Unsanitary water carries within it an untold number of health risks. It could contain agents that cause painful skin lesions, parasitic worms, blindness, diarrhea, impaired motor function, stunted growth, and death. In a climate where daily water consumption is a necessity, the need for reliable access to clean water is crucial, but can be frustratingly hard to achieve.
Lacking access to potable water is a simple problem. No access? Get access. Determining the specifics of a solution, however, can prove incredibly complex in the absence of reliable infrastructure or basic technology to deliver it. If accessing the nearest source of clean water means manually retrieving it from deep underground, one has two choices: Dig a well, or build a pump. Doing either can prove difficult, frustrating, and complex.
Residents of the Outreach communities in Zambia had worked together to rehabilitate six of their local wells over the past year, and while the wells themselves were made less dangerous for residents when retrieving water, and new covers incrementally increased sanitation, the process for hoisting the water out of them remained a problem.
In Zambian communities, the means of retrieving water was based around a pulley system — wheels turning to pull rope, with rubber gaskets placed every two meters up a length of PVC pipe running from the water table to the surface. It was a crude system; laborious and inefficient when everything worked as intended, which was rare. Ropes repeatedly snapped, slipping unreachable into the depths in an instant, leaving locals without a means of acquiring water for drinking, cooking, and bathing until it could be repaired.
While visiting the Zambian partner communities in April 2016, Chief Field Officer Dennis Labayen and Field Operations Manager Cassidy Miller discussed these difficulties with the affected residents and field staff. Field staff considered the options, and Labayen recalled a solution he had witnessed while visiting one of Outreach’s partner communities in Bolivia, and mentioned it to the Zambian field staff. After consulting with a pump technician to weigh the feasibility of implementing the Bolivians’ pump in a different community, Labayen contacted the Outreach Bolivia field staff to acquire the schematics. A few phone calls and emails later, the field team was in touch, and partners there had devised a simple hand-pump to replace their own inadequate rehabilitated wells, to determine if the Bolivians’ approach would work for the wells in Zambian communities.
Field staff in Bolivia worked to learn how to assemble and utilize an efficient pump built from simple household materials — PVC piping, a plastic bottle, and a single marble. No ropes involved in the pumps meant no broken ropes could hinder their use. For the past four years, Outreach Bolivia team members have shared the pumps’ concept and design with residents of communities in which they work, each implementation proving reliable and effective. These thoughts had remained local, but thanks to the instruction manual, the design could be utilized globally, pending some translation.
Outreach Zambia staff members Trust and Kapesha reviewed the instructions, now translated into Bemba, a regional language in Zambia and parts of DR Congo. Together, they traveled to neighboring cities to acquire construction materials and tools, then confirmed that residents could afford and obtain the same materials to build their own pumps if the design proved worthwhile. Finally, they partnered with a local technician, Wainga, and got to work testing the received wisdom.
Before long, the trio had not only constructed a trial model of the pump, but also discovered a few minor improvements to make the design work more effectively. The sight of water led to an elated “eureka” moment for Trust and Kapesha. After so long puzzling over the complexities of a simple problem, they had their simple answer. Soon, their communities would experience the same success and satisfaction felt in communities halfway across the world.
The ability for Outreach to continue our work is based entirely on the notion that humans are willing to share some of what they have with those who possess much less, in order to build a better world. Sharing is infused throughout each phase of Outreach’s process in our affiliated communities — every step forward involves the sharing of thoughts, concerns, ideas, and solutions. Participants each have a share of the work, and each, in turn, shares in the success that follows. Much like a pump, a little effort can yield a continual flow.