On a small brick building near the town center of Mbori in the East African nation of Tanzania, a sign reads, “Maji ni maisha”—“Water is Life.”
It is a message of utmost seriousness to the thousands of people living in the small village, each of whom pays the equivalent of a few pennies to gain access to a highly unreliable system of wells used for drinking water.
Throughout the Dodoma region in central Tanzania, working water wells have become a luxury. That’s because few of the hundreds of villages that circle Dodoma—Tanzania’s staid capital city—maintain clean water-supply systems.
“This is the basic human right of our time,” says Lisa Boyd, an international relations
major whose passion for Tanzania has led her to visit the country twice in the past two years.
“People are walking up to five hours every day for a bucket of fresh water, she says. “The biggest problem for water progress in countries like Tanzania is sustainability. People who have the right intentions are just not looking at the problem the right way.”
Boyd and Jason Kramer ’10, a supply chain management major
, have spent much of the past year examining how to bring about change in a country mired in inefficiency. The two students were last year’s winners of the Social Venture Creation Competition in the Eureka! Ventures Competition Series
, which is directed by Lisa Getzler-Linn. They have used their monetary award to improve the availability of clean drinking water in Tanzania.
Last spring, while she was enrolled in a study-abroad program at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam, Boyd talked with government officials and university researchers about Tanzania’s dilemma. She worked to become conversant in Swahili and to adjust to a culture that, traditionally, has rejected Western ideals; years of socialist policy burdened the country with poverty, and it remains one of the world’s poorest and least developed nations.
Kramer visited Boyd for ten days in May. Together, they canvassed eight towns throughout the Dodoma region, speaking with town elders and members of local water “committees” about the availability of clean drinking water.
“There are many other towns in [that] area that need assistance and that our connections with both governmental and nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] could help,” says Kramer. “And the lessons learned—from working with various government officials to speaking with town leaders and the townspeople themselves—are incredibly valuable.”
The deterioration of the country’s water-supply systems was a constant disappointment to Boyd and Kramer.
“We just kept thinking, ‘Why do they spend so much money on these water programs when they always seemed to stop working?” Boyd recalls. “We realized there was a major educational component that was missing, and a significant lack of communications preparedness.”
The two students traveled by car, bus and bicycle through the districts of Mpwapwa, Chamwino and Dodoma Urban. They conducted extensive interviews with town elders and villagers to learn more about water safety and culture. They realized that the volunteer water committees that manage and operate town water systems had not been trained to repair and maintain water wells.
Boyd continued the study after Kramer left, making her way to an additional 12 towns in the capital region. The results were the same.
In many cases, the fault lay with NGOs that built water-supply systems but then failed to do the necessary follow-up and repair work to keep the systems running safely.
As a result, Boyd and Kramer have proposed a system of private contractors—individuals in each small town who would get paid a salary to manage the wells.
“You need to have people who care about the job and have the presence of mind and ability to maintain the wells,” says Boyd. “Without that level of dedication and commitment, the community falls right back into the same old trap.”
They launched a pilot project in Mbori, a village that had four broken pumps and a lack of sustainable planning by the NGO that installed those pumps. They are now collecting feedback from the town’s new private contractor on how the program is being received.
“I really loved becoming a part of the community and I hope to get another shot at returning soon,” says Boyd, who is applying for a Fulbright Scholarship and other grants to finance a third visit to Tanzania.
“The people are great and I think we have an opportunity to do a lot of good. I just really want to be in the middle of it all. I love it there.”
The impact of their travels isn’t lost on Kramer.
“Here we are, Lisa and I, just two students who signed up for a poverty and development class. The next thing you know, we’re in eastern Africa, possibly starting our own organization, and really making a difference in people’s lives.”
Story by Tom Yencho
Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2009