Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Story Behind My School's Water Pump

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making this water pump a reality!

The Story Behind the Pump
   Every day during lunch break at school, I take a brisk stroll past the 6-foot tall red water pump located on school grounds. I watch as my students, many of them orphans, carefully pump water into their bottles and lunch boxes. They used to hike half a mile up the mountain next to their school to fetch water from the springs. Or, they’d bring water from home, if their villages had pumps or taps. Now, they have a much more accessible source of water with their pump on school grounds. And over the past two years, they worked very hard with their teachers to make it happen.

Success and Resourcefulness
   When I first came to Lesotho in 2012, teachers at my school kept admiring my earrings and necklaces. I offered to teach jewelry-making classes. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I must do a service project with my community involving some kind of skill or training. When teachers said they needed water and wanted a pump, we all decided that’s where the craft classes would come in handy: we’d start a craft project and put profits toward the pump. With Peace Corps’ guidance and permission to invest $200 USD of my own money, I started the project.
   Every Tuesday and Thursday after school, teachers and I held craft classes on jewelry making, crocheting and manicures. Later on, we added classes on economic development and financial management to help strengthen the business management aspect of the income-generating activity. Within about a few months, we opened a bank account, created a Facebook page and wrote a business plan.

Bringing the Pump to Lesotho
   We placed our marketing materials all over Maseru, the country’s capital, and in our shopping district. We partnered with area businesses to increase sales, and used local and available resources to save money. For example, students and teachers used old matchboxes to house earrings.
They also made beads and jewelry using candy sold in village, old magazine paper, and clay from the mountain next to our school and the national fabric of Lesotho. Our items were sold all throughout the village, and country, thanks to friendly Basotho and supportive Peace Corps volunteers and staffers.
   We participated in the Peace Corps Partnership Program, which helps volunteers and their counterparts to design and manage community projects. This meant that we had to raise $500 USD or 25 percent of the cost for our pump, which would total about $2,000 USD. We did it easily through fair trade business conducted on our Facebook page and through other volunteers and their families back in America.
   My friends and family also donated to the project when Peace Corps put it up on its website. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group from North Carolina fully funded the project. We spent our portion on pump expenses. Work on the water pump started in July and was completed in August. Students made small thank-you gifts and notes to our donors and supporters and we sent those out shortly afterward.

Growing Pains
   This project was not easy. I worked with a group of three women teachers who didn't initially believe in the project. Sometimes the money made from American orders was spent on other things, even though I encouraged teachers to save their 25 percent of the partnership. I was accused of underpaying for jewelry and not bringing in enough profit from America (project revenues totaled around $1,100 USD.) The women often talked about me in Sesotho while I was in their presence; said I was an unqualified teacher, and questioned my presence in Lesotho. (This is the importance of knowing the Mother Tongue of the country in which you live and work!!!!!)
   Honestly, I wanted to murder a few of the Black Mambas I worked with. I couldn't always make sense of the difficult times. But this is where I had to grow up. The Peace Corps made an exception to make this project work, and I sacrificed so much. We all did. You see, the pump was for my students, many of whom are orphans. If I would've quit, it would've been their loss. So the teachers and I had to put our differences aside to come together in order to make the pump a reality.

   So, that’s the story behind the water pump. Despite all of our differences, everyone came together to pull it off. I learned just as much as I taught, and more importantly, the school — especially the kids — accomplished their goal.
   The kids were a part of a creative solution to a problem that plagues Lesotho and many other places in Third World countries—lack of water. They did it with no electricity, wireless access and a lot of determination.

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