Guest Blog - Toby Turner - His visit to MSABI in late November.

The below guest blog is from Toby Turner who visited MSABI in late November. Toby was representing GHD Young Engineers.

November Tanzania

I had the pleasure of spending time with Dale and Tanya in Ifakara during November this year. Like Dale, I have been working at GHD in Brisbane as an engineer. In tandem with GHD corporate, the GHD Young Professionals group here in Brisbane (of which I’m a member) have been fund-raising for MSABI over the past few months.

Dale met me in Dar Es Salaam on Sunday November 1st and we spent a few days organising materials in the capital. We spent Wednesday at a site on the Indian Ocean, around 50 kilometers south of Dar, installing a pump. Thursday we met up with one of Dale’s drill teams at a borehole site in Kibaha, and stopped for the night.  The next 2 weeks we spent in Ifakara, Idete and Namawala.

Briefly, that’s exactly what we did, but it’s hard to describe properly. Dale and Tanya have been in Tanzania 3 years now I think it is. What the two of them are doing is pretty remarkable.

Tanya is involved in malaria research, and developing ways to reduce its prevalence. The work is based at the Ifakara Health Institute, but, clearly, successful methods of reducing infection can be applied throughout Africa and other areas where malaria is common.

In parallel, Dale has established MSABI, which is well detailed in the blog below.

In reality, it would be difficult to find a couple of people who are contributing more successfully to impoverished people anywhere in the world – although I doubt they’ll accept the charge. I had a small taste of life in rural Tanzania, and it’s a challenge - especially having been graced with a privileged upbringing in England and New Zealand.

When the word ‘sustainability’ became a common academic term, I’m guessing maybe 10 years ago, I think most people treated it as a fluffy buzzword for universities to pin research to. I was pretty cynical of the relevance of ‘sustainability’ as it was explained to me in abstract form. Tanzania, and MSABI in particular, provide an acute frame of reference in demonstration of how necessary sustainable development is.

There were a large number of everyday things that came as a surprise in Tanzania. It was explained to me that mosquito nets come at a cost (around 2,000TSH I think) to local people. My green mind was marginally outraged, given how cheap and simple it would be for developed countries to donate mosquito nets free of charge. But Tanya explained that if mosquito nets are donated, then in a few months/years time when they need replacing, there will be no local shops with stock to replace them. Donating practical items means no market is formed, and there is no incentive to maintain a sustainable supply as required, especially in rural areas. If mosquito nets are worth something, then local people have a motivation to stock and trade them, and they can be replaced as required. Further if the local people have to pay something for them then they are more likely to value their intended use. Many “free” nets get used for fishing nets, bird nets and wedding dresses! The chemically treated nets are a real concern when used for fishing as they may be leading to habitat destruction.

The same principal applies to water. There is a substantial amount of literature describing NGOs, with the best intentions, installing water points which the local people cannot fix or maintain. If the pump breaks once the NGO has left the region, the whole effort becomes pointless. This is exactly why Dale’s organisation is so necessary.

On the way back from the pump installation south of Dar, we passed a couple of school children at the side of the road. Our driver stopped, and they joined Mr Thomas in the back of the ute. Further down the road were more children outside a different school, and those who could fit also joined Mr Thomas and the others in the parcel tray.  The driver explained that although there is public transport on this route, bus drivers generally don’t pick up school child, and the problem is essentially failed regulation. Youth pay a discount fare on some public transport in Dar, but because bus drivers are paid according to the fare they receive, the discount fare acts as a disincentive to pick children up, which is counter-intuitive to the regulator. It seems like school children rely on a chance ride in the back of ute to save walking five or ten kilometres home again. That’s a pretty substantial barrier to a proper education.

I also bought a pair of work boots over just in case. It was soon obvious that I wouldn’t really need them, so I figured I would give them to one of Dale’s staff. Seemed like a good thing to do, but Dale explained that to other members of the drill team it probably seemed unfair, and it could cause problems for the guy I gave them to. That’s probably a bit more obvious, but the combination of experiences demonstrated you have to think carefully, and definitely in a different way to what I’m used to, in order to avoid negative outcomes from well-intentioned acts.

Dale’s management, in conjunction with the hard work of his staff, has delivered a sustainable development model that works in the social, economic, and literal climate of rural Africa. Clean water is an absolute pre-requisite for improvements in health, education, income and overall development. When Dale and Tanya come home, the expansion of water supplies to rural parts of the country will continue, simultaneously improving incomes and skills for local people. MSABI fully deserves the wide support it has received, and Dale and Tanya have set a formidable example in terms of offering help to other people.

This is a finished converted borehole. The existing pump was kaput, so for a $100 community contribution we installed a new rope pump over the same borehole. A practical and cheap way to obtain water. Did you know there are estimated over 50,000 abandoned water points in Africa, representing a waste of between US$215-350 million (International Institute for Environmental Development, 2008).

Toby's and the GHD Young Engineer's fund raising efforts have led to multiple new water points.

This water point is located in Kisegese Village. When it was broken the community were taking water from a nearby stream. The GPS location of this MSABI GHD Young Engineers pump is S08 09 07.8 E036 20 31.0