Sierra Leone: Water everyday, and drilling wells in wells

Making sure there isn’t an end date on impact. Innovation comes from knowing and continually facing the truth of challenges. In Sierra Leone, we drill wells inside of wells to increase water yield.

Imagine if your water company considered your family to have water simply because pipes were installed in your home years ago. Or, imagine if they showed up during a week of rain, saw water flowing from your gutters, and considered your house as having access to water every day. You’d never accept this.

Should we expect the people living in the communities where we work will accept this?

Setting a goal of verifiable water every day is a high standard. It’s easier to drill a well, see that it’s working once installed, take some photos and count it as a success. But, solving the water crisis means 100% uptime of all water projects. In Sierra Leone, we aren’t just visiting communities a few times a year; we’re in communities all of the time. Through this work, we discovered that some of the wells run dry, but only during a few months each year. As a result, some communities where you’ve made investments in clean water had to turn to alternative, often unsafe, water sources in order to meet their water needs during these months.

Once you know exactly what is happening, you cannot simply move on to the next water point.

Mr. Amadu Tholley deserves clean water 12 months out of the year. He’s a member of New London Community in Sierra Leone, and his community received safe water a few years ago. His community is one where we’ve seen seasonal dryness, caused by the water table dropping in the entire region.

Mr. Tholley loves his community water source.

“The water in this community is very nice to drink,” he said. “There are other wells but this one is different. It taste like spring water, please help us fix the problem of the well drying! I cannot afford to miss it.”

Powered by your support and driven by our shared responsibility to Mr. Tholley and those from other communities experiencing the same, seasonal issues, we went to work towards a permanent solution.

The innovative imagination and technical expertise of our team led to the development of a completely new way of making existing wells deep enough to access water every day of the year. Using a custom-created hand auger and bit, teams drill down approximately 20 feet beyond the base of a shallow hand-dug well. This “well within a well” is then cased and transformed into a borehole, thus extending the depth, improving the yield and reliability of the water point. This technique has now been integrated into every new rehabilitation project we undertake.

Our concentrated and focused network of water wells within Port Loko District – and their daily reliability – have transformed the region. To date, over 150 projects have been completed (and are actively maintained) in Northwestern Port Loko. Water projects remain at or near 100% functionality due to dedicated quality implementation, effective customized hygiene, sanitation, and maintenance training, and are sustained through reliable monitoring, evaluation, and resolution relationships.

Your support is going further, doing more and providing lasting solutions for communities in Sierra Leone.

Your generosity is world-changing. Check out our 2018 Impact Report to learn more about the lives being transformed through your support of clean water.

The 10 Year Challenge

The Water Project has worked with communities who do not have access to reliable water for more than 10 years now. The “10 year challenge” meme provided the opportunity to reflect on all the things that have changed and on things we have accomplished since the start of The Water Project.

However, the thing that stood out to me was what didn’t change. We helped install a new well at Eshienga Primary School in western Kenya in 2009. The students came out to celebrate their new water point on the day construction was complete. They were thrilled that they no longer had to carry water to school each day just to have something to drink.

All of the kids in the picture no longer attend the school. They moved on to the nearby secondary school and now an entirely new cohort of students attend Eshienga Primary. One thing that hasn’t changed is the well. It still provides water to the students 10 years later.

This is a picture from our most recent visit in November.

Not only is water still flowing, it is safe for drinking. Our water quality tests conducted during the visit showed that there are no contaminants. Furthermore, the student health club formed at the time of the well’s completion is still active with 40 members and there is more than $50 in funds set aside to pay for repairs.

We know all of this because of our ongoing monitoring program. We visit our projects, past and present, multiple times throughout the year to ensure that water is still flowing. This information is published on our website for every project over the past decade.

Over the past decade, The Water Project has increasingly worked with a conviction that a project is only beginning once the construction of a well is complete. It seems pretty obvious to say that wells, like any mechanical device, malfunction over time.

As we monitored our projects and the breakdowns became immediately apparent. Regular visits to a well show just how often it happens. Monitoring alone is not enough, we believe in sharing the status of each project in real time.

In 2011, we learned that some of the original parts installed in the well at Eshienga Primary were substandard. We reported what we learned at the time and dispatched our teams to repair the issue.

A year after the maintenance work was done, we published a report from one of our regular monitoring visits. Our teams observed that the well was still providing safe water because that problem was addressed.

We continue to monitor the point and remain available for support. In 2015, we launched a new phone app-based monitoring system (mWater) that allowed us to publish to our website information about each water point immediately after it is visited by our teams. Anyone can go to our website and see the functionality status of every water point.

People can see that, like the case of Eshienga Primary, breakdowns happen and we are using monitoring to track when it happens and ensure that the problem is resolved. For example, here is how the well at Eshienga Primary has performed since 2015, when we began capturing data in a centralized database via cell phone with mWater:

Issues arose, they were reported, and we were able to respond in a timely manner to ensure that water continues to flow. Breakdowns are not unique to this school. We make a promise to every community that we will monitor and support each one of our projects.

We hope to celebrate the 10 year challenge every year as more projects turn 10 years-old. We also see it as a challenge to ourselves to ensure that water flows for more than a decade after a project is complete.

Did you know that 1 out of 3 people do not have access to a safe toilet?

Improvised latrine in Uganda

Some 4.5 billion people today either do not have a toilet or use one that does not safely manage human waste. Of that total, there are 892 million people who still practice open defecation. This is a big problem. Diseases like cholera are spread through contact with human feces. In fact, the city of Boston created one of the first modern sewage systems in the 1870s after suffering significant deadly outbreaks of cholera. Cities in the U.S. and around the world adopted a similar solution to the problem over the ensuing decades.


The Value of Relationship: Trust – Part 5 of 5

Part 5: Trust

This is all a learning process, but we are not hiding our challenges. Sweeping any failure under the rug simply doesn’t make sense. That cuts out the legs of the shared table where we all sit. The goal is never installation. It is always reliability. Failure is only ever an interim step toward a truly reliable water point.

Meeting with a school administrator at a recently completed water project.

We could keep this information private, but being open is crucial to ensuring that we are actually living up to our claims. It is the transparency of both successes and challenges through which we discover and create experts at the table willing to contribute to the problem-solving process and to the rest of the water sector.

We’re so thankful for a community of supporters, our donors, who share these same values and are up for the challenge of real impact, over quick solutions. This is one of the values that our supporters bring to the table. They enable all of the above by recognizing and investing in the value of the more cumbersome path of a relationship through partnership.

Trust is crucial to making this work. We truly flourish when supporters trust that the information we are sharing is legitimate and hard-won. Communities trust that we are going to follow up on our promise to ensure that water points will continue to provide safe water, even when they break down.

Building relationships is hard work. We are committed to achieving reliable access to safe water, not just one-off solutions.

We wish there was an easy solution. But it’s messy and requires a lot of candid communication between everyone involved.

We’ve been learning this for 11 years. And we build on this foundation every day.

We know this: without strong relationships, the momentary gains in “people served” will vanish into the graveyard of broken promises and dry wells.

So we depend on one another, the experts, at the table across and beside us, from Kenya, to Concord, to California as the voices who inform and invest in the best water solutions and the systems to ensure they will remain reliable every day.

The Water Project does not build wells. We build relationships. And water flows.

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