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Solar-powered water system

Solar-powered water system

Sitsatsaweni Thanksgiving

Michaele and Brent LaVigne, 30 November 2009

Last week we received a call from David Tembe who is the water manager for Sitsatsaweni. He asked if we could visit the primary and high school as they wanted to say thank you to us for the Solar Water Pump that was donated by BFC November 2008. In accepting the invitation we did not know what to expect but were excited for Monday morning to come.

We asked Jimmy Braithwaite (Agri pumps owner) and Colleen Copple (NCMI Africa Global Resource Coordinator) to join us for this day. We arrived at 10am and met with the head teacher of the primary school, who we had met in previous visits. She led us down to the high school principal’s office where we were seated along with a representative from various community organizations.

In attendance was:

  • Mr. David Tembe – Sitsatsaweni Water Technician/Manager
  • Mr. Jimson Mahlalela – High School Head Teacher
  • Mrs. Ethel Dlamini – School Committee Representative
  • Mrs. Sophie Ginindza - School Committee Representative
  • Mrs. Mavis Dlamini – Bucopho
  • Ms Esselcuna Mavimbela - School Committee
  • Mr. Anthony Mazija – Chief’s Council
  • Mr. Joseph Similane - School Committee
  • Ms Ncamsile Matsenjwa –Primary School Head Teacher

We all sat in chairs lining the small office, which was actually a portion of a large classroom sectioned off with shelves. The rest of the room was used as storage and the secretary’s office. The head teacher, Mr. Mahlalela addressed the group first and announced his community’s intentions of being like the one leper in ten who returned to thank Jesus for his healing. He spoke of the benefits brought by the availability of water, and how grateful he, his students, and teachers were. His short speech was followed by several others in the group, until nearly all had said their thank you’s. Each person highlighted a different aspect that had been helped by the presence of the water, and it was amazing to hear it all!

The primary school (1st – 7th grade) has begun agricultural classes this past school year (2009) so that students can learn to plow, plant, and grown crops. Next year they will also be adding chicken to the agricultural program so that students will learn how to care for, breed and sell chickens. The primary school is also working on a home economics class which is now possible with the presence of water.

The high school has also added an agricultural component to their students’ curriculum, and we were able to see some of the fruits of this labor. Two small fields have been planted with maize (corn) and other vegetables. Two taps have been added to the system in the high school premises to accommodate these gardens as well as hand-washing near the toilets.

The head teachers and school committee representatives commented on how the presence of water has helped retain teachers as well. Previously, they said teachers would not want to come, or would not stay very long at Sitsatsaweni because there was no water available at their homes. Now teachers are content, and as Mr. Mahlalela said, “happy teachers make for better students”! He also commented that this pump has put their small community “on the map” as he has been asked about it many times from other head teachers during seminars and conferences.

Sitsatsaweni is not yet without challenges, however. Although the primary school had 750 students in 2009 and will likely have 850 in 2010, they only have 300 suitable chairs for students. The high school is also in need of much-needed expansion because they can only accommodate 170 students in their school. This means many students cannot continue on to high school or have to take years off before moving on after grade 7. Usually in Swaziland these issues would be resolved by raising school fees marginally for the year in order to raise funds for necessary improvements. In Sitsatsaweni, however, there are a high number of orphans and vulnerable children who cannot pay the full amount of school fees, let alone a temporary increase. Mr. Mahlalela told us separately that 80% of his students are orphans or vulnerable in some way.

Although it was hinted that the community would like a further helping relationship from Bethany First Church, this was not the purpose of the meeting. In spite of its challenges, this community has taken it upon itself to make continuous improvements capitalizing on the presence of water. David Tembe has increased the number of taps in the system so that water is available many places throughout the school and clinic grounds. They also requested that this same gift be given to other places in Swaziland, and said they had been praying about that.

After their thanks had been said, it was our turn to say a few words. Each of us – Brent, Michaele, Jimmy and Colleen, gave small speeches on behalf of all those we represented. We told them about the Coca-Cola project and the fact the Sitsatsaweni pump had been the first of its kind that sparked interest for a much larger project to go all throughout Swaziland, just as they had prayed. We also reminded them that just as Fred Evans and Bethany First had been the ones to offer them a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name, now they had the ability to offer that same gift to others in their community.

While we were there, Jimmy was also able to clear up some minor misconceptions about the system. In this first year, many were hesitant to open the water resources up to the community at large for fear of water shortages. When this issue was brought up, Jimmy assured them that the pump would provide enough water for the community to partake as well, without needing to increase the storage tank capacity. It was agreed, however, that taps should be placed outside of the clinic and school grounds so that community members can retrieve water without coming onto the grounds. This would be the best way to prevent any theft or vandalism. Jimmy also offered that if the community members dig the trenches, he would supply the pipes and fittings necessary to install two more taps.

Our time ended together with light refreshments, a stroll of the grounds to see the gardens and new taps, and then a group picture under the solar pump. There were too many thank you’s to count, but apparently there were not enough said to satisfy one community member present. He said, “We wish we had a million mouths to say thank you a million times!” We have truly experienced that in the family of Christ, you often get the privilege of reaping what had been sowed before you.