(One of our major ventures so far in Nkongsamba has been a clean water and sanitation project. Here is the first of a few part blog series on our water project.)
Shaun and I have been working with Fultang Bilingual High School in Nkongsamba since around January. The school is a 500+ boarding school that teaches both the Francophone and Anglophone syllabus. The students live in one of ten dorms and are at the school 24/7 during the academic year. Additionally, the staff is wonderful. Not only have we become good friends with the staff, but they are incredibly motivated, hardworking, Cameroonians eager to see a positive change in their community. They too, like the students, are truly bilingual.
The school’s campus is located in Mbarremsouto, a quarter of Nkongsamba that is up-hill from the center of town. Due to the fact that it is uphill means that the unreliable water company frequently cuts the water supply to this quarter because it has to be pumped up to their location. With over 500 students and no running water, you can imagine how quickly the sanitary condition can deteriorate. It is a major worry of the school staff to always have ample water on storage to last through these, sometimes week long, outages in water.
Thankfully, there is a natural water spring located about 500m behind the school’s campus. After passing a bunch of small farms, and before reaching the Catholic Primary School on the other side, you will find the spring. The spring has never-ending clear water, which is where the students and additional 1,500 community members access their water when the water is cut. While they can get clean water, the method of collection allows for high rates of contamination. Community members collect water using a bucket and a plastic scoop – scooping their water with the scoop into the bucket until it is full, and then carrying the bucket (on their head) back to their house. As the water is nearly flesh with the muddy ground, contamination occurs jeopardizing the quality of the water. But, murky water is always far better than no water.
Currently, we are in the middle of a large water project with the school being the community force spearing the project. Back in April, Shaun and I attended a UNICEF WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) conference with the founder of the school and a head teacher. This conference trained on latrine standards, how to build latrines, the need for washing hands, the importance of clean water, and waterborne diseases. At this conference, we agreed that we would help the school establish a clean water source and install hand-washing stations around the school’s campus, as they already have ample latrines. In order to do this, like most things in life, we needed money, and a bit of money at that.
Together, with the school staff, we designed the project. We found that we would need to build a catchment that would filter the water coming from the ground and force it out of a pipe, as to allow for easier collection by the community. Inside this catchment would be a natural filter consisting of large stones, gravel, and finally sand. We also agreed that a storage tank would be ideal; with the storage tank, multiple students or community members would be able to access ample water, even in the dry season. While water access is one part of a hygienic community, sanitation is the other. We agreed we would build 5 hand-washing stations (outside of the boys’ and girls’ dorm latrines, outside of the school latrines, in front of the kitchen and school bakery, and one for the staff office). We were ready to go! The catchment, storage tank, and hand washing stations were our goal, and we would need around $5,000 USD to get it done. Ideally, in maybe a few years down the road, the school could find funds to build another storage tank up the hill to give closer access to other community members and, with the help of gravity, could be set up to pipe water into the school’s campus as to act as ‘running water’ without the need to rely on the unreliable water company. Shaun and I tried to remain realistic, and were eager to see how we could get the initial phase of the project done.
To find the funds, we applied for a clean water grant from Peace Corps Cameroon. The grant would cover the building of the catchment, the hand-washing stations, and part of the storage tank. Because all Peace Corps grants have ceilings, we weren’t able to fully get our budget covered. We then reached out to Columbia River Peace Corps Association, whose members are returned Peace Corps Volunteers now living in Oregon or southwest Washington. We completed their grant application and found out there were more applicants than funds available; they would be meeting to vote on a Sunday night and each applicant could present on their proposed project to try and earn votes, and therefore, earn the grant. Well – Cameroon and Portland aren’t really in the same time zone, but I knew that if I didn’t present that we would have the only disadvantage of not being present at the meeting. So, the alarm was set for 2:45am and I skyped into the grant meeting. Thank goodness for technology! We were awarded the grant from CRPCA, and our project was fully funded! (It turns out, I think skyping into the meeting at 3am from central Africa gave us a competitive advantage in the long run!)
So, there we have it. Now, the real work begins on building the tank and catchment! Stay tuned next week for updates and pictures on the construction progress.
The entrance to the school.
The natural water source; the future sight of the catchment.
A close-up of the water source.
The Catholic Primary School, located just up the hill from the water source, also accesses their water at the spring.
The path (and view!) walking to the water source.