Designing and Building in Central and East Africa

Can a Water System be Beautiful? – Part II

On May 15th of this year I posted an article about a new approach to designing and building rural water systems.  In this post I detailed one large project currently approaching construction in Minova, just Southwest of Goma.  For this project I reached out to local artist Innocent to turn the large water tank into a piece of public art.  He produced a rendering, and is currently preparing to coordinate is painting with the local contractor and the construction schedule.

I have since introduced this water system as art idea to the community development committee of Mulama, another community on the outskirts of Mwenga Centre.  As I have come to learn however, for many communities throughout the Eastern Congo, an artist is not always easy to come by.  Unfortunately, art is a difficult trade on which to survive, and most rural Congolese focus their energy on agriculture and on conducting small business.  This lack of artists is not entirely a problem.  In fact, it is a wonderful opportunity.

The governance goals of Tuungane strive to bring communities together to make decisions on how to improve their communities.  During the short design phase of each project, my office holds the hand of the community throughout the process.  For education for example, my office works to reach the communities’ goals of 3 classrooms in brick or 4 classrooms in wood.  For water systems however, the amount of community involvement is somewhat limited.  The committee indicates the number of taps stands it wants and where – but in actuality, these locations are largely decided upon by the amount of water available and by gravity.  Bringing a community together to beautify their own infrastructure would not only create a water system that stands apart from that of their neighbors, but it would become an opportunity for elders, men, women and children to contribute to the true design of a single project.  Colors will have to be chosen, patterns discussed, and over a few days volunteers would come together to bring a piece of beauty into their village.  Such an opportunity could have lasting positive effects in community communication, enthusiasm, and project ownership; while creating a monument to the community’s efforts that will stand for decades.

It must be noted that the amount of paint proposed for these projects is a small expense when considering the communities’ budgets.  The envelope for construction averages $24,000.  One water tap, depending on its relative location, costs around $1,000.  Therefore, any remainder of funds can go towards this extra artistic expense.  I estimate that the amount of paint and brushes for a water system with one large tank and 5 water taps would cost $400.

In order to present this idea to the communities, I have prepared these two pages showing how a water tank and water taps can be designed.  These pages are printed on our black and white printer and left with the communities who indicate enthusiasm for the project.  I have intentionally left these pages vague – showing only examples and suggestions for themes.  With a minimal use of words, these diagrams can be interpreted and design can be sparked.

Currently I am working on contractual strategies that will allow these opportunities to proceed without complication.  For the coming construction in Mulama, our community partner in Mwenga, I will be holding meetings with their development committee in the coming weeks to confirm their plans for their project.

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