Site Information

Mission Tanzania

Posted by Mark Gallo on

We’d been planning this trip for over a year. My friend Alex has been raising money for several years and running Mission Tanzania with the goal of bringing clean water to villages in the Bukoba region of Tanzania. Mission Tanzania was developed under the auspices of Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church of Santa Barbara. In collaboration with St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church of Irvine, and with the blessing and guidance of Archbishop Jeronymos of the Holy Orthodox Diocese of Mwanza, Mission Tanzania has installed twenty new wells with pumps since 2015. Alex is a vigorous 81 years old, and this would be his third trip (and perhaps last) to the region. This was my first trip to Africa, and, at 59, about as old as the average Tanzanian man can expect to live. For me this trip was an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the well drilling to satisfy villagers needs. I plan on applying for a sizeable Global Grant from Rotary International to fund next year’s work.

Just getting there is a four day proposition. Saturday afternoon we drove 2 hours to LAX, boarded our flight, and flew 14 hours to Dubai arriving on Sunday evening. The airport was swarming with people from all cultures - India, Asia, and Africa. We overnighted near the airport and boarded an early morning flight Monday to Uganda. Five hours later we landed at Entebbe airport. I had a vague recollection of an Israeli raid to free hostages from a hijacked flight here, but now it looked pretty ordinary and inauspicious shimmering in the bright tropical sunlight. 

The tortuously slow traffic on the road to Kampala meant we wouldn’t make the border crossing before the 7pm customs closure. We spent our first night in Africa at a hostel called the Athina Sports Hotel. I awoke in the morning to loudspeakers blaring dance music, not from a local club but from the private school next door where hundreds of uniformed Ugandan students were dancing, shouting, and jumping in early morning exercises. Not a bad way for the kids to start their day! After breakfast we drove 3 hours to the border and went through the process of obtaining Tanzanian visas with the requisite newly issued $50 bills (why new bills I don’t know). On the long drive through Tanzania we sped past many adults and children walking remote stretches of the two lane road with little margin of safety from traffic. We passed through settlements with lots of activity just a few meters from the road - welding shops, lumber yards, car parts purveyors, food stalls, and cell service providers. The acrid smoke in the air, the wandering goats and chickens, wind blown road side litter, and crude, rough and tumble shops gave these villages an air of “Mad Max” - barely civilized societies. As darkness fell we pulled up to our hostel above the city of Bukoba. We had arrived to a full moon over Lake Victoria. 

On Wednesday we got to see the drilling rig in action at the Ufufuo Health Center. The clinic has access to the municipal water supply but at a high cost. Thus the effort to drill a borehole and create a supplemental water supply. While it requires trained operators, the drill rig itself is a simple diesel-powered mechanical system that operates like a hammer drill, cycling up and down on a cable. As the drill bit makes contact in the bottom of the bore hole it twists slightly and loosens the substrate. The bit itself is blunt instrument covered with studs which can be replaced as they wear out. It’s a long, tedious process to drill a borehole, and can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to reach reliable water. Twenty wells cost an average of $5000 each to complete using the trained Tanzanian crews to operate the drilling rig and hoist truck. Each crew member gets paid $150 to $200 per month plus a small bonus for each well completed - good wages in this labor market. Pumps, pipes, fuel, and other parts are bought in bulk from local suppliers whenever possible. In contrast a single well installation in Kenya cost our Rotary club 10 times as much because the equipment was leased and the ad hoc nature of that project required hiring expensive consultants and making costly one-time shipments from the States. 

The first village we drove to was Amani, a rough 2 hour drive on dirt roads and then no road as we bushwhacked the last kilometer through the scrub west of Bukoba. The well is located just below the Orthodox chapel, and is serviced with an electric pump rather than a hand pump due to the great depth of the bore hole. Unfortunately this remote settlement is far from rural electrification so the pump is run off a portable gas generator that must be rented each time the reservoir is filled. Despite the hardscrabble surroundings, the villagers greeted us with great fanfare and joy. With cries of “you’re welcome, you’re welcome” the parish priest and his water committee made up of male elders shook our hands in what I took to be the Tanzanian convention (first a standard Western handshake, then a soul brother handshake, then a return to a quick Western). The women were dressed in colorful printed Kanga wraps while the men wore jogging suits or casual slacks and shirts. Many of the children were barefoot and wearing torn, dirty clothing but some smiled and laughed like kids anywhere. They frequently had younger siblings in tow or wrapped tightly on their hips - endearing to us Westerners but probably essential for mom to attend to the household duties. While filling their gerry cans with water the kids then the adults lined up dutifully for a candy treat. It is humbling to see people living with so little treasure what we give no thought to - the availability of clean water. 

Near the village of Kobunshwi where St. Paul’s Orthodox chapel is situated the borehole had yet to strike water even at 200 meters. Power lines are only a couple kilometers away in the valley below, and the village elders spoke of a government proposal to drill for water near the school but there is no timeline for bringing these essential services to fruition. I’m learning there is much talk but often little government action in Africa. It seems that organized religion - Muslim and Christian - is the de facto governing body in these rural areas. The rural Orthodox churches are gathering spots for water collection, gossip and, for a fraction of the populace, worship. In places where the priest resides in a mission house near the water well, he can act as the well manager to ensure that profiteers don’t exploit free or cheap water and resell it down the road. An important requirement of Mission Tanzania’s water well program is that the villagers must contribute to the construction and maintenance of the facility. Even bringing a few stones or bricks to build the pump apron and paying the equivalent of 2 cents to draw 5 gallons of water is both an emotional and economic investment for the impoverished. They may be more protective of the resource and more likely to want to maintain it when it inevitably breaks down. 

Alex and I flew to Mwanza on Sunday, a larger city located on the south end of Lake Victoria. There among the three villages we visited Busanda was the most memorable. St. Peter’s church has a congregation of 600, and the local population of nearly 6500 uses the well. The small gathering of villagers presented our group with 2 chickens, 2 pigeons, a bag of ground nuts and a small goat to show their gratitude. Over a meal of rice, beans, ground nuts and chicken washed down with sweet cinnamon tea, we listened as the water committee and local government representative made a pitch for a second well in order to better satisfy the needs of the area. 

On Wednesday we visited Kazinga where St. Barbara’s chapel sits high on a bluff overlooking a long flat valley. The congregation is small here - only 270 among the 1200 villagers - but the ebullient group broke into song as they paraded their livestock gifts to us. 

After the village elders made their speeches we learned that some of the women had organized a poultry program raising chickens for egg production and meat consumption. Others expressed interest in obtaining a sewing machine to create a micro-business. Sadly we learned the pump was inoperable at the adjacent well, although another worked just fine a little ways off. The villagers at most locations demonstrated a greater awareness of sanitation and hygiene with the installation of the wells and instruction on proper sanitation practices known as WaSH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene). In the last year they dug more pit toilets, used hygienic drying racks for dishes and clothing, and built simple "tippy-tap" hands-free devices to wash their hands. A training program for maintenance and repair of the pumps would have to be developed along with a spare parts inventory. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

If you’d like to contribute to Mission Tanzania please click here

comments powered by Disqus