In 2014, I was covering a clean drinking water project by the Katosi Women Development Trust in Katosi, Mukono district, Uganda. The project was based on the Resolution 64/292 of the United Nations declaration: access to clean drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right.

The title of the project is inspired by the life of a 16-year old boy I met in the fields. His appearance, his glance, his tone of voice struck me immediately. The next day I had to go back and ask him about his story. He went through a horrible, fear-filled childhood: losing his parents at the young age of 12 and living all by himself for several years. Finally, at some point, he thought, “I don’t belong to this world.”

Luckily, a year ago, a mother of seven started taking care of him, offered him work, a bed and most importantly, a family home. She was able to provide clean water at her home, because she runs one of the beneficiary households in the project. Her place is tough and small, but it’s a paradise. Most of all, they were able to produce enough food for themselves and some in addition, to sell. Gradually, the boy returned to the world—this, their, our and my world—replacing the bad memories with good ones.

After meeting him, I decided to stay with one of the beneficiary families in the project and learn more about their environment. I am fascinated by the extent to which we, and our children, do not differ from each other in these very different worlds. When you take away all material, social and political context, and focus on the individual, you find so much similarly.

But one thing that is essential to life is water. Access to it (or not) can make a world of difference. Indeed, water is so much more than just pure drinking water. People in the villages see access to water as a true blessing; it’s such an invaluable resource, a fact that we are not always aware of in Western societies. It’s necessary for drinking and washing, for keeping livestock and it also creates many opportunities for work and income. It allows people to grow crops (food) or make bricks out of clay (shelter). Having access to clean water empowers people to take control of their lives and build their own future.

So, clean drinking water has the power to diminish the gap between worlds and help us realize that this world is for all of us. There is such a thin line between life and death; such randomness about the place where one is born; ultimately, such arbitrariness about whether this world is yours or not.

— Linelle Deunk

Editors’ Note: We first discovered this work after a single image from the series was named a winner in the 2015 LensCulture Portrait Awards. See the rest of last year’s winners on our dedicated page!