A Development Project with a Difference
Rose Longwa from Ndolela Isimani, Tanzania was in the habit of boiling her water over firewood to purify it, and suffered badly from the smoke. Boiling the water was necessary since the village's source was a very dirty river-not only muddy but also used and urinated in by cattle. Unfortunately, the amount of smoke exposure the typical village woman endures daily is equivalent to smoking 2 packs of cigarettes. This causes extreme damage to the lungs. Andy Hart, from the UK, has been working alongside the people of Isimani in bringing improvement to the village. One of his goals is to reduce smoke exposure.
“My job is basically to sit around and drink tea,” says Andy with a grin, “We talk about what they want to change, sometimes I give a few suggestions and then they go do it.” Because Andy has no money backing, the villagers have complete ownership of and responsibility for projects. The first major project: renovating a cattle dip tank, has given the people pride and belief in themselves-something NGO's with big budget projects can never do. The villagers have used the extra revenue from the dip tank to start other projects, a truly unique undertaking when compared to other villages. Andy attributes the empowerment of the people of this village to the work of various organizations such as Tearfund and Empowering Lives International. Development projects in the area have been led by the Lutheran church, in partnership and service to the rest of the community.
Andy heard of a procedure for purifying water discovered by Swiss scientists, called solar disinfection (or sodis). I stood with Rose in front of her hut as she shaded her face with a colorful yellow cloth. Beside her were several plastic bottles of water lying on a piece of corrugated tin. Through a combined force of heat and UV rays, all impurities are removed from the water. All that is required is that the water reach a temperature of 30*C for 6 hours, or 50*C for 2 hours. The villagers simply put two days worth of water out on the tin and leave it for a period of 24 hours. This not only provides clean water, but also reduces smoke exposure from boiling.
Rose, after learning and implementing sodis in her own household, has visited over 500 households to teach them about sodis. This is a widowed woman with 5 children-receiving no material benefits for her work. Rose now has less problems with smoke and stomach illnesses. “I want to teach all of Tanzania how to get safe water,” she says, face beaming.
The project has also been implemented at Ndolela’s school. Where before the children had no access to water on their long walks and days at school, they now carry sodis purified water with them. This has prevented dehydration and diarrhea, both of which make concentration and learning difficult. The year before the project was implemented only 4 students passed exams to get into secondary school. The year after, 36 of 38 students passed. This revolutionary change can be directly traced to the improved attendance rate generated by clean and available water.
Another benefit to sodis is that it costs virtually nothing. Ndolela was able to implement their water project without any outside monetary help, giving them a deep sense of pride and accomplishment. All the plastic bottles would otherwise go to the dump. Studies have also shown that no carcinogens are released into the water from plastic bottles. After a month sitting in hot sun, water inside a plastic bottle had no more carcinogens than tap water. The process even works on cloudy days (as long as the clouds are white).
Who would have thought that plastic bottles on tin could change so many lives for the better? I stood in the hot sunshine, felt it radiating from the red earth, from tin into plastic bottles. The story of Ndolela Isimani speaks of the deep potential of the African people. They don’t need Western money or budgets or goals, simply the pride, belief and knowledge that enables them to do it themselves: empowerment.