World Toilet Day 2016: How To Make Your Poop Matter

This week, to mark World Toilet Day, Mara explains how Andrew’s environmentally friendly toilet design works:

World Toilet Day is coming up this Saturday 19th November, so in its honour we have taken the opportunity to share with you the magic behind our toilet composting system, designed and engineered by our Founder and Managing Director, Andrew J. Smith. Currently situated  in our volunteers camp, the toilet system serves as an environmental test model for future projects across the region. However, we hope that by sharing our achievement with you today we can inspire others across the globe to take the plunge towards more environmentally friendly solutions.

In fact, our toilet test model is easily adaptable to suit varying purposes and environments, as well as different levels of water access.

View of the toilet from outside

On the outside, it works like a classic Western flush toilet (with an incredible view of Lake Victoria as a bonus): bowl, rim, tank, flush handle – you get the gist. It is in what you don’t see, where all of the magic happens. The toilet is connected to a composting system, running purified water, a solar energy system and an eventual methane gas supply for hot water.

The view from the shower


The water is collected from the soil and stored in the Sand Filtration Well, a well coated by a layer of sand and netting for the first round of purification. The water is then pumped up into the Filtration Water Tank, which sits on the roof and is the highest component in the system, thus allowing enough pressure for the water to travel throughout the system. The Filtration Water Tank collects, stores and filters the water once more, through layers of charcoal, stones, pebbles and sand which are previously cleansed and left to dry in direct sunlight. The sun’s UV rays are extremely effective at killing any viruses and bacteria that might be left after cleansing.

The water in the tank is then ready to be used: in our test model the water pipes link to the toilet, the shower and the kitchen tap, as well as a future outlet for a basin in our bathroom. In the shower, a Copper Coil System heats up the water giving access to both hot and cold water.

Building the reed purification bed

The toilet, a Western-style flush toilet, is connected to a catchment tank where the separation of solids and liquids takes place. This happens through a series of aggy pipes, walls and filtration components. The liquids, together with any other waste water, are run off into a Reed Bed Purification system which cleanses the water before reintroducing it back into the soil.

Solids remain in the Separation Tank, and once it is about 3/4 full, we quickly remove it and replace it with a fresh one. This takes about 10 seconds and is the only time we need to come close to it; this takes place about twice a year. The tank is then set aside to dry for a couple of weeks: because of the lack of liquids, the solid waste that comes out of the tank is absolutely free of smell. We then start adding ash, moss, cow manure and any other organic waste, rolling the tank every week or so. Within 3 months the human waste degrades, and turns into a highly nutritious and effective natural fertiliser for farming or gardening use.

Emptying the catchment tank after composting

Overall, there is no smell and no contact involved, and the whole structure is extremely cost effective. It also suits our needs ideally in terms of providing irrigation and fertile soil for our future permaculture farm. However, you do not need a permaculture farm to switch to a toilet with a positive environmental impact: everything we do nowadays can and should be environmentally friendly and effective, and our water and toilet composting system is suitable for any residential home with just a few square meters of land. Our projects are not just about providing education to the children of this region, but finding global solutions to the environmental issues that threaten the world we are leaving to the children we say we love.


Safari Day 1: Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

After going on a weekend Safari, our volunteers tell us about their experience exploring Uganda’s National Parks. In this post Mara tells us about their visit to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

Under the dictatorial rule of Idi Amin in the ‘70s, the already scarce population of White Rhinos in Uganda was completely wiped out. This terrible extinction was caused mostly by the extensive poaching that saw masses of rhinos killed for their horns. Believed to hold aphrodisiac powers, the horns were highly sought for and sold to lucrative markets across the world.


Last Friday was the beginning of our Safari weekend, and all of our volunteers left the island for a 3-day tour across some of the most beautiful National Parks in Uganda. First on our itinerary was Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, an Ngo “committed to the restoration of Uganda’s rhinoceros population”. The Sanctuary was founded in 2001 and received its first 4 rhinos from Kenya in 2004, and 2 more from Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida in 2005 . In June 2009 the first healthy calf, Obama, was born, announcing new hope for the rhino population of Uganda after 27 years of extinction.


Since then, 10 more calves have been born in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which now has a total population of 16 rhinos. Today the Sanctuary offers 70 square kilometres of safe land and has guards on 24 hour watch to protect the animals from poaching. This means the rhinos have a secure place to grow and breed, with the hope to see their gradual re-introduction into Uganda’s National Parks.


We entered Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary after a 170km drive from Kampala, through a variety of landscapes and sceneries that left us in awe before even reaching our first destination. After a taste of Kabalagala (delicious local pancakes, made out of banana and cassava flours – which also happens to perfectly suit my gluten-and-lactose intolerance) and Gonja (a local variety of banana roasted on an open fire), we were ready to begin our rhino hike across the park. At the briefing we were told that, because of the wild nature of the animals, we would probably only get to see a rhino or two from up close, so we didn’t begin our walk with huge expectations. Give it 5 minutes, however, and there we were, facing a family of 6, standing no further than 10 meters from these astonishing, giant creatures. No need to describe the looks of awe on our faces, nor the number of incredibles and wows that were uttered in the hour we spent with these rare animals. We were so lucky, not only to see such a large group of rhinos but also to see them roaming freely around such a beautiful park away from the threat of predators and poachers.


This unique experience, getting so close to animals of such rarity and magnificence, reminded us once again how strongly consequential human interference with the planet can be. After 27 years of man-caused extinction White Rhinos may have a new chance to prosper. It is our responsibility, today, to make sure our future actions generate freedom and growth, and no longer cause destruction.

Dan, our safari guide, organised our tour to an excellent ethical standard. If you ever want to visit Uganda (and we suggest you do), please make sure to look at his website.


My Sponsorship Story

In honour of the launch of a new ‘Sponsor a Child Programme’ this weeks blog post is written by Rachael, our Director of Operations about the impact of sponsorship. 

It’s lunchtime in the camp and we are enjoying a peaceful cup of coffee. From a few hundred yards away we can hear the small giggles of the pre-school kids running through the jungle on their way to class. As the giggles grow nearer the dogs start going crazy, obviously it’s time to warn us that the crazy children are nearly here. Next thing we hear are the cheerful shouts from Noe, Gloria, Samuel and Ibra…. “HELLLOOO TEACHER”, a few steps closer and then Gloria breaks into a run and leaps up into your arms to greet you. ‘Hello teacher Rachael, how are you?’. Once all twelve kids have arrived and each has greeted you in the same happy way it’s time to start class. 

I could go on talking about the eagerness of our kids to learn, and the enthusiasm they bring to school, but I’ll save that for another time or I will be here for hours. Today I want to talk about why I decided to sponsor a child! I mean first of all how can you not fall in love with all of the kids when they greet you so warmly each day? And how could you not feel proud of them when they master writing Letter A for the first time? Or figure out the answer to 7 + 4 all by themselves? All of these things made me want to guarantee that Banda Island Primary School can countiue to exsist and support the children on the island. This can and will be achieved via our new Sponsor a Child Programme.

Gloria and Noe in class
The above examples are the kind of things I am lucky enough to experience each day whilst volunteering with Firefly. I am in a fortunate position in which I can spend every day with so many wonderful children, and get to know each of their amazing personalities. Through the new sponsorship programme Firefly hopes to create international relationships for our budding mathematicians, or future swimming champions, or pilots, or doctors, or fishermen, or vets (the list goes on). Whatever they want to be when they grow up, we want to make sure they have an education that will allow them to succeed. At Firefly, we hope that through letters and emails, updates and photographs we can create a relationship between people all over the world, and everyone of the children in our school, by getting each and every one of them sponsored. Which will in turn guarantee them access to education.
Gloria, is a 7 year old bubbly, gorgeous little girl who attends our pre-school. Gloria always comes to school with a big smile on her face and an energy that cannot be missed. Gloria’s mummy works at the camp to earn a living to support not only Gloria and her two sisters (Grace and Getu), but also her three other children that live on the mainland. Mamma Gloria (Jayne) is a hugely generous lady who gives all of her spare time and money to help others. She has a small cooking space in the village where she cooks everyday, and whoever is in need that day comes along to eat. Everyday Mamma Gloria cooks for at least 3 more children than her own.

Gloria, Rachael, Mamma Gloria, Grace and Getu

It is these kind-hearted actions that led me to want to help Gloria and her family in anyway that I can. Having discussed the sponsorship programme with the Firefly team, it was clear to me the difference that €15 would make to Gloria and Mamma Gloria’s life. This is an amount that most in Europe, America or Australia etc can afford to spare. That’s a sacrifice of 3 Starbucks coffees or 2 large glasses of wine a month. Something that is easily achievable for me, and now something that I will never stop doing having seen the difference it can make to one family. 

I did not chose to sponsorship Gloria for any sort of gratitude, but purely because she’s a fabulous little girl. I wanted to make sure she could keep coming to school and would keep mastering the alphabet and go on achieve what she wants to. However, when Mamma Gloria was told that I would be helping her with Gloria’s  school fees her reaction was truly heart warming. She cannot speak much English but just from her smiles and her many many many thank yous and hugs, it was evident that this would make a big difference to her life, especially with Gloria’s younger sister Grace starting school in January. 

Gloria before school
Gloria is just one of the amazingly brilliant children we have in our primary school and in Banda village. I hope that my story will inspire you to spread the word about Firefly Uganda, our sponsorship programme and you that choose to join us on our quest!

Just another day at the office…

Mara our Media and Communications Director describes a typical day at Firefly Uganda:

Forget the 6am cock-a-doodle-doo wake up call of a rooster. Here on the island it’s the sweet, harmonised 7am crescendo of a dozen mooooohs that will get you out of bed. Punctual and reliable. You can leave your alarm clock at home, the cows will do the job.

You jump out of bed, get out of your tent and there you are: you’re outside, the sun is shining, it’s warm, but not too warm; the perfect morning for a swim in the lake – unless you’re me, then you have probably overslept, everyone’s already gone for a swim and the kids are about to come running down the path, ready for school. You get the kettle boiling and make yourself a coffee – but then again, you’ve probably overslept and Rachael has already done that for you – black, no sugar.

Quick breakfast and everyone’s off to their duties. Laptop, internet router, a sarong to lie down on and you’re ready to go. The dress code for the office is widely acknowledged and respected: comfy clothes and preferably no shoes. You head out to the office: your commute consists of a one minute walk down the path that connects the camp to the village. A couple of fallen trees and a string of safari ants later and you’re in the office.

Now picture this: the office is an open-air grass area with trees and bushes of all sorts. There are probably a couple of goats, a pig and a few paradise fly-catchers around, maybe a cow or two. All very congenial company, although not the chattiest of colleagues. You usually sit in the shade of a tree to avoid your laptop from overheating. The only hazard: the birds atop and their droppings. Other than that, it is the epitome of the perfect office space: spacious, comfortable, peaceful. You lie down on the sarong you borrowed from Rachael and get the laptop started.

It’s a beautiful clear day which means the internet connection is working at its best: from where you’re sitting you can see the internet towers on the main island, Bugala, just a short boat ride away. You get some work done on the website and the social media pages, and before you know it it’s time for lunch. As you’re walking back to the camp you run into the children. They’ve just finished school and are also headed home for lunch. You can tell by their excitement that they had swimming class today, it always puts them in the best of moods.

After lunch you decide to go find Andrew and get some shots of the progress on the new water purification system he’s working on. Your commute this time involves a walk down the beach. Once again, shoes are expendable. You walk with your feet in the water, under the palm trees and through the sand, until you reach the palm beach where the boys are digging the well. 

You can’t find Andrew so you get a closer look: he’s in the well! You take a few pictures trying not to laugh too much at the scene. But it’s not too long before Andrew decides it would be even funnier to see you at work instead. You accept the challenge and jump down the waterhole: the water’s up to your shoulders and you are still wearing your clothes from the day, but you can’t stop laughing at the eccentricity of the scene.


A few scoops of clay later it’s time to get back to the camp and get dinner started, so you get pulled out of the well and, after examining the state of your clothes (now completely covered in clay), you decide you might as well jump in the lake and swim back. The camp is only a short swim away and the water today is fabulous. And, I guess, why not make the most out of this beautiful place? All in all a pretty good day at the office.


‘Oli Otya’ from the Firefly Team!

Welcome to the Firefly Uganda Blog!

Today we are excited to announce that we are launching our new blog! We will be using this as another platform to interact with and update our supporters on all of our projects and more. Here at Firefly we are committed to providing everyone who is involved or interested in our work with full transparency, therefore we want to show you more than just our projects. This blog will not only be informative but also fun and diverse, we will be posting once a week about issues that matter to us, but don’t worry we will make sure we switch things up so you keep coming back for more Firefly updates.

This blog is run by all of our volunteers providing a variety of voices for you to listen to. We want to let you know what life at Firefly is like, what we get up to on a day-to-day basis and the fun we have in-between all the hard work. Not only this but we will be sharing with you our opinions on matters such as environmental sustainability and humanitarian concerns but in a chatty and open manner. We want this blog to be a platform in which our supporters and followers can share their opinions or ideas and contribute to the work here at Firefly. So we invite you to submit any articles, posts or opinions that you would like us to share using the ‘leave a comment’ button above.

We believe that keeping the conversation going is a way to inform people all over the world of the difficulties faced by so many, not just here on Lake Victoria but globally. Follow us to stay up to date with the issues that we and the community on Banda island face everyday. Let us know your ideas and your views and help us spread the word about Firefly.

“Join the quest for a better future: for them, for you, for all our children and all living things”

The Firefly Team