook with the wood-burning cookstove provided by Lifeline in 2014.

Susan got married at 15. She says this matter-of-factly because early marriage is the norm in rural Uganda. When she got married, she moved to her marital home in another village. Things were relatively easy at the start; the village was lush and green with several trees and had a new borehole. So, clean water was plentiful, and so was wood fuel for cooking. Susan had a husband, and he did the man’s work of splitting the wood and plowing the field. But then he died in 1985, and she became a widow at 25, with four, then five children to fend for.

In the years that followed, the trees became fewer, so she walked farther foraging for wood. Then her village borehole started breaking down, remaining nonfunctional for months. Whenever this happened, Susan had to make two separate trips: one to a borehole 1.5 kilometers away to collect clean water for drinking and cooking and another to a swamp two kilometers away to collect dirty water for washing clothes and bathing. This constant toiling, carrying a 40-pound jerry can on her head twice a day over a long distance and plowing the field, left her with chronic chest pain that is evident in her labored breathing.

Susan is now 62, but she can’t slow down because she has four young grandchildren solely depending on her. Two of them, Mercy-10 and Milka-3.5, belonged to Susan’s youngest, who died of a mysterious disease in 2019. After she died, her husband, the children’s father, brought them to Susan promising financial support, but Susan and the children haven’t heard from him since.

“People cannot believe it when they see her,” Susan says of Milka. “She was six months old when her mother died and she used to cry a lot!” she adds.

Regardless of her struggles, Susan says she is determined to work and give her grandchildren “a bright future.” She says that access to clean water and a fuel-efficient firewood cookstove have played a significant role in freeing up her time for productive work. 

Mercy holds up her report card

Susan received a firewood cookstove from International Lifeline Fund (Lifeline) in 2014, but she still beams with pride talking about it eight years later. “This stove saves me so much time! When I light it, it stays hot for a long time, so I can leave the food cooking and go to the garden,” she says. “And it uses very little firewood than the three stone fire. I used to look for firewood every three days, but with this stove, I only go once a week,” she adds. Susan also no longer has to spend so much time looking for two kinds of water because Lifeline rehabilitated the community borehole 500 meters away from her home in 2014.

So what does she do with the extra time? Susan focuses on farming-planting beans and maize. She sells the yield at harvest time to earn the income that sustains her household and pays school fees for her grandchildren. And her grandchildren focus on their studies because they don’t have to constantly arrive at school late from spending their morning hours looking for water. Mercy is doing well in school. Unprompted, Susan asks her to bring out her report card. Written in Langi, a northern Uganda language, the report card reads that Mercy was fourth best out of 137 pupils in her class in end of year school examinations. She wants to be a policewoman when she grows up because, she says, “I want to protect people.”

Susan beats beans out their pods to get them ready for sale.

The story of Susan’s family is the story of time. In truth, our ability to thrive depends on how we spend our time. But the way we spend our time depends on our level of access to two of humanity’s most important needs: water and fuel for cooking. Without access to these needs, everything else comes to a standstill as we struggle to obtain them. The potential of many rural families is currently locked up in this struggle. It is passed down from one generation to the next, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Lifeline addresses this by providing nearby clean water borehole wells and fuel-efficient cookstoves. These two initiatives unlock over 25 million hours of productive time for women and girls every year. So, each new generation of children like Mercy has an opportunity to thrive.

Please join us and give more rural families the opportunity to thrive.

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