Saturday, May 20, 2006

Goin' To Tanzania!

It's official! My finance, Christianna, and I are off to Tanzania in mid-July with Engineers Without Borders.

The San Francisco Professionals chapter has been working with the people of Ngelenge, Tanzania for a couple of years now through a local NGO called NGEDEA. The goal: to improve water supply quality and quantity, agricultural productivity, and public health in rural southwestern Tanzania.

The project includes the construction of a dispensary (health clinic & birthing center), rehabilitating some old wells and drilling a new well, a water filtration technology assessment, an agricultural pilot project involving an appropriate technology solution for micro-irrigation, and an extensive health survey to help us measure the impact of the project on the community.

This is a really great project. The nearest health clinic is 7 km away and there is no transportation; women must walk or be carried there to give birth. The dispensary will alleviate this situation and serve not only Ngelenge, but surrounding villages which are significantly closer to Ngelenge than to the current clinic. The improvement in the water supply has obvious implications for people's health; the agriculture project will improve the economy and standard of living of the people there. NGEDEA, the local NGO, is grassroots. NGEDEA consists of Ngelenge villagers who are working to improve their community, as well as several people from the village who live in Tanzania's main city, Dar Es Salaam. EWB-SFP is also grassroots and volunteer run, and was invited to the community by NGEDEA. Our mission is to serve and empower NGEDEA by providing engineering and public health expertise. Working closely with NGEDEA helps greatly in assuring the sustainability of the project by ensuring that it is aligned with community needs and by having local people with a real stake in the project's success, and the resources to make sure the improvements remain functional. To the maximum extent possible, we buy our equipment and supplies in Tanzania, and hire people from the village to help implement the projects.

Part of the dispensary project is outfitting it with a solar lighting system, with an eye towards possible expansion to power a vaccine fridge. I am leading this project. The PV system will be simple, about 120 Wp, with a sealed battery and DC fluorescent lighting. This will be a huge improvement over the kerosene lanterns that are usually used for lighting these dispensaries.

The dispensary won't be ready for the full system this year, so this trip will focus on laying all the necessary groundwork - sourcing equipment and parts, a detailed site survey, and training. We will be bringing a small demonstration system to train some folks on PV fundamentals and maintenance.

My fiance is on the health team and will be carrying out the baseline health survey, not an engineering function but a critical component of the project nonetheless.

We are taking some extra time to see the sights, because once the project starts we expect to be very busy. It's pretty expensive to get to Tanzania but fairly cheap once you're there, so we wanted to take advantage of that.

In the next couple of weeks we will kick off a fundraising drive for the project. We (EWB-SFP) has raised some money, but not enough to cover all of our goals. Also, the volunteers have all paid out-of-pocket for airfare which is a pretty big hit, and it would make a big difference to defray some of those costs as well.

Please help out if you can. It is a great cause and there is no administrative overhead -- all donations go directly to the project. Donations in any amount are helpful and assistance in reaching out to more potential donors is also much appreciated! EWB-SFP has a Paypal link. Please select the "Tanzania" project from the pull down menu...the other projects are also great, but not immediately in need of funds!

If you would prefer to help Christianna & I out with the airfare directly, that would be very much appreciated. EWB-SFP isn't set up to route that kind of donation through to the volunteers at present, so it would not be tax-deductible. Please send me an email if you'd like to help in this way.

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