Nicole Brandt, Executive Director
An update from GOF Executive Director on the status of the new well we are drilling in DRCongo. The good news is: we will soon have an operational well to provide access to clean, safe drinking water. The bad news is: progress in Congo rarely comes easily.
If you have been following our social media sites, you may have seen the progress photos we have been sharing on our well drilling project. We wrote the first post about breaking ground on the well a little over eight weeks ago, and hashtagged our posts #4weekstocleanwater. A hashtag that in retrospect was – pardon the pun – a pipe dream.
We’ve long had a dream of building a holistic care village for orphaned and abandoned children in Kinshasa, where we operate our Pebble Project Nutrition Program in orphanages around the city. Towards the end of 2014 we found the perfect spot of land for our village – 50 lush green acres, outside of the hustle and bustle of the metro-center, with plenty of room for everything we could dream up. While we weren’t quite ready to start building, we knew this land had plenty of potential, and we snatched it up. Since then, we have been planting crops – expanding slowly each month – our cassava, sweet potatoes and maize funnel back to the orphanages we partner with, providing a reliable and nutritious food source. In 2016 we began making plans to expand our farm to include chickens and insects – palm weevil larva, crickets and caterpillars. We also established partnerships with the Farms for Orphans, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and University of Kinshasa, to start working on establishing our insect farm and creating a farm training program to help orphanages launch their own sustainable micro-farms. Big, exciting stuff that will all come to fruition in 2017!
To make all of these new farming operations successful, we knew we would need access to clean, safe water. Currently, the closest water source is the Congo River, over an hour away walking. The women who live in this community spend six hours per day walking too and from the river to collect water that is not safe to drink, that is contaminated with bacteria, that can make their children and families sick. We knew that we had to get a well drilled sooner, rather than later. So, we began researching clean water options and drilling companies. Our staff in DRC met with several companies – which requires making the two to three hour drive from the city center to farm, so the drilling company can evaluate the land. We received several quotes by mid-summer and narrowed the pool down to one company we thought would do the best job. In August we gave our Program Manager, Ety, the green light to execute the contracts – a process that took another two months.
The contract stated that the work would be done in three weeks, but the company had up to sixty-one days. We broke ground on November….and shared our excitement all over socialmedia -
#4weekstocleanwater. Two weeks into drilling we received a report from the drilling company that they were having trouble finding water in the spot we had specified for the well, and would like permission to try drilling on a different area of our land. Remember, our land is 50 acres, so there are lots of places to try. We gave the green light, and the drilling team started work a few hundred yards from the original spot.
A week or so later, we received another update – they had found water! The drilling team sent pictures of them doing a happy dance, and you better believe we followed suit in Indianapolis. I shared pictures with my family at Thanksgiving – some of who are engineers and have experience around building projects – and tried to impress upon them the primitiveness of the drilling process. The drilling team had constructed a wench from wood, they wore hard hats, but no shoes, and their tools were hand operated. The drilling team was actually living on our land for days at a time while they worked, because they don’t own cars and the farm is far from their homes.
Work continued, until early December, when we received a report stating that while they had found water in the second location, it wasn’t producing enough water. The drilling company wanted to try in a third spot. We greenlighted the new location and the process started all over for a third time.
Turns out, the third time is a charm, and the new spot is working out perfectly. They have found water, and an abundance of it, and are ready to start constructing the superstructure around the well. Another happy dance in our office! We expect the well to complete and functional by the end of January, just in time to launch our first micro-insect farm.
Through this whole process, we have been hoping and hoping this project would be complete well before the end of the year. You may have heard that DRC was supposed to hold presidential elections in November – although probably not, because African news is rarely reported in the US. Per the DRC Constitution, the current President Kabilia's term was set to expire at the end of 2016. Congo has a long history of unfair election processes, and has never experienced a peaceful transition of pwer, and this time is no different. The government has stated that they are unable to organize elections for the country, which is nearly the size of western Europe, and do not think they will be ready to do so until 2018 – in the meantime, President Kabila will stay in power.
President Kabila’s term was supposed to expire Monday, January 19 and the opposing party began protesting when he did not leave office. Protests in Kinshasa often become unstable, with the government frequently turning to violence to try and quell the masses. This instability keeps our staff from working, as the safest thing to do on these days is to remain in your home. It also hinders our ability to communicate with our team on the ground, as the government orders Internet service providers to cut off access to social media, email and messaging apps.
We’ve been watching the political situation in Congo as closely as we can, and waited on tenterhooks until we finally received word from our team that everyone was safe, all the while hoping that the situation stabilizes quickly. As of today, the ruling party and opposition party have signed an agreement promising that elections will be held this year and President Kabila will step down before 2018. It's hard to know if this agreement will be honored, but we continue to hope for peaceful democracy in DRC.
#4weekstocleanwater has turned into fourteen-weeks-to-clean-water, which seems just about right for DRC. Call it Congo Time.
If you want to learn more about the current political situation in DRC, check out An Exit Plan for Congo's Kabila in the New York Times, which does a great job of explaining the complexities of the power transition in DRC. If you really want to understand the political history of Congo, and how their civil wars have impacted the entire sub-saharan African region, Jason Stearns' Dancing in the Glory of Monsters offers a thorough exploration - don't forget to shop with Amazon Smile!