Report of Tanzania Water Projects Sites Visit by Sathiya Bly—June 2016
Tanzania is the 31st largest country in the world, ranked between Egypt and Nigeria. Its population of nearly 52 million is diverse, composed of 125 ethnic groups and several religious and linguistic groups. Over 100 different languages are spoken in Tanzania, making it the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa. Swahili and English are Tanzania’s official languages; Dar es Salaam is the largest and most populous Swahili speaking city in the world.
Sr. Marcia and I flew to Dar es Salaam, the former capital and the country’s largest city, principal port, and leading commercial center. Dar es Salaam is the largest city in eastern Africa by population (4.5 million) and is the third fastest growing city in Africa. The city is highly urbanized and the hub of the Tanzanian transportation system, as the main railways and several highways originate in or near the city. Much of Dar es Salaam’s growth is connected to the steady development of its harbor due to entrepot trade with landlocked countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Zambia.
Given Dar es Salaam’s expansive growth, there are several slums throughout and surrounding the city. More than half of the city’s population lives in informal settlements without running water or basic services. Even convents in the city that are connected to municipal services experience power rationing and water shortages.
While Dar es Salaam is slated to become another economic center for Africa, nearly 70% of the country’s population is rural. Access to water, sanitation and development remains low in Tanzania, even though there are many resources available. The purpose of our trip to Tanzania was to visit water projects that received grants in the past, have pending requests or have proposals to be considered. What I found is that the sisters are determined to serve the poor, but they are struggling to provide basic needs for themselves and the local population who are dependent on their support.
Tunduma, SOLQA – Sisters of Our Lady Queen of Africa
The first project I visited is in Tunduma, a southwestern border town near Zambia. Tunduma is in Mbeya Region (roughly the size of West Virginia). The sisters have received 2 water related grants at this location to drill a borehole for their health center and solar panels to power the water pump.The solar panels were necessary because the area experiences frequent blackouts, which left the water pump inoperable. The pump now produces water 15 hours/day because it has a double power supply. The congregation’s borehole is able to produce so much water because it has the highest yield and the best water quality in the area–making it workable year-round.
Besides the health center, the congregation’s property includes a maternity clinic and kindergarten/daycare center, the convent, church and parish hall (even though the land belongs to the sisters). Since the project was first implemented, the congregation has been able to expand their kitchen garden to grow seasonal produce throughout the year for the sisters and people in-need. Spillage water from the borehole is collected and used for irrigation purposes—ensuring that no water is wasted.
In addition, local community members come to the borehole throughout the day with their jerrycans and handdrawn carts to collect water. The sisters charge a very minimal fee from the villagers to fill-up their water containers, but the congregation is barely breaking even with the cost of the electrical bill to operate the pump. The locals collect so much water, cheaply, from the sisters that they are able to travel throughout the surrounding area to sell water as middle-men at a higher rate, then they return to the borehole to collect more water. Some enterprising people have even started selling “water baggies”—water filled into plastic tube bags 2 with the end tied. The water is safe to drink from the borehole and does not need to be treated. I had no side effects after drinking my water baggie!
Customers, usually truck drivers and travelers, buy as many bags as they need and puncture one end to drink the water. Unfortunately, these baggies are not recyclable and not properly discarded. Roaming roadside vendors and business kiosks are common in the area because hundreds of semi-trucks travel on the highway every day, crossing into Zambia. The entry line at the border crossing is miles long with truckers waiting to pass; sometimes this takes all day. But throughout Tanzania, bottle recycling has become an informal business for people that are unemployed and unskilled. Private recycling businesses are contributing to Tanzania’s economy and trying to encourage responsible waste management practices.
Since so many locals are trading the sisters’ water, they tried raising prices, but the people protested and did not come to the borehole for an entire day. The sisters relented and dropped the prices again, but they struggle with the fact that they did not have a clear water usage plan in place before allowing locals to come and collect water.
After consultation with Dr. Machibya of WEMA, the sisters realized they could start a privatized water distribution business by bottling and selling their water. Due to the capacity of the natural underground spring on the convent’s property, the sisters would be able to have a bottling plant on-site to sell bottled water. There is no other regional water supplier or distribution business in the area and the government does not provide water in this remote location. All bottled water sold in Tunduma is trucked in from other parts of Tanzania and sold at small markets.
This business could be highly profitable for the congregation because it would be the only one of its kind in the area. There will always be a high demand for portable water because of the heavy volume of travelers on the highway year-round. There is no other way for people to fill up personal water cans because there is no municipal water supply. The sisters would still allow locals to come to the borehole and fill-up their jerrycans for personal use. But the income generated from the water bottling and distribution business would enable the congregation to gain financial independence so they can meet the needs of their ministries and communities they serve. For example, the health center and maternity clinic must be renovated and expanded to accommodate their patients. Profits from the business could also help the sisters institute income-generating projects and women’s outreach programs so locals can learn skills to be self-supporting.
Kisa and Rungwe, ISRA – Sisters of Our Lady Queen of the Apostle
The second project I visited was also in Mbeya Region, but closer to the border of Malawi. Rungwe and Kisa are located deep in a fertile mountainous region dotted with farms, mostly banana plantations. The sisters have a small convent high in the mountains and almost 400 hectares of property. Much of the property is undeveloped with dense forest, but the sisters also have a large banana plantation. Near the convent is a district health center that the sisters manage and staff, and a large orphanage.
There are no job opportunities in the area, so the sisters receive many abandoned children throughout the year. I met a 10 year old girl who was left in a ditch and another child who was placed in an outhouse. Hearing these stories and others was heartbreaking; I do not understand how dire someone’s circumstances could be to force anyone to treat newborn babies this way. But the sisters told me that the children under their care will never know the circumstances of how they were abandoned. All they will know is that the sisters love them unconditionally.
Located down a dirt trail through banana trees and alongside a narrow river is the sister’s access point for water. They are fortunate to have a natural aquifer on the side of a hill that provides the “sweetest water in Tanzania,” according to Dr. Machibya. The water is so pure that the sisters are able to use the water for hemodialysis patients with very little treatment. So much water pressure pours from the aquifer that a lot of it is lost into the river below. There is a water-generated pumping station and pipes to bring water up to where the convent, health center and orphanage are located. But the sisters cannot afford to build access points throughout the villages for families to collect the water easily. Instead, people must fill-up their jerrycans at the pumping station’s spigot and carry the water up the trail and along the dirt road home.
Due to the location of the spigot, people cannot bring their handcarts to easily travel with their water, such as in Tunduma. The villagers in the mountains are so poor that they could not dream of reselling the water and creating a side-business. Villagers are willing to walk for miles to use the sister’s water because they have no alternatives and they know the free water is safe to drink year-round. There is no development in the mountains. The sisters need funding to build community water stations, which would continue to be free for locals to use.
The sisters would like to create a water bottling production business with their aquifer. The water would be transported to Mbeya, where it could be easier to have a distribution company, because it is a growing 4 metropolis and business center. Profits from the water company would be used to finally bring development to Kisa and Rungwe and create job opportunities for the villagers. They could also set-up village boreholes and latrines to improve the health, hygiene and sanitation of the people being served. Additional funding would support the health center, orphanage and the congregation’s other ministries as well.
Ndelenyuma Village and Lutukila Village, OSB – African Benedictine Sisters of St. Gertrude Imiliwaha
The third project I visited was in Ruvuma Region. The 500 mile Ruvuma River bisects the state and flows into Mozambique. Three smaller rivers flow into the Ruvuma system.
In 2015, the congregation received an SLDI-CNHFS grant to complete the first phase of their gravity water project. The grant was specifically used to complete the diversion weir (water in-take diversion dam), in-take sedimentation chambers and build 2 water storage tanks with a capacity of 100,000 liters. Financial support for Phase 1 also came from the congregation, the local community, district water authority and other private donors.
It was necessary for the sisters to spearhead this project because of the government and private sector’s failure to implement a water project in the area for the past several years, despite promises to do so. After years of growing frustration, the village council approached the congregation to consider working together to find a solution to the water problem. The people depend on small, seasonal springs and hand-dug wells. Many also resort to using contaminated and polluted water sources shared by animals.
Once project planning began, the district water engineer worked very closely with the sisters to ensure Phase 1 would be completed. In Tanzania, faith-based organizations must get approval from the district water office if they want to undertake socio-economic projects for the benefit of the local people; the office granted the congregation the rights to use the river for their project.
The village council trusted the congregation because of its strong commitment to the community. Their primary school has more than 600 students, they have the only health center in the area and the sisters employ locals through their farm and livestock production. But these efforts are struggling because they lack access to reliable water. The sister in-charge of the project told me: “I dream of turning on the tap with water flowing.” The realization of a gravity water project has the potential to impact 8,600 residents of 2 villages.
This water project will ensure clean, safe and affordable water is available about .25 miles away from homesteads (cluster of several houses). Nearly 50 community water taps will be installed, which will greatly reduce the distance, time, energy and workload that women and children spend in search of water. The health, sanitation and nutrition status of villagers will also improve. Villagers will even be able to build permanent homes using handmade bricks and diversify their home gardens.
Phase 2 must be accomplished in order to complete the water project. Much of the labor involved for the next phase will be provided by the locals that have promised to do the excavation of the entire pipe network. The locals have already contributed their “sweat equity” into Phase 1 as well.
Mikumito Mbingu, FSC – Franciscan Sisters of Charity
The sisters developed their water project in 2011, after years of water shortages left shallow boreholes completely dry during the dry season. Locals have no other sources of potable water because nearby rivers and streams are highly polluted by agricultural and livestock industries. It is common for people to suffer from water-borne diseases and to use their meager earnings on medical treatments, instead of food, when they are ill.
Farther away, the Ifumbo River is not contaminated and can be used for drinking water. At this location, the sisters began Phase I of their water project. After raising nearly $120,000, the congregation was able to build, own and operate a small hydro-power plant. The area is near a government-controlled national park, in Udzungwa, so the congregation pays for the water usage and the land where the plant is located. The 770 sq. mi. Udzungwa Mountains National Park is protected by the Tanzanian government, ensuring that water sources originating in the park will remain unspoiled. Udzungwa is 215 miles or a 5 hour drive
from the capital, Dar es Salaam, and 40 miles from the nearest down, Mikumi.
The sisters want to begin Phase II of their water project by building a gravity water system and dam. The water system will be located below the damn, near a stream fed by the river. There is always water flowing in this river, so the power plant will never lack energy.
Once Phase II is complete, more than 25,000 people will benefit from having safe water. Within the area, the congregation operates a health center, secondary school, nursery school and orphanage. In addition, the sisters have a large farm that is dependent on seasonal rains. The sisters also participate in various community outreach projects. Water-borne diseases are the major cause of health issues in the community. It prevents students from attending school, farmers
from working in their fields and negatively impacts the local economy. If clean, potable water was available, the number of patients at the clinic would also decrease.
Phase II of the water project is estimated to take 6 – 9 months for completion if funding is in place. The isolation of the location, the terrain of the area and the site conditions were also factors in determining the cost of the project. Although this is a large-scale water project for the congregation to undertake, the sisters are committed to providing clean water for the poor. The congregation has pending requests with Rotary International and smaller Rotary clubs. This is the first time they have applied to the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters for this project.
Dr. Machibya Magayane of WEMA Consult visited the site in July to provide a current assessment of the project and serve as an advisor. Some of his findings were included in this document. Dr. Machibya has made a commitment to the congregation to be available for future consultation to ensure the project can be completed to high standards and in an effective and economical manner.
Observations from the site visit:
I was extremely impressed with the commitment the congregation has already made towards accomplishing Phase 1 of their water project. The sisters literally bushwhacked and trail blazed a 10 mile dirt road through a mountain of dense jungle forest to reach the Ifumbo River. Once we reached the project location, I was awed by the force of the water pouring from the river, which operates their hydro-power plant. So much of this water could be diverted towards the village to benefit nearly 25,000 people, without disturbing the river. I was proud realizing that indigenous sisters made this project possible and have done a wonderful job so far—not an international NGO. This included the miles of power lines that the congregation paid to have installed. I thought it was the work of the government or a utility company. The hope of accessing water so close by has motivated the congregation to continue the project even though it is expensive. The sisters simply told me: “We need water to be self-reliant”.
Chipole, OSB – African Benedictine Sisters of St. Agnes Chipole
The only non-water related project I visited was in a remote village, 40 miles from the main town of Songea in Ruvuma Region. In 2006, the congregation received a grant to build a dam (#6234.1 and #6234.2, multi-year) that was used to supply water for their motherhouse, health center, schools, orphanage and villagers. The project was successful and I enjoyed the hot showers at their guesthouse!
The existing tractor is 30 years old and cannot operate an entire season.
The small profits that the maize mill has been able to generate so far had to be spent on requirements mandated by the Ministry of Agriculture or the mill would be shut down. The sisters had to build male and female restrooms for their employees and a storage building for the maize. The government told the sisters that their existing building was not up to code and they needed to construct a new one.
Everywhere I went, I was immediately impressed with the amount of joy the sisters have for the physical and emotional labor they perform, every single day. The congregations struggle to survive as the people they serve, but their burden is much greater because there is so much expectation on the sisters to do more. Yet the sisters are working tirelessly to answer each challenge with a smile and a hug.
It would be hard to imagine what these far-flung communities would be like without the sisters. The
mission stations are like an oasis rising out of the hard clay dirt; their convents and projects are the only permanent structures for miles around.
All of the locations I visited received funding in the past, whether it was for a health center, school, orphanage, farm or outreach project. I was heartened to see that the sisters were trustworthy stewards of their grants. But all of the congregations are struggling with how they can continue to support the people being served and their own members without steady, profitable sources of income or permanent infrastructure to provide for basic needs. The congregations know they need to become more self-sustaining, but they are also driven by the fact that their growth can improve the local economy and impact the health and welfare of thousands of people.
In one way or another, all of the work of the sisters represent the SDGs in action. But the goals/charism/ministries the congregations have set out of themselves cannot be accomplished without donor support, local collaboration, determination of the sisters themselves and Divine Providence.