Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Brutal and Beautiful

Aqua Sun Villager S3-4 Installation Himo Tanzania from Shawny Anderson on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What a beautiful day!  What a brutal day!  Maybe it was more beautiful because it was brutal?  Today was the day that we went to the school in Himo to install our donated water purification system. (Thanks, Karl and Mary Beutner!)

Himo is only about 15 kilometers from where we live, but the drive takes awhile, especially if you stop over and over again to pick up items that are needed at your destination.  We made our way down in the huge Marangu Hotel van that we used to get to Trevor’s birthday dinner.  It is great because it accommodates our oversized group but it is clear that it was never meant to carry such a big group up the slopes of Kilimanjaro. 

Our biggest stop was to pick up a water tank (2000 liters!), which we tied on the top of our huge people carrier to drive it into the school grounds.  As we drove into the school, we saw some of the children in their green uniforms playing on the fields near the entrance.  They immediately started shouting and waving, with some literally doing cartwheels over our arrival.  Nice start to a visit that we knew would be exhilarating no matter how the students reacted! 

The school is attached to a convent that was established in the Kilacha section outside of Himo and began as a nursery for orphaned children.  From there the nuns realized that they needed to educate the children they were raising so they started a preschool, then a primary school.  All of the children are from underresourced households, if they have families at all.  Even before all of us had met the students, we were eager to install the water system at this school.   Once we laid eyes on the place, we were hooked. 

We should note, though, that one downside to the school is that it is on a large plain with sparse vegetation compared to what we've gotten used to having around us in Marangu.  The soil there is a dry red sand and the wind blows constantly.  Thus, it is very hot, very windy, and the wind flings a full load of grit into your face every time it blows.  We were covered in dirt and constantly shielding our tender eyes against the onslaught of the breeze.  Those conditions only served to increase our determination.  

We gathered all of our tools and equipment and brought the huge tank off the roof of the vehicle.  Trevor and Scott were our construction leads, as they have installed three of these systems before in last summer’s trip to Haiti.  The system we had with us was a Villager S3-4, made by AquaSun International.  It is a filter and purification system that can pump up to 500 gallons of water a day of 99.99 percent pure drinking water, even if the source is murky.

The source in this case is a tank that captures streamwater that is coming down from a spring close to where we are staying uphill in Marangu.  There are contaminants in the tank, along with a great deal of sediment and debris.  The nuns who run the school talk about the deep pile of sediment that rests in the bottom of any vessel that holds the water from their taps. 

As we mentioned a few days ago, the school’s usual practice related to drinking water is to fill a huge pot with water from their rather inconveniently-located taps, boil the water using firewood, pour the water into a large dispenser, then ration it for the children’s use during the school day.  They typically boil about 50 gallons of water for their 560 students. 
Partway through our day we witnessed the whole water situation, as the students gathered their clean plastic cups and pursued their small portions of water during lunch/recess.  While they were doing so, we were struggling to overcome the numerous obstacles involved in cranking up the school’s new water system. 

Our first obstacle was the distance from the source.  One tap is close to the place where a new kitchen will soon be built.  We therefore decided to place the system near that spot for now so that it can be incorporated into the new kitchen in the coming months.  Still, the tap is far away from any of the operating space of the school, so we found a plumber who helped us relocate the water and move it to our tank.

From there we had to find a way to secure the tank, which we did by placing it atop a large steel structure that will help to provide gravity-based pressure to move the water out of the tank, whether to go into the purification system or for some other purpose.  Moving and setting that huge stand was almost a day’s work in itself.

We also had to find a way to secure the solar panel that charges the deep-cycle battery that runs that system.  We usually build wooden stands for the panels, but termite worries meant that for this system we had to have a steel frame fabricated.  We thought that the frame would have steel legs, but it didn’t.  So we had to think of a way to face it in the proper direction (north) without just leaving in on the ground somewhere.  (The roofs of the existing structures don’t provide the most ideal directionality for the solar collector.  The new kitchen will have an appropriate roof, so we just needed to secure it temporarily for now.) 

Our best plan came from the creative mind of Matt Sayles, who imagined a secondary surface coming off of the existing tank stand that would support the solar panel.  Once we all figured out what he was proposing, we all realized that his plan was the best solution that we were going to find.  It took another trip to the welder to pursue additional supports, but it was all worth it in the end when the solar panel finally rested securely on top of the new “wing” on the tank stand. 

Numerous other problems arose, including the difficulty of attaching the system itself to the concrete walls of the building.  Though we couldn’t find the hardware that we used on our last three systems, we found something and made it work. 

We won’t bore you with the details of the other glitches we encountered, but we WILL bore you with the overall news of how excited the kids were over the system as it was being installed and even moreso after it started pumping pure water.  Because all of the instruction at the school is in English, the kids had some ability to express themselves in ways that we could understand.  They were jazzed. 

By the time we pumped the first water through the system, school was already over for the day and the kids were nowhere in sight.  Once the water started flowing, though, they came from all directions, got their cups, and started to gulp down water with incredible gusto.  The nuns, too, gathered and celebrated the water, drinking it from actual glass glasses that showed how clean and clear it was. 

Watching the flow of the water is a treat in itself; watching people sincerely enjoy the water as they consume it is even better.  The students shouted their thanks numerous times and the nuns were all quite effusive about what a blessing they considered the system to be.  They offered their blessings of the school, the system and of us.  We told them we felt blessed already to have met them and to have shared in the joy of their school today.  And we do.

We really do.  

 Drill, Zoe, drill!

A student practicing numbers in English

Big man.  Bigger tank.  Biggest truck.  

Did I mention that I love to dance?

Dennis ad Claire on the filter installation project

Let's do this.

Lunch time. 

Darcy and Josh in Gabe's sunglasses 

Gabe capturing the day

Holding hands as the clean water flows

Matt listening to music on the long car ride

One of the children waiting for water

One of the first kids to taste the clean water

Putting the tank on top of its frame

The children lined up waiting for lunch

Rearranging tanks to free up the one we bought for the school


  1. What a great story of hard work, creativity, tenacity and success today.
    Thank you for sharing!
    So many blessings.......all around.

  2. Good work team. I can only imagine how good it felt to see the children and nuns reactions to the new water system. Enjoy each and every second of your trip as you will appreciate (and one day miss) the sense of community during your month abroad.

    PS- Shawny last weekend I checked out our lot on the West Bank in NOLA.

  3. WOW! Amazing problem solving skills, incredible ingenuity, awesome resiliency! It sounds like an incredibly difficult but rewarding day. Here's to you all for encountering countless road-blocks and choosing to be inspired and motivated rather than discouraged. Here's to each of you for pushing through limit situations to find something truly incredible- and to create something life altering and lasting for the people in that community. Thank you for all of your hard work.

  4. Happy Hollow here. Happy Birthday to Trevor and everyone else who will have one now or after you get back.
    We really like the color of the new school walls. Good choice.

    Are you using brushes and rollers for painting?

    How are local schools funded? Who has to come up with the money for a teacher? (Jason H)

    Will you be bringing souvenier machetes back? (Ben S)

    What was airport security like in Afica? (Jason and Heaven)

    What is the most interesting new food you have had?

    We are very impressed with the amount of work you do each day. How bad are the blisters? What do you do about sore muscles?

    Can you Skype from there? we want to try to talk to you.

    MS. Anderson's sixth graders.

    Do you have any questions about us? (Anthony)