Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mali November 2008 Trip Summary

Since I was unable to post here while I was travelling this time, I am writing a trip report summary here to give The Friends of NomadHope some insight to the engineering site assessment trip we just completed in November. Enjoy!

The mission of this NomadHope project in Mali is to provide water, sanitation, and solar lighting to six rural community schools. It is a joint project of NomadHope, U.S. and Mali Rotary Clubs, Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Adjmor (Mali NGO), and the leadership of the six communities.

The Objectives of this month long trip was as follows:
  • Establish the necessary partnerships for a successful project, in particular our local Rotary partner and local NGO.
  • Conduct engineering assessments (with Engineers Without Borders - EWB) of all 6 schools, including water quality/quantity, sanitation & hygiene, and solar electricity placement.
  • Meet with each community and parent organization to assure we understand their needs and obtain their commitment for project sustainability.
  • Establish transportation partnerships, i.e. good car, driver, cook for future trips.
  • Take photos and video for marketing and fund raising.
  • Source suppliers for the project materials and labor, start the bid process.
Needless to say, we had a full plate!
Geographic Orientation:

We are working is the Region of Timbuktu. Mali is divided into eight regions. The regions are subdivided into 49 cercles (circles). The circles are subdivided into communes. The schools that have asked for our help are in six villages within the commune of Essakane: Farach, Zuera, Essakane, Tissikoreye, Bancor, and Emimalane. All within 3-4 hours from the city of Timbuktu, by 4x4! This is about a 17 hour or 2 day drive from Bamako, the capital of Mali.

My first few days in Mali were spent running errands in Bamako, preparing for the trip north, and meeting with several potential partners.

Fatima Abdoulaye is an EWB member from NYC as well as a volunteer for NomadHope and has been a tremendous asset to our efforts since I met her last year. She is from Mali and her family opened their house to us while we were in Bamako. Bamako was hot and crowded, as big cities are, but Fatima's family welcomed me and I have been adopted as a daughter. "Keely (Zeïnabou) Walet Abdoulaye"!

I met twice with our new Rotary partner, the Bamako Doyen RC. They agreed to work with the Manhattan Beach and Long Beach Rotary Clubs, our U.S. partners, and assigned a Senior Project Coordinator to work directly with us. Malick Niang, the Bamako RC President, and I did the official RC flag exchange to begin our long term relationship. We established several other good contacts in Bamako, including the Chief of the Section of Community and Nomad Schools, and AfriqPower, the solar panel manufacturer we hope to do business with.

After a few long, hot days running all over the city (Bamako is a big, broad city), and many home cooked family meals, Fatima and I left for Timbuktu by plane.

Once in Timbuktu, we picked up our 4x4, driver, cook and supplies and drove the 3 hours to Farach with Hamadi (of Adjmor, our local NGO partner). In Farach we had our first community meeting. Each community is organized with a PTA, School Director, community leaders and a chief. Some of these meetings were small and intimate while others were large and very interactive.

I have to say that without Fatima (EWB) and Hamadi (Adjmor) we could not have accomplished all that we did in such a short time. Hamadi proved to be an excellent partner for us and is well respected in each community. The meetings were started by me in English and some French, then Fatima would translate into French, then Hamadi into Tamasheq. Then sometimes a community member would translate again, just to be sure!

The meetings were great and the leaders and parents are very interested in having lighting in their schools, as well as better access to clean water and sanitation programs for the students. They came up with some great ideas for sustainability programs and are very committed to make this a success. We found only one of the six communities to be unorganized when it comes to programs for their school, so we will meet with them again in a year to see how they have progressed.
The second week, Hamadi and I picked up our two EWB volunteers, Michael and Tamar, to begin the Water / Sanitation and Solar Assessments for each school. Back again to all six, setting up camp each night and visiting 2 schools each day.

Michael and Hamadi collected the water samples from each water point, while Tamar and I took the solar photos and measurements for each school room and building. Then Tamar and Michael did the water quality analysis, while I surveyed the latrines and Hamadi ran down answers to our open questions and prepared for the next village stop.

These were long, yet very productive days; and we made for an excellent team!
We gathered all the necessary data for a full water and solar assessment in each village! In summary, the communities reported four water points to have quality issues, but we found only one or two to have issues that present health risks. I will wait to see Michael's full report to give details. All six villages have large reservoirs being filled by a bore hole well with a solar pump (forage). Each also has one or several manual open wells (puis). Each water point has some issues, some minor like broken taps and others with leaks and insufficient taps for human and animal herds' needs.

Each village has a school building, two of them are in pretty bad shape while the others are fairly new. Each also has one or two pit latrine buildings near the school, but none are really in use. Some reasons are the lack of a nearby water point, unfinished structures and roofs, no guardian and process for cleaning and maintenance. None of the schools have a hand washing program for the students because the water point is too far away.

Each school has a meal program, with millet provided by PAM, another NGO. One school does not have a school cook, so the millet is given to nearby families to cook for the children at noon, while the others prepare the meal on campus for the students. The meal takes about 4 hours to prepare, gathering firewood and water, pounding millet, stoking the fire and making porridge. (see a short video of a school cook)

As for the sustainability of this project, I made it very clear that we want each community to come up with a "sustainability program" that enables them to generate new income for the school that will pay for the solar and water guardian, maintenance, and replacement parts that they will need year after year. Most of the projects in these communities to date have depended on the families paying a monthly fee to sustain them. That in itself is not sustainable! They already pay for water from the forage, the forage guardian, the school cook, and the teachers as well... how much more can they be expected to pay without a plan to generate new income.
It took some prodding, but Hamadi was able to get the community leadership group to come up with some creative ideas for this. For example, Zuera is a marketplace for the nearby communities and the women are producing products like cheese, bread, and other baked goods to sell at market. They would like to have a large solar oven and solar millet grinding machine for the school (see a video here of one I found in a larger town)
, which they would be willing to pay to use. This would enable them to make more market product faster and generate additional income for each family. This would also generate income for the school! Farach is on the route that brings tourists during the festival and many locals pass by. They want to establish an Internet, printing & copying center to generate income for the school. The equipment would also benefit the school when reports are due, as currently the Director must drive to Goundam and pay for printing and copying. Maybe with GeekCorp we can help make this happen! Lots of good ideas came forth in these meetings, to ensure project ongoing success.
While I was in Timbuktu and then again in Bamako, I met with GeekCorp who has some very creative projects in the area with computers made to withstand the dust and heat here. We also visited a nearby village that has a solar program to install one solar light, one battery, and one solar lantern in homes that can pay a small monthly fee. The women doing the installation and maintenance were trained in India at the Barefoot College. Lots of ideas for projects here! Focus, focus...

Hamadi and I also met with the local hydraulic and sanitation companies in Timbuktu, to see what they recommend for our water and sanitation needs for each school.

Finally, Michael (EWB Water & Sanitation expert), the Adjmor staff and I met to review all our data and notes. We prioritized each school based on Rotary and NomadHope project criteria and agreed on the solutions we will all work up designs and bids for. Was a very productive trip with fabulous teamwork!

Our next steps now are to get the bids & designs for each of the solutions, and complete the fund raising for our Pilot, which we hope will be 2-3 schools. We will submit our Rotary International grant application by early January, but still need 2-3 more clubs to participate or some additional private donations! Please see our website to make a donation!
Thank you to:
Rotary International
Engineers Without Borders
and Adjmor