The Africa team, Engineers Without Borders Israel - Tel Aviv recently returned from a two-week expedition in Tanzania. The project deals with the supply of clean drinking water to rural areas in Africa and has 20 volunteers from diverse fields who manage the project from end to end throughout the year
Written in collaboration with Ofir Inbar.
The Africa team, Engineers Without Borders Israel - Tel Aviv recently returned from a two-week expedition in Tanzania. The project deals with the supply of clean drinking water to rural areas in Africa and has 20 volunteers from diverse fields who manage the project from end to end throughout the year: from fundraising and marketing to construction and implementation of the systems in the field, and has been operating continuously since 2013 in the Babati district of northern Tanzania. The team is made up entirely of undergraduate students , and a third at Tel Aviv University, and maintains close cooperation with the Center for Water Research under the authority of Prof. Dror Avishar and with the International School at the university.
The Tanzania project began after an Israeli traveler traveled in the country and was exposed to the medical problems and day-to-day difficulties of those children and many residents in the village. In this area of Tanzania, the drinking water is saturated with an unusually high amount of fluoride, 10 times the standard of the World Health Organization, the fluoride in the drinking water causes severe developmental problems, especially in children, which are manifested in skeletal deformities, cleft lip, dental problems and more.
The systems built by the team over the years are currently managing to provide clean drinking water to more than 5000 children in six schools. The solution to the water problem is simple and sustainable: through proper use, the school's roof space can store enough water to meet the needs of school children throughout the dry season. The staff uses several simple filters and chlorine tablets to ensure that the children drink clean water.
Three of the nine members of the delegation, Yuval Eshet, Guy Dan, and Asaf Nitzan, say: "As part of the delegations, we come to the schools and build the systems together with the community, the teachers, and the students. Our vision is that the community and the educational staff will be responsible for maintaining the system from end to end."
The main goals of the delegation were to build two new rainwater collection systems in schools with a total volume of 75 cubic meters, one of which is in a completely new area, to sign a cooperation agreement with the heads of the districts that will define the division of responsibilities between the local community and the Israeli team, to deliver an expanded educational program on water and hygiene issues, and building a relationship with international organizations that work in Tanzania.
Guy Dan explains: "In September 2021, we mapped the specific areas and schools where our systems will create the most value for the community and students. This is no small thing - there are many, many schools that need water, and building in a certain place means that other schools will have to wait for the next shipments. Working together with the authorities, we decided that we would build one system in the Nekaiti area (the area where we have been working since 2013), and another system was built in Dabil - an area where we worked for the first time. Opening a new area requires extensive logistical organization from us: from lodging, through food, to establishing relationships with the local community. There is no doubt that this is an interesting challenge. The Dabil area is poor and remote, the authorities directed us there with the understanding that no water projects are planned in the area, and that our solution is the right answer to the water problems of the place." In the last year, the team developed a water filtration system that means that the rainwater after a period of drought will not enter the system. "It is important for us to provide children with safe water throughout the year. To this end, we have cooperation with university laboratories and water laboratories in the region, which once a quarter send a professional team on their behalf to our projects and carry out tests for the water quality in the system."
According to Assaf Nitzan, many projects in Africa are quickly becoming white elephants. A foreign organization comes, pours money and goes home. Shortly after - the project was abandoned and goes out of use. "We want to avoid this, so it is important to us that the authorities and the community be part of the planning and construction of the systems from an early stage. More than that, we want it to be clear that the community is the one responsible for the project. We already have 8 systems in the field. Experience shows that their condition depends directly on the commitment of the school principal to maintain and maintain the components of the water systems. A school principal changes from time to time, so this dependence is not healthy. In recent years, we have held dozens of meetings with the authorities in the region, from the level of the village leaders, through the heads of the district to members of parliament. In addition, we built a close relationship with the local water authorities. At the meetings we presented our demands from the community regarding the maintenance and operation of the systems. They asked us to prepare a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which we will clearly write what we bring to the project, and what we ask the authorities and the community to bring - before, during, and after construction. The document was sent a few months ago to the head of the district, and he distributed the powers according to what he saw. It is interesting to see that the heads of the district refrain from financing projects directly, but they are happy to allocate personnel, construction materials, and other indirect costs. In the current delegation, we signed the contract and so far the cooperation has been outstanding. It is too early to know if the agreement will last for a long time, but this is undoubtedly a necessary step that will help the community to maintain the project for years to come."
In our opinion, reaching the schools and building the water systems is only half the job, emphasizes Yuval Eshat. "Think about a girl who comes to school in the morning and sees a bunch of "whites" walking around the classrooms building water systems. Does she understand the purpose of the systems? How to keep them? Why is the water in the system good? And most importantly - can she replicate the system in her own home? To answer these questions, we devote a lot of time during the year and during the expedition to delivering an educational program in the schools where we build systems. Furthermore, when we arrive in the field we return to schools where we built systems in the past and deliver additional educational programs. Over the years we have built a number of interesting and focused educational systems that explain in a friendly and interactive way the importance of drinking clean water, and the systems themselves. We published a children's book in English and Swahili, which tells the story of a drop of water, from the moment it forms in the cloud, through its arrival in the systems, to the glass of water that the child drinks at the end. Reading together with the children reduces their fear of using the systems, and helps them understand the importance of maintaining them. In addition to this, the team prepares technical training for teachers at the school in order to teach them how to fix the faults and how to maintain the systems over time."
The team relies on fundraising from companies, philanthropic foundations such as the Kirsch Foundation, the Israeli Embassy in Kenya (which is responsible for Tanzania), and Tel Aviv University. For example, a few months ago we did a big project with Microsoft Israel, during which Microsoft employees contributed money to the project, and the company doubled the amount. Guy Dan elaborates: "The work in Tanzania shows us the great impact that the projects have in the local community. We are already looking ahead to the expansion of the activity and are already preparing for the next expedition that is expected to leave in September 2022. We are in the midst of raising a significant amount of money for the upcoming expeditions, where we intend to build upgraded water systems in several areas of the province and carry out several additional projects. We invite companies and people who are interested in donating and being partners in the project to contact us."
More of the topic in Hayadan:
- This is how the clothes we donate from our closet go to Africa's landfills
- The lack of water in the Middle East and North Africa may harm food security
- Africa: preparing for a wave of water refugees / Dr. Assaf Rosenthal
- Adventures in Africa: Prof. Yoel Rek of Uni' Tel Aviv paid tribute to Richard Leakey, the naturalist who died this week
- The effect of warming on the rainfall in Africa/Dr. Assaf Rosenthal