Something truly amazing happened last week. Last week our project hit its 52nd week and we posted our 21st completion. 21 pumps in 52 weeks. I say that something amazing happened precisely because nothing much happened at all. No one celebrated, no one burned us at the stake, we just continued to trudge along through the complex difficulties of working on this unique and challenging program.
More than anything else we’ve learned through this project that the world is not black and white and that problems are incredibly complex. We’ve written a lot in the past about our initial naivete in thinking that we could complete one pump every week for a year but we haven’t written enough however about the incredible generosity and understanding of our funders in all of this. It is certainly something of which the world should take notice.
Water Charity is an NGO which partners with Peace Corps Volunteers working all over the developing world to complete water related projects. They like most other NGO’s rely on donations to support their projects, which can lead to problems. In the NGO world it is fairly common for organizations to concentrate on boosting and touting their statistics as much if not more than actually helping people. In this economy money is tight and charities want yours. They don’t want to appear ineffective so they do things that are safe and photogenic and often times quite ineffective. They expand beyond their capacities and work in areas without understanding local dynamics and refuse to admit any failures all to look good and get more money. Some of this is unfair and its not true of all organizations, but it is certainly a problem in the industry all the way from the little guys to the big government sponsored NGO’s.
Water Charity is different however. By working through Peace Corps Volunteers they’ve set themselves up to be inherently effective at a local and global level. They don’t make volunteers jump through hoops to get grants, or put up specific top down initiatives that need to be accomplished to meet their funding goals. They work completely from the ground up and do so with an incredibly small staff and minuscule administrative costs.
In terms of us, completing this ambitious program of 52 Pumps in 52 Weeks on time would have looked really good. It could have been advertised and used to bring in donations and positive press, but all that would have been false. Not completing the project in the time frame and continuing on in spite of this speaks volumes to the character of the organization behind us. Never once have they rushed us to move faster than we thought we could work effectively. They’ve only ever been encouraging, supportive and forgiving, and for that they deserve more praise then we can give. Not every organization would do that and it has been the key to this project’s success.
By moving slowly and really working through our problems we’ve been able to establish sustainable local producers who are already breaking out on their own and succeeding. We recently sat down with our Toubacouta producer to record his progress and found out he has moved ahead on his own far more then we had thought. Since the start of the project he has sold and installed 24 pumps on his own netting his buisiness over 600,000 CFA in profits. That’s over $1,200 which is huge for a rural small buisiness. If we had rushed and put out a bunch of low quality pumps its quite possible that everyone would have thought the technology didn’t work and his business would have failed. As is we showed it can work and those few really effective pumps encouraged others to purchase more.
21 plus 24 is only 45 but that’s pretty close to 52 in our book. In any case its not about the numbers its about the real benefit and the moral of the story here is we couldn’t have done it without Water Charity. Look into this organization, they’re a true gem.
So what does week 53 look like. It looks exciting and full of work. We’re still here and we’re still installing pumps. We can’t guarantee that we’ll install all 52 but we can guarantee that we’re doing it the right way and that this ambitious, challenging, and thought provoking project is already a success. Thanks for all the support and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.
Garrison and Marcie