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Stories of sustainability from Mt. Kilimanjaro

Children wash their hands from a spigot in Mwika, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Walt Schafer

Children wash their hands from a spigot in Mwika, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Walt Schafer


By Walt Schafer, a member of the Rotary Club of Chico, California, USA

After a 45 minute drive up a winding dirt road on the shoulder of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we arrived at a new waste-high trench and could smell the soil of the fresh dig.


About 75 young farmers had made remarkable progress digging the trench for a new four-inch water pipe in just two hours. The water pipe will transport clean water trickling down from a tiny stream higher up the slope to Mwika, Tanzania. 

The community volunteers went on to complete about 270 meters of trenching that day during our March visit. They will continue to volunteer each Monday until the entire 2.5 kilometers is done. Their personal involvement makes sure they are invested in the project’s completion and success.


Since 2008, 19 Rotary Clubs from District 5160, led by the Rotary Club of Chico, California, USA, have cooperated with the Rotary clubs of Moshi and Mwika, Tanzania, to implement a series of clean water, sanitation, and community development projects in the Mt. Kilimanjaro region of northern Tanzania. The project is funded by a Rotary global grant, money from a German non-governmental organization, and the Tanzania government.


Our visit was our sixth since the start of the project. We drove to the village of Nyumba ya Mungu east of Moshi, out in the flat, dry country. A submersible pump previously given to our project (after being abandoned by another NGO) had quit pumping water from a polluted reservoir to our storage-treatment-distribution system. The pump failed because its main seal had dried out from sitting in storage for several years.


Fortunately, the elected water committee has been collecting a small water fee for maintenance and repairs. To raise the additional money needed to fix the pump, the community agreed to assess a one-time fee. The pump ─ indeed the total water system ─ is now theirs, not Rotary’s.


Downstream at the Nyumba ya Mungu secondary school, parents will meet soon to decide how to raise funds for replace the batteries in a small solar power system our project funded. This is their system now. They are assuming ownership and responsibility.


Back at Mwika, several hundred volunteers organized by the Mwika Rotary Club will spend several days planting 95,000 seedlings in a deforested area of Mt. Kilimanjaro for soil preservation and rainfall-enhancement. Having planted the seedlings themselves, the residents are less likely to steal firewood or tolerate others doing so.


Achieving sustainability is not always easy. For example, student faucets installed near kitchens and latrines have sometimes quit working. Who is responsible for monitoring and repairing them in each school?  And who will be in charge of providing soap, and teaching students the whys and hows of consistent hand-washing? As it turns out, this is no small matter. Our project is now providing manuals, posters, and training on these topics to promote long-term sustainability.


Planning and implementing complex projects like these is challenging. Ensuring sustainability over the long haul is even more so. We are learning that building physical infrastructure is one thing. Changing human behavior to keep that infrastructure working is quite another. But it is absolutely essential if our efforts are to keep benefiting the local community after the last grant dollar has been spent.



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