Today we would like to tell you a very special story. It began almost three years ago, again back in Switzerland. And as you will soon find out, it has a happy end in Uganda
An idea is born
As is the case every year around Christmas, we appeal for donations for Kids of Africa. We talk with friends, business partners and plenty of other people with whom we have good relations. In Christmas 2013, we asked for support to renovate the ten houses that were occupied by our children and mothers. At the time, they had been made using what was available and suitable, and like many things in Africa, they were not built to last a lifetime.
As a measurement of a Swiss laboratory proved, their daily water isn’t drinking water.
The water supply in particular had increasingly become a problem. Although Kids of Africa lies on the shores of Lake Victoria, there was always a lack of water in the village. Unlike in Switzerland, there is no communal water supply. Instead, there is a well that has been drilled, from which there was fortunately a sufficient supply of ground water that could be pumped up and divided around the houses and the farm. Electricity is only available for a few short hours a day, and to compensate for this, water is pumped into big tanks from which it can be gradually consumed. The quality of the ground water has created occasional problems, especially because of the adjacent rose farms, whose sewage pollute the ground and Lake Victoria. As a measurement of a Swiss laboratory proved, it isn’t drinking water.
Drinking water is a rare commodity
This is one of the biggest problems in Africa, and indeed in other places around the world. As a result, the United Nations set a target in 2000 of giving every one of the earth’s inhabitants access to clean water by the year 2015. Excellent progress in this respect has been made in many areas, but in the sub-Saharan region, more than 60 per cent of people still have no access to clean water. In Switzerland on the other hand, water can be drunk in every household and from every village fountain. In that particular country, it goes without saying…
At that time, Stefan Schärer came to hear about Kids of Africa’s issues. As president of the Swiss “Badewelten” organisation which is an association of bathroom designers and well-reputed plumbing companies, he knows the value of clean water. He and his colleagues work day in, day out in Switzerland to ensure that their customers have water available in their houses – for drinking, washing or even to fill their swimming pools. The idea he had was to give the gift of clean drinking water to Kids of Africa for Christmas. He consulted with his board, and then shortly after Christmas, in the spring of 2014, two plumbing specialists flew to Uganda for the first time to assess the situation on-site.
No-one in Africa is used to being able to drink water from the tap.
They came back to Switzerland with a whole host of impressions, initial plans and the aforementioned water samples to report on. Walter Kaufmann, who runs a sanitation company not far from Zurich which is part of the Badewelten organisation, took over planning duties. “First of all, we need a central drinking water filter for 10 houses and the kitchen,” was his first conclusion. “To run this you need a generator which will compensate for the power failures. Then the old pipes to the houses need to be removed. Some of them are completely rusted over, and are leaking and polluting the water. In the houses, the valves need to be replaced. Others have been broken for a while now and are losing lots of valuable water. For the project to be a success however, we would like to teach the children and the mothers how to actually use clean drinking water.” Walter‘s plan was greeted with wide-eyed amazement in Switzerland, but in Africa, no-one is used to being able to drink water from the tap. And that it is thus a valuable commodity that needs to be protected.
Putting the words into action
Walter’s plan met with the approval both of his colleagues at Badewelten and of his many suppliers. Many long hours were invested in the planning stage, and a number of companies provided donations in kind and equipment such as valves, pipes, replacement parts and much more. It soon became clear that the project would have to be divided into stages, the first of which was just around the corner.
Walter quickly found five highly competent and committed volunteers – an electrician and four plumbers, who went with him to Uganda. There was even an apprentice who was about to take his final exam who signed up for the team. A container with several tonnes of equipment was sent out to Uganda three months in advance of their trip.
Then in May 2015, Walter flew out with his troops. Everything had been planned down to the last detail, but they had not reckoned with Africa’s sense of timing. Despite a firm undertaking that delivery was well on its way, the container did not arrive at the village on time, but remained stuck for weeks on end at customs until the final formalities could be cleared.
The container remained stuck for weeks on end at customs.
It was a sobering, and a disappointing, experience. The team had set off to cover long distances, full of enthusiasm to undertake a worthwhile project, only to be stopped in their tracks by administrative hurdles. There were numerous daily discussions with customs officials, delivery companies and the forwarding agent in Switzerland, and delivery was always promised as being just a day away.
Intensive work was nevertheless carried out in the meantime. Trenches were dug, pipes measured, further inventories taken and much more besides. The plan was to spend a total of a week working for Kids of Africa, but when it became clear that the container was not going to get there on time, the five team-members soon came to a decision. “We’re not giving up, we’ll simply come back – as soon as possible!” The container finally arrived at the village, two days after the five had left…
Growing as a team
A mere five weeks later and everyone was back again, with Walter and his team desperate to finish the first part of the project at any cost. After all, a promise is a promise. The flight from Zurich was severely delayed and did not land until 3 am in Uganda. Then at 4 am in the children’s village, there was just time for a quick change of clothes and then they were off. The container was unloaded in double-quick time and the team worked, quite literally from sunrise until sunset.
The pores of the ceramic filter are so fine that they even filter out viruses.
This perfect preparatory work meant that the equipment could be set up as early as the following day. The main element was a generator which provides the pump with electricity whenever there is a power outage. The pump sends water out of the tanks with eight bars of pressure into a Katadyn® water filter, where the water is pressed through the numerous microfine pores of a ceramic filter. The pores are so fine that they even filter out viruses. To ensure that no dirt can get into the water supply, the whole system of pipes also needs to be pressurised, right through to the houses.
Similarly, the whole equipment also needed to be set using pressure valves. The houses were gradually linked to the new water supply system and everything worked like a dream, to the delight of all involved. This time it had all gone according to plan, and what is more, the next stages of the work were already being mapped out!
Learning how to deal with water
The next stage came around in the February of this year, and this there was an even bigger challenge, since now it was finally about the houses. Almost all of the pipes and valves needed to be replaced as well as the hopelessly out-of-date groundwater pump. The material was once again shipped over from Switzerland in a container, since locally, virtually the only products on the market are from China. The team had tested the latter last time around and rejected the idea of working with locally-sourced material, deciding that what they were working on needed to function with as little maintenance as possible and last for a good number of years. And the main thing was, it needed to save water! Lots of leaks and pipes were repaired, and even the toilets were fitted with two buttons – literally for No.1 and No.2! When everything was done, the whole management team were trained, beginning with the 10 mothers who in turn live with around 10 children each in the various houses.
Nevertheless, the big water tanks had ended up empty again in recent months.
In the mean time, we had discovered that too much water was being used. Before the pressure system had been installed, barely a trickle came out of the pipes, if anything at all. Now there was a flow of water with pressure, which had been reduced to the absolute minimum (c. 0.5 bar), but nevertheless, the big water tanks had ended up empty again in recent months. The inhabitants had to be made aware of this, first and foremost. All the adults were trained, then the children, from the oldest down to the youngest. Of course, this didn’t have an overnight effect, but consumption went down week by week, until there was enough for all every day of the week.
A real success
There was another by-product of the work, namely that according to our on-site nurses, a lot fewer children in the village have been suffering from diarrhoea and stomach problems since the equipment was installed in summer 2015. Of course all the water was previously boiled or treated with simple filters, but the children still ended up drinking unpurified water every so often. The new equipment however has proved that the project was an unqualified success!
A lot fewer children in the village have been suffering from diarrhoea and stomach problems since the equipment was installed.
This third visit was a source of great satisfaction all round. Not only have the positive effects of clean water proven themselves, but the children are gradually learning a responsible approach to a valuable commodity. And the good news continues. For the first time ever, the team was accompanied by six apprentices from various Swiss training companies. Two of these trainees were assigned to each specialist in the team, which was certainly an advantage when it came to the very intensive renovation work required for each of the individual houses. It also goes without saying that the “Swiss plumber team” struck up many friendships on-site, particularly as they had a whole host of children following their every move throughout.
This story is a particularly happy one for Kids of Africa. A totally spontaneous idea brought about so many positive things. Friendships were created, knowledge could be passed on, both to people in the village, whose technical workers followed the project very closely and who are now responsible for maintenance, and to the children and adults, who are learning about the value of clean water and who can now protect themselves reliably against illnesses transmitted by dirty water. The apprentices also gained a great deal of experience from this unusual job. An assembly team was incidentally headed by the very apprentice who had passed his diploma the previous year and now has workers of his own to manage.
Our sincere thanks
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the whole Badewelten management committee for the incredible support that they gave to the project, both in terms of their commitment and their financial aid. Our gratitude also goes to the members of Badewelten who were behind the idea from the start. Next on the list are the Badewelten suppliers who made countless donations in kind. And finally our thanks goes to Walter, Andi, Roger, Mike and Roger. Walter Kaufmann put an incredible amount of work into the project – his “Swiss plumber team”, as he called it, were always by his side. And we have just heard that the team may be called into action once again – watch this space! What is certain, however, is that Kids of Africa would love to see them again. After all, they are the ones who worked to make sure that they would have a healthy future.
You can find further information about BadeWelten here: www.badewelten.ch