A meeting by chance? an email, a solution underway

We met, we talked, and we’re working on a problem.

From: Eilis McDonald [mailto:eilis.eilis.mcdonald@gmail.com]
Sent: 21 February 2011 12:23
To: info@wellsforzoe.org
Subject: Water pump

Dear Mary and John,
I was greatly impressed by meeting you both at Jubliee House in early November, 2009. A few of us had a tour of some of your projects and greatly enjoyed the experience. I loved the visit to the children in the Nursery in particular!
I saw your pump factory and never expected that I’d be doing anything that involved pumps but thats what has happened and I need advice and maybe a couple of pumps.
I now work at a Primary Teachers’ Training College in Butiiti, Fort Portal, Uganda. At my residence, which is in a Primary boarding school compound, I see all the boarders from all ages, 3 -14, carrying water from the borehole which is a few hundred meters away, across the main road and down a steep hill. I have been considering what to do to get water nearer and during my investigation I see that there is an underground tank collecting water from the eaves of our church. But the pump handle is missing and so nobody remembers when it was last working, nor where the remains of the handle are. To get at the water in the tank, the heavy cement cover (which is a few feet from the pump area), has to be moved back and a bucket on a string lowered.

Would one of your pumps fit the unit? Would one of your pumps be suitable for this space? If the answer is “yes”, then have you any connections in Uganda where I might get same?

I need to leave Uganda so that I can come back in and renew my Visa, so I could go to Malawi if thats what it takes to get access to pumps.

Continued success with all your great work. I know that you work very hard to make things seem as if there was nothing to it. Well done and congratulations.

Yours sincerely,
Eilis McDonald
(From Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow)

On Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 2:42 PM, wrote:
Dear Eilis,

The quick answer is that the pump will do the job for you, and that seems like the easy part. I have a few pumps in Ireland on their way to NIger later in the year so I will check on the cost of sending one or two.
At the moment we are in Madeira for a rest and to plan for the next year, we came yesterday and it’s beautiful. We are so lucky, thank God.
I will ask the guys at home to find out. I will also ask Harisen about transport from Mzuzu, maybe by bus??. Worth a try.
How deep is the tank. If it’s not too deep we might be able to make up a ready-to-go pack.
Alternatively if you have electricity, we might be able to find a small electric pump, to do the job.
Delighted that you haven’t become disillusioned and fair play to you for persisting.
How is teacher training, Mary would love to hear how it goes.
Will work on the pump.
Keep well and shake them up!!
Very Best Regards
John + Mary

Dear John and Mary,
You do know you should have left the laptop/internet behind you if you want a bit of a rest in Madeira!!!
But I’m glad you didn’t!
We have electricity – most of the time. I don’t know how deep the water tank is. Maybe I’ll go and ask one of the locals to drop the bucket to the bottom so we can measure.
I got €500 donation at home at Christmas for a “water project”. Apparently it is money raised by a Famine relief shop in Northern Ireland. A Kiltegan priest gave it to me. So I can pay the carriage cost as well as the cost of the pumps. I say “pumps” plural because I imagine if there is one such tank with a pump that is’nt working, the chances are there are some more in a similar condition.
I’m going out now to see if I can measure this tank before it gets dark or rains – both are not far away.
I’ll tell you all about my new work, sure I could write forever about it!
Renewed thanks for your letter and encouragement.

Eilis McDonald


Dear Mary and John,
I did set off to take measurements of the water tank but got way-laid and then it got dark. So, its a job for to-morrow!
As I mentioned, I didn’t expect to be doing anything that would involve pumps or pipes or water tanks but somehow in Africa we seem to get landed with problems we wouldn’t tackle at home. I came to Uganda in June 2010 to teach English, Art and P.E. at a 400student mixed Primary Teachers’ Training College. I did do that for a while and was enjoying it greatly until one day I got inside a new room that had always been locked, a new room beside the library in the newest block at the college. The room had 8 double electrical 3pin sockets, good windows with bars, a strong steel door and good lighting. I was told it was to be the computer room when the college gets computers. The Principal is saving up for them. He has bought one each of the 3 years he has been Principal and stores them in a pile behind his desk. He is not computer literate!
I knew I could do something as I had €2,500 of donation money from the parish at home waiting for a suitable project. Camara, the company that ships re-conditioned computers from Irreland has a hub in Fort Portal, near here maned by volunteers from the same organisation as myself – VMM. I spent my money on 20 computers and got the computer room open and ready for lessons – but I hadn’t figured out who was going to teach computers but like the little red hen said “sure I’ll do it myself!” and now thats what I do full-time. Trouble is that I’m not very good with computers or anything with plugs or switches or pipes or flexes but thats not going to stop me making sure the stuents get their hands on computers. Mostly they learn themselves and help each other. Now they are looking for an exam so that it can be included on their certificate. I’ll find one – wont stand in the way of progress!!

There are small children carrying jerrycans of water up the hill, across the road to this compound. Then a hardy chap lugs the cans up a metal frame and empties the water into my water tank so that I can have a shower and flush the loo!! How awfully embarassing is that! So I’m looking for a more efficient way of harvesting water. We have hardly any guttering so gallons of water just runs off the roof. This underground tank takes the water from the guttering on the church which is attached to the block I live in. We need pumping access to that tank and we need twice as much guttering. I think that is my next project!

During the first week of May I have to take a trip out of Uganda so that my visa can be renewed. If there is no other way of getting the pumps, then I can go to Mzuzu and collect them. I would make it a little holiday, visit my friends and go to the lake at Kande. I get impatient at the thoughts of waiting so long to get the water sorted but I have to adjust to African time. The pump here hasnt worked for many years by the looks of it!!

I live in the middle house of a small row of teachers accommodation at a Primary boarding school, where I have a sittingroom, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. I’m surrounded night and day by the sound of children, a sound I am very comfortable with! I’d love a little bit of a garden but havent got it so on Sundays I take myself to the verandah of the poshest hotel in town, have lunch, watch the birds being stalked by hopeful but useless cats, enjoy the vista, maybe meet other ex-pats for a chat, Skype home and then return to my own domain satisfied that I’ve had my garden time.

After teaching Primary, Mary, this is a different world altogether! There is rapt attention in class – tutorials last 2 hours!!! and there are about 120 in some classes. Because there are no such things as overhead projectors, tape-recordings or hand-outs and in some subjects, not enough text books to go around, students have to commit what is said to memory. They listen and remember what is said. They give it back word for word in the exam, the downside being that they dont get to analyze or tease out the meaning or implications of what they hear – just give it back!! Then they are so polite and so grateful for little attentions given to them. I nearly always have a bag of sweets and I seem to remember that so do you!! – old habits die hard!!

Now listen to me rambling on when you are supposed to be stretched under a beach umbrella, with a iced glass of something exotic with a slice of fruit stuck on the side and maybe some soft relaxing music to drift or doze to!!
Enjoy your break!
I’ll be in touch when I have measured this hulk of a tank!

Dear John and Mary,
I hope the holiday is going well! College re-opened for us to-day but then tomorrow is another voting day so we’re closed for the day. I’m leaving here early around 6am in the morning to visit the school where I was a global teacher for 5 weeks in 2007.
Our parish of Baltinglass has sponsored a 2 acre banana plantation there and other crops also – pineapples, ground nuts and maize (which I think is not very successful!). The proceeds go to buy porridge so that all students get a meal at school and also to buy uniforms for girls who had to drop out of school to raise siblings but can now return but havent the money for uniform. Seems as if its all going OK.
There’s a big black cockroach the size of a small horse galloping around my sitting-room so I think I’ll be sleeping here on the window sill for the night!

Last time I visited i wanted to take photos to show at home but when I saw the sign it read “Eilis McDonald’s Agricultural Project” – even though I had written out “Baltinglass Parish Project” for the label!
They argued that they don’t know Baltinglass but they do know me!! I can’t show that at home!!

I had a good look at this contraption out the back and interviewed anybody that could understand me. It was built cone shaped by putting rows of barbed wire around the hole which was then plastered and a cement top circular – ish with a diameter of 5.80metres. I dont know the depth but its not very deep – whatever that means. It holds 15,000 litres.

The bucket system was considered unsafe by the Head teacher of the nearby Primary school so he has had it secured so that it no longer can be accessed. I asked if there is water in it and they say “no” because the guttering is broken and a pipe somewhere is blocked so the water cannot get into the tank. An attempt was made in 2000 (the builder inscribed his name and date in the wet cement at the bottom of his handiwork) to put in a new pump in a different area but near the original. Apparently the pipe they used was too long and was jammed against the wall and so wouldnt let the water up. He and his colleague went away to cut the pipe, taking everything with them and havent been seen since!! Can you believe it? Of course you can! He also recorded the name of the company they were from – a diocesan one apparently, so I’ll try to chase that lead up and see what the sceal is.
Separately to-day I was meeting with an electrician to discuss the wiring of the computer room (did I tell you the saga about my new computer room? – well if not we’ll take a week some time and I’ll fill you in!) This electrician is highly recommended as the only reliable electrician in the district or so says my VMM colleague who was an electrician here for 2 years but is now gone to Kampala for a proper paid job!

I asked him about an electric pump for this tank outside and he says he has experience of fitting such pumps. If I were to go the electric way, what type of pump should I get? Presumably they can be got in Kampala.

However I’m more inclined to think that it would be better if it was a manual unit as we often have no power and so it might be less reliable.

When I know more about the whereabouts of the fellas with the pipe to be cut and the amount of work to be done to repair or replace the guttering and unblock the blockage wherever that is, then It will be time enough to decide about the type of pump to use.
I dont suppose with this garbled description, you’ll be able to make head or tail of what I’m at but give me another day or two and I’ll hopefully have a better handle on what the job entails. But you’re not rid of me – yet!!
Enjoy the sand and Sangria! and the peace and calm.

On Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 7:34 PM, wrote:
Just rushing out to eat but had to read this.
It is an inspiring story, I love it
You are inspiring.
I figure a small electric pump may be the way to go for a start. If you can
get the depth down and the height up, I’ll source something to suit and send it out.
The other pumps may come as well or later.
On the other hand if you were to come to Mzuzu, you might stay
We could give you loads of land and gardens. Joking, but is there anyone else like you , I
dont think so.
My God you’ll make such a difference to these students.
I’m on the trail of a simple projector for the farm and if it works out I’ll get one for you.
LED light, no bulb dustproof and just stick in a memory stick. I’m told it exists amd I’m on it.
Can I put this magic piece up as a blog?

From: Eilis McDonald [mailto:eilis.eilis.mcdonald@gmail.com]
Sent: 21 February 2011 12:23
Dear John and Mary,
Thank you for that very generous offer of a submersible and also your own creation pumps! I have’nt been free to contact the crowd that last handled this underground tank as I spent a very long day getting to and from Kahunge. Then we have had 2 heavy days of the new curriculum 9am – 5.00pm. Not like our in-service Mary with long coffee break and long lunch breaks. Maybe somebody will be a that water works place tomorrow and since i know now where it is, I’ll just go there.

Also I passed by a place that supplies ready made guttering and downpipes so I’ll talk to them also – after I measure the lengths I am likely to need. There’s an Australian volunteer with a group called “Bringing Hope” who has a workshop teaching woodwork and metalwork and he says he would be able to fit the sub. pump.

My only reference to such a pump is the one in our garden pond at home which spews or cascades depending on the setting. It resembles a big tortoise !!

The electrician is coming on Wednesday to re-wire the computer lab. First i had to pay him €400 up front so that he can get the materials. I hope he is as reliable as I’ve been told!! Then he charges €120 for the three day’s labour! Sounds good enough and just goes over the estimate I gave the INTO Solidarity fund who have promised me a grant of €500. Do you hear that Mary? More than anything I ever got from them when I was a serving teacher!!

There was a shallow well in use in a field outside the school compound but apparently “pastoralists” let their animals ruin it. (I think they are people who have cattle but no land of their own to graze them on!). There is water there as there is a boggy marshy patch around it so I’m certain somebody knows where we’d get more barbed wire and fence it after restoring access to the supply.

There’s great clay around here apparently as there are kilns burning away all over the place. Besides there’s also another VM (volunteer missionary – what a title!!) who although he is a retired Garda, is here as a builder so I’m certain I can get him to come and advise about building wells!

There are 7 of us from Ireland who all came with the same organisation, within a 40mile radius so we can get together now and then but we can also call on each other’s expertise when needed which is a great support to have. Nobody has needed my help at all yet! But they do come to my place for meal and a few beers now and then. I reckon that counts as support!

How is the holiday going? I can’t imagine either of you sitting on a sunbed lazing in the sun. I hope you are relaxing and re-charging the batteries. Your input is needed so badly and as you see there is nobody trying to take the work from you!! Keep it up!
Chat soon,

It will be solved.
I love it when a plan comes together – The A Team