A Finished School Well!

M’Bam is a very large village. It has two primary schools, a private school (for students that didn’t pass a certain grade in a public school more than twice) and a junior high. During the school year students from surrounding villages either commute or board with a family. This causes the population to fluctuate drastically between the rainy season (when schools out) and the dry season (the school year). Last November one of the many American students that while studying abroad in Senegal have “interned” in M’Bam was teaching several days a week at the second primary school. Having never visited the school, not knowing its location or essentially of its existence I asked to come and meet the teachers and directors. The day I came was this American student, we out-planted ten trees (using compost!) and as it was her last day in M’Bam, it was decided that I would continue on in her absence. The director and I were joking how strange it was that I had been in this village for over a year and was being introduced to the staff by some one who had been in the village six weeks. When I’m here at least two days I assist a teacher by taking over for a period or two but the real interest and direction of this partnership between the school and me was to have a garden.

There is a water tower in our village and a tap can be installed in the compound, though it is expensive. The water tower when built has fresh water but not long into the tower’s life the water becomes salty, this goes for most water towers in the vicinity of the river delta. The pipes that bring in water begin to leak at the depth where salty water surrounds the pipe and thus lets the salty water in.

So though the school has a tap, they don’t even water the trees with this water. The compound next door to the school had a well from which students retrieved fresh water. When discussing the garden, water came up as the main problem, often gardens are held back as well by a lack of fencing since all livestock is loose and will eat away your entire garden. The school has a very sturdy fence made of concrete bricks and iron so beside the seeds and physical labor of gardening, fresh water was the only missing necessity.

Each day/multiple times a day people ask me for money, things, and too give them foreign women so besides this experience changing my outlook on development period, I don’t think in the long run giving money or materials helps or is even a good idea. Some investors spent hundreds of thousand of dollars to invest in a biogas facility, which though installed in 2005 is still not producing methane. Partly due to the concept being a progressive high level idea in the first world pushed on to a village that isn’t ready for that and has lots more practical environmental issues that need to be solved. But mostly this due to my host brother being treasurer of the village organization that accepted the project stealing the money to start his successful hardware store. Money is viewed here as communal by most so unless an outsider manages the funds they won’t go where they’re supposed to. I half-heartedly said I would seek funding for a well so we can have a garden having the anti-giving development philosophy.

In any case I broke down and sought funding. There is an NGO, Appropriate Project ( http://appropriateprojects.com/node/609), which has a division strictly for funding water related projects (communal wells, school bathrooms, etc.) under $500 for Peace Corps Volunteers. There only stipulations are that the work start immediately and finish within 30 days.

Unearthing fresh water!

In order to make sure the well was dug in a spot from which fresh water would be found we had to find some one with that ability. The school director in the village four kilometers up the road said there was an ancient Pulaar method of checking and we could hire them to do it.

The school director with the finished well

There is also an elderly French woman living in village five kilometers into the bush who can do this as well, we’re friends thanks to the French woman that has house in my village. She came and sought out the optimal well site for free, she was able to say the depth of the water and determine whether it was fresh or salty. I don’t completely understand the method but I’ll explain it as best as I can, if you are holding a piece of wood taut between your hands, the piece of wood become bendable over the site where the fresh water is, apparently this can be done with rope too.

Our future composting site

Mid-April I received the Money Gram confirmation number for the $490 worth of CFA (Senegalese Money) that Appropriate Projects sent me to build a well. The original budget the school director and I decided on was more than I received due to the exchange rate fluctuation. There was a truck load of sand on the budget. Sand is used to mix with cement both for the lining of the well wall and also for the bricks used for the exterior to prevent people from falling in. This was removed from the budget as the digging of the well would provide enough sand for this purpose. We reduced the amount of 50 kilo bags needed from 15 to ten. The last way we finagled the well price was to ask the masons to take the price down which they did by $20.

First a perfect circle was placed in the sand and the first week was spent removing sand two meters deeps. Not far from the two meter hole, three one meter holes were dug in the manner. Eight and six meter iron rods were sawed off to the desired length. Each of the three meter holes were coated with cement, lined with iron, and covered with another layer of cement. This was a little over two weeks worth of work and at this point the mason team took a week long break. The meter length cement circles meant for lining the well below the water’s surface needed to have water constantly splashed on it to keep them from cracking in the sun. The mason team came back to work, lining the two meter deep well hole with cement, iron and at finishing layer of cement. They laid gravel and cement around the well and for some reason no one is allowed to walk on it while wearing shoes. The third and fourth meters were completed and after going a little deeper, we reached water. All the teachers were very happy to tell me this and that the water was confirmed as fresh. The mason team has dug underwater, deep enough that one of the three meter linings dug outside the well has been lowered in. More wet sand will be removed so one more of the meter line will protect well wall underwater. The third lining fits inside this last lining so when the well runs dry, another meter can be dug and this last lining will slide deeper to protect the wall at this new depth. Now the well is finished and waist high cement exterior is installed to prevent anyone from falling in.

On the domestic front, I had family and neighbor collect thatch and bought some as well. After it was woven and enough bundles were present, a date was set to remove the old thatch and lay the new thatch. This showered dust all over my room and the material (mosquito netting) covering the top of my hut form dust was too porous so I removed it. A team of painters were repainting the family living room, metal window shutters, and outside wall a week later so I bought a tub of white paint to cover my walls with and the lead painter instructed me on doing proper job. He had me do an initial layer, then plaster the holes in the wall, and go over the walls again with a second layer. It came out nice. It was difficult to decide what to use cover the top of my hut from thatch and dust falling on the interior as mosquito netting was too porous and but I was told plastic would be too hot. As dust has been bothering inside my hut more than heat, I brought meters of blue plastic to a tailor who wove it together so it could be nailed into the four corners of my room. This came out nicely thanks to my cousin Alex doing it thoroughly and a role of duct tape.

Then a very talent volunteer painted three murals inside my hut, one of Chicago, one of the Swiss mountains, and a Japanese water color painting of a boat, its reflections, the sky and water. This hut has come a long way!

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