Teach Swimming, Save Lives.

We are looking for confident swimmers to help us provide swimming lessons to adults here on Banda Island. Read below to find out why and how your support could help us save lives.

Our projects are currently based on Banda Island, one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Ssese region of Uganda. Lake Victoria is an essential part of life here on the islands.: it is the main resource for food, freshwater and irrigation, as well as serving as supply for alternative energy, a route for transportation and a sink for human, agricultural and industrial waste. You can read more about the vital role of Lake Victoria on our previous blog post here. However, it is also the body of water with the most deaths caused by drowning per square kilometre in the world, which affects the communities of this region terribly. In the last three years only, drowning has caused us the loss of 25 people from our 3 neighbouring villages, 9 of which were fishermen from Banda Village itself. Banda has a total population of around 400 people only, and these high rates of accidents cause incredible loss to the community.


In a community where the economy depends mainly on fishing, not being able to swim puts the people and fishermen in terrible danger, and yet most people living on the Ssese Islands cannot swim. This is through no fault of their own, but the simple fact that fishermen risk their lives each day and night highlights the ever pressing importance of this issue. It is not only fishermen who are at risk: the islands suffer from a lack of important infrastructure, such as hospitals, health facilities, and schools, which means that a lot of people need to travel to the mainland or nearby islands to have access to their services. Moreover, economic opportunities on the islands are limited, so people also regularly travel for trade, carrying goods and livestock, or commuting between the mainland and the islands to balance work and family life. This adds up to a lot of people, traveling regularly on open canoes that don’t exactly emanate the greatest sense of safety. Most drownings occur because when the canoes capsize, people can’t swim nor float, themselves to safety.


Through our school, Banda Island Primary School, we have been teaching regular swimming classes to the children, which is proving to have great results. We are extremely proud to say that Sumayiya, 9 years old, is officially the first female swimmer on the island; whilst Gerald, 13, can now comfortably cover the distance of 4 Olympic pool laps. However, swimming classes for adults are urgently needed to prevent the loss of further valuable members of our community. We are looking for confident swimmers to help us provide these lessons as soon as possible, especially for the fishermen who depend on the lake for an income and are therefore most at risk. Please get in touch if you, or someone you know, would be interested in joining us in providing this support to the community of Banda Island. You can contact us at info@fireflyuganda.com.


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.