Thursday, July 14, 2011

Clean Water for the World

Our experience with Clean Water for the World has been amazing and it started before we left the country. The students took part in helping to build systems at Jerry and Judy Bohl's house and it gave them a sense of ownership over the whole project:
Helping out with the small pieces that make a whole

It was also a lot of fun, as you can see from our pool picture. I haven't met generous and kind people like the Bohl's in a long time. 

I don't know about you, but I don't really think about water very much when I'm at home. Sure, I try not to run the faucet while I brush my teeth or wash the dishes, but I don't really think about the water that comes out of that faucet. When I'm in Senegal, I have to think about water. I have to spend at least five dollars a day buying water that is safe to consume. I can't brush my teeth with it or open my mouth in the shower for fear that I'll be on the toilet for a few days. While I could drink a little bit of water each day and eventually "get used to it," many people here are missing teeth, have discolored teeth and gums, and are suffering from ailments or taking longer to heal from sicknesses because of the water. When we first got to Pikine, kids were always running up to me and they weren't asking for money. They were asking for a sip of my water. 

On the second day of the trip, the whole group took an excursion to Toubab Dialaw, which was beautiful, but also reminded me of a big part of why we travelled to Senegal in the first place. While we didn't install any purification systems in Toubab Dialaw, the excursion helped the students see the importance of clean water with their own eyes. I'll let the pictures explain:
Many people in Toubab Dialaw go to this well, which is right next to the ocean to get their water every day. 
I digress. Let's get back to the actual installation of the systems. The installation of the water purification system turned out to be a lot more complicated than any us thought. Because Pikine is such a buzzing little metropolis, both organizations (Mame Yelli Badiane and Africulturban) were worried about the safety of the systems. These systems are invaluable, so it is understandable that theft is a concern. The second concern from many of the adults was that some of the students would take the systems apart and mess with the pieces. Apparently, the school once had a working well, but some students filled it with rocks and trash and now... no well. It seems as though it would be natural for people to protect the system, however, it isn't. I still don't understand the disconnect, especially because whenever I've had a bottle of water on the school grounds, people want to drink it. This is where the language barrier has been a problem. If I was fluent I could just ask.

Paul, another gracious and amazing individual from Clean Water for the World told us that it could take one hour to install a system or twelve hours... it all depends on the situation. Whew, he was right. I'm going to address each installation separately because each one had its own special circumstances. Most of the following information is from my own observations and those of Patrick and Marlon, who are the group leaders who put in HOURS to get this project done. They rock. 

One of the biggest issues with the system installation at the community center was getting started. We did a lot of waiting. In Senegal there is a process for doing anything. As Americans coming in wanting to build lasting relationships, we didn't want to barge in and just install a system without following the right (unwritten) procedures. So we had to wait and talk to the right people. Also, as I stated before, a big road block was fear of theft. At first, we thought that the system would be sitting on a table every day and then taken in at night. Then, it was decided that we would mount the system and keep a cage around it. 

The next road block was waiting for the plumber and electrician, who were giving their own time to this project. We waited for a long time, but once everyone arrived, they were very participatory. To be honest, the students themselves couldn't install the system from start to finish like we wanted them to because they (and me) don't have any kind of understanding of the way plumbing or even using tools works here. For example, to mount the system, the plumber marked the holes, took a flathead screwdriver and hammer, and made the hole. The hole was too big, so he jammed it with sticks and they were able to screw it into the wall. None of us knew how to do that!

The plumber did everything he could to involve the students who were working with him. He was extremely helpful and is really interested in how these systems are built. After the plumber was done, the electrician came in and everything was hooked up. Another roadblock. Lack of electricity has been a HUGE problem over the last few months. It was decided that a switch had to be added to the wall to control the power flow to the outlet where the system was plugged in. They were worried that if there wasn't a switch, the abrupt surge of power that would occur when the electricity comes on would blow the whole system.

But finally, after 12ish hours of waiting/talking/troubleshooting/deliberating and 1.5 hours of installation, the system was in. As you can see from the collage below, we had a closing celebration last night. I wish I had more pictures of the installation, but I was at Mame Yelli Badiane helping out the the installation there while a few students were at Africulturban. :(
The system will be open for everyone in the community from 8am-8pm every day. The guys at the community center had ear to ear grins about all of it. They spend so much money on buying bags and bottles of water every month and they are really passionate about making the system last. I'm excited to hear the updates over the next year and to see how everything is going at Africulturban next summer.

Mame Yelli Badiane
Installing the system at the school was a little more complicated. At first, we talked to the headmaster and decided to hook the system up to the water pump outside. However, as we have learned, things are never as simple as we want them to be. The headmaster and the teachers were worried about security. They wanted the system installed inside of the school with a spigot outside for the community. That's where the fun started. Thankfully, as I have no knowledge whatsoever of plumbing or anything technical, I was not able to participate in the "fun," but was able to watch our group leaders Patrick and Marlon hard at work. :)

Mounting the box was easy and was done in the same fashion as Africulturban. However, when it opened the box, the plastic piece protecting the electrical was broken. Jasmine helped remedy the issue by finding another piece of plastic, washing it, and getting it attached:

Then it was time to figure out the flow. All of the plumbing was inside of the brick wall (why? I don't know), so the guys had to chisel the wall out to get to the pipes:
There was was miscommunication on the spigot and where to put it. Then, everyone was proposing ideas on which materials to use. Americans wanted to use all of the same type of material (all copper, all galvanized steel, all PVC, etc) while the Senegalese wanted to make the system work and use whatever pieces we could find. I don't know why it was important for all of the pieces to be the same material either, but Marlon talked to everyone about not just making it work, but also making it LAST. There was about 1.5 hours of back and forth for everyone to understand each other and be on the same page. Even with Marlon translating, there are terms specific to plumbing and electrical that don't translate. Perhaps next year, we need to purchase Rosetta Stone for ourselves and take plumbing and electrical courses? Haha. The men were at the Senegalese version of Home Depot (which is about the size of Home Depot's bathroom) for almost 3 hours trying to get all of the pieces.

After 8 hours total, lots of sweat, and LOTS of conversation, the system was in!

Turning the system on at the school was one of my favorite moments on this trip. It was like a big party, but instead of toasting with champagne, we toasted with water. This system will be open every day early in the morning before school starts, closed during school hours, and open again every evening for everyone in the community.

In Michigan, I told Paul that I was really nervous about drinking from the tap, but since then, I've had water from both systems and I've got a clean bill of health. The students do too. What a great feeling.

Thank you, Clean Water for the World, for this collaboration and for making these systems available for people all over the world. You've got my support for life.

Peace and love,

1 comment:

Mr. Weber said...

Fantastic. Just fantastic.

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