Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And [Jorge] said "Let there be [water]" and there was [water]

Remember that gigantic project that, seemingly ages ago, I raised $8591.69 for? The one to fence in my local clinic's support group garden and dig a borehole (well) for the community, etc.? The one that I'm sure many of you donated to, then thought I'd forgotten about?

Well, I haven't forgotten. I've just come up against the brick wall that impedes project implementation in Swaziland.

One of the concepts that Peace Corps drills into us as volunteers is "sustainability." With everything we do, we have to consider how it builds the capacity of local individuals or organizations to do similar projects in the future, how it increases the knowledge of community members, and how the benefits of the project can be sustained even after we complete our service. We're told to ensure that the community has "ownership" of projects so that they have a vested interest in maintaining, protecting, and continuing the project.

So that's what I've been TRYING to do with my silly project for the last 3 months.

In Swaziland, it's also important (if VERY frustrating) to go through all the "proper" channels in the community before doing ANYTHING. So, for this project, step one was getting permission from the inkhundla (county) to do the project. We'd talked to the inkhundla committee about the project hypothetically, so getting permission should have been more of a formality than anything. Except that it wasn't. They refused us permission, saying that they wanted to be involved in the project and that, if we re-worked our budget to include them, they would help support the project AND give us permission to do it. Good news, right?

Wrong. After re-working the budget, re-pricing everything, re-evaluating the materials we need for the project, the inkhundla decided that they didn't want to help after all. Or didn't have the money. Or didn't care anymore. So, 6 weeks and several boring meetings later, we were back at square one.

Then, we encountered problems trying to get everything cleared with the community. There are basically 4 neighborhoods in the community, and 3 of them have boreholes. The people from the 4th neighborhood, jealous of those in neighborhood 3, have repeatedly broken the hand pump of their neighbors in the middle of the night by stuffing them with mud and cement and stealing various necessary parts, so we have THAT to deal with. How to implement a project that benefits only part of the community without fueling the ongoing politics of neighborhood jealousy? The only way to be sure that the project isn't sabootaged is to make sure that it benefits EVERYONE and that EVERYONE feels included in the planning and implementation of the project.

So, in an attempt to move forward, I had several meetings with the head nun (Sister Teresita) at Our Lady of Sorrows and together we contacted the contractor who dug the previous failed borehole (they only found white ash-like rock, even 80 meters down). Feeling like he owed the mission some free services, he promised to come down and do his survey and estimates for free, a savings of E15,000. Great! Except that, since we weren't paying, he didn't feel the need to make a special trip all the way down to my neck of the woods--a full 3 or 3.5 hour drive from his office. So, we waited.

Finally, last week I lost my patience and decided that having the project COMPLETED was a little more important than all the sustainability and capacity-building and blah blah blah. So this week, we've started in earnest. Monday morning, I had a meeting with Sister Teresita, the clinic's head nurse Juckie, and the support group's executive committe. We made up a work schedule for the support group's members, and set deadlines for the completion of various stages of the project. The first work shift starts Friday at 8am, when a force of 30 machete-clad support group members will descend on the forest around the borehole site to destroy any an all water-consuming vegetation.

Then, this morning (Wednesday) the sisters and I met with Jorge from the borehole company, and he left all of us feeling quite optimistic about the project! We discovered an old borehole, dug the same month I was born (August 1986), that has been out of service for almost 20 years. The mission has had it cleaned (cleared of tree roots) every couple of years just in case they ever wanted to use it for anything, which works out perfectly for us. It's kind of rusty, so we'll have to re-line it with fresh PVC pipes, but the water table is only 29 meters below the surface, and the hole itself is at least 55 meters deep. An amazing discovery!

So, here's the plan as it stands:

1. This Friday (as in 2 days from now), Sister Teresita, Nurse Juckie, and I will be meeting with the Chief's "spiritual adviser" and the inkhundla committee to secure written permision to use the land, to do the project, and to maintain ownership of all the benefits of the project. If we don't get permission, we're doing it anyway because the land we're using was TECHNICALLY given to the mission by the King and therefore any dispute would be resolved by the King, who happens to very much like Sister Teresita.

2. This Friday and all of next week, the support group members will work in shifts to clear the forest upstream from the borehole, to dig 124 fence post holes and put up the fence, and to burn the future garden area to get it ready for planting. Meanwhile, a hired force of 3-5 men will dig a meter-deep trench the total distance of approximately 845 meters from the borehole site to future site of the public tap and then on to the garden site.

3. Tuesday morning, Jorge will come down with a generator and electric pump to test the water pressure in the existing borehole. It's an additional expense, but we want to be sure that there's enough water to fill our 30,000L tank without affecting the water pressure at the mission and the local school. (Remember, our goal is to help NOT anger the community.)

4. As soon as the brush is cleared and the trench is dug, Jorge and his team will come down and lay the pipes, line the existing borehole with PVC, and connect three taps: one for the community (around which we'll build a fence and hire an operator who will fill jugs 2 hours each day), one for the high school agriculture class's garden, and one for the support group's garden. Then they'll install the electric pump. All of this should take about 2 days, they say, and the mission has offered them room and board so they don't have to make the trip to and from Matsapha every day.

5. Finally, we'll put up a 30,000L tank. Yes, 30,000L is HUGE, but that's the goal. Right now, as the project stands, all labor and materials are running at about 80% of my budget, so we'll see what we can afford. The mission has also volunteered to help with the funding of the project since we've included the high school's agriculture class as beneficiaries. So we'll see...

I kept emphasizing the fact that the whole project needs to be done by 13 August, which is when I need to have all my paperwork turned in to Peace Corps, and they keep laughing and saying that it will be done and I need to calm down. (And then they gave me some delicious apple and cinnamon cookies, presumably because they were tired of my "But what if...?" scenarios.) This is Swaziland, which means that everything takes FOREVER to get started, then magically comes together at the last minute. I'm hoping.

And, if nothing else, I'm learning how to implement a project in an African country. I'm busy building MY capacity to be patient and understanding and trusting and flexible. That's sustainable, right?

Anyway, this project promises to consume about 50% of the next 5 weeks of my life. The other 50% will be filled with a whole bunch of Close of Service formalities for Peace Corps (medical and dental check-ups, paperwork, interviews with senior staff, etc.), finishing up my bus shelter painting project (it's ongoing, I just can't find my memory card reader to post photos!), spending time with the people who have been my friends and family and more for the last 2 years, and preparing for Tanzania (including finishing my Swahili Rosetta Stone). It's not so bad a life.

(I'll post some amazing photos of my increasingly artistic artwork at SOME point this week as soon as I recover my memory card reader from the black hole that is my house. You'll be impressed, I promise.)

Love from the Swaz!

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