Spencer Caldwell (Uganda)

Born in Arkansas, raised in North Louisiana as well as New Orleans, Spencer was always an energetic and adventurous person from the start. Spencer has had many outdoor adventures, including hiking through the trails in the Olympics outside of Seattle, and the Black Hills of South Dakota and traversing the United States in multiple cross country trips. Upon joining the US Navy in 1999, his worldly adventures only increased, with deployments to SE and SW Asia along with many many months spent out to sea enjoying an uninhibited view of the stars and the oceans. His venturing outdoors continued by taking on of snowboarding as a hobby to coincide with rugby. Since then he has snowboarded in 7 countries and played rugby in 8. Recently, Spencer graduated from George Mason University with a Masters Degree in Public Administration concentrating in Non-Profit Management at George Mason University. As Spencer's graduate school experience is reaching its final semester, the door opened up for humanitarian work and the ability to apply by learned skills and acquired knowledge to the world around him. Life is about the journey, much less about the destination.

The Abaka Latrine: First Steps

21 Jun

On Wednesday, June 19th, Patrick Ojok of Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) and I, representing The Advocacy Project, made our first visit to Abaka Primary School to assess the conditions of the latrine and stances constructed by the local government. After meeting with the District Officer of Education earlier in the week, we were led to believe that a workable, drainable latrine was constructed in accordance with the Ugandan Health and Safety Guidelines. To our dismay the latrine was not up to par and was actually condemned by the District Engineer. As you can see from the photo below, there is a sinkhole present on the east side making it unacceptable for use by children. Seems that there was shoddy sub-construction on the structure, with no support rings built into the latrine. This allowed for the weight of the top of structure, bricks, cement, and all to bear down on the latrine, and thus a sinkhole was created. As with any project anywhere, there are setbacks and uplifts to be encountered and one must take them all with a ‘grain of salt’.


Abaka School teachers look on to the school’s sinking latrine.


The contractor hired by GDPU, David, agreed after examining the sinkhole and structural integrity that condemnation of the latrine was the correct call by the District Engineer. The Director of Education will be approached with this matter for analyzation, so that the next steps can be determined.  GDPU and The Advocacy Project, with me serving as consultant, will recommend dismantling or sealing off of the latrine to ensure children do not injure themselves.  In accordance with Ugandan Health and Safety Guidelines, there cannot be a condemned latrine within proximity of a functional latrine, which makes logical sense.

Joseph, the Head Teacher, in agreement with Patrick and I, have called a meeting on Monday the 24th with the parents of Abaka Primary School to discuss the proper location of a new latrine, whether it will be a boys or girls latrine, and the distance and orientation of the walkway from the school to the latrine. There were sixty-four parents in attendance at the last meeting conducted by Joseph, and we expect a similar turnout. If we all are in accordance with the construction guidelines, the work of digging the initial sinkhole will begin on that Wednesday with a goal of completion on Friday.

This initial obstacle gives GDPU and The Advocacy Project the opportunity to demonstrate the workability and sustainability of our combined model for proper latrine construction in accordance with guidelines set by Ugandan Health and Services. As of one year ago, the attendance at the Abaka Primary School has dropped from 405 students to 286, a loss of 29% of the student body. Most have transferred to other schools or simply remain at home for lack of proper latrines for their use. Our ultimate goal with constructing workable, drainable latrines is to bring student enrollment back up to previous levels, if not more. The Advocacy Project and GDPU are here for the kids, their education, and their future.


Me, posing with the latrine condemned by Gulu’s District Engineer

Posted By Spencer Caldwell (Uganda)

Posted Jun 21st, 2019


  • Sam Nass

    June 21, 2019


    Looks like your work is cut out for you, but it seems like you have a really good team working on the new latrine for Abaka School!

  • rachel wright

    June 23, 2019


    It’s great to hear how you’re already tackling the work you have ahead of you. It’s unfortunate to hear about the drop in school attendance, however, I’m looking forward to hearing how the building of the new latrine affects these numbers!

  • Abby Lahvis

    June 24, 2019


    Wow, it sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you. I’m excited to see how it goes. Good luck with your meetings!

  • Nathan Charles

    June 24, 2019


    It’s really unfortunate that the government-constructed latrine is in the condition that it is, but I’m sure that you, Patrick, and the rest of GDPU will find the best solution!

  • Emily Schroen

    June 24, 2019


    Wow. It makes me so sad that local government funds were wasted on that latrine. It makes your work so much more important. I’m really interested to see what the increase in attendance will be after the new toilet is finished. Awesome work, and I really enjoy reading your blogs.

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