With a quick flick of my thumb, I cancelled the left turn indicators and twisted back on the throttle with my right hand, hearing the engine to rev higher and louder. I was chasing down Jonas, a government worker part of the water development office, and Belinda, another EWB staff, who were both on the dirt bike ahead of me, leading us to a shallow well being constructed a few kilometres out of town.

Road leading out of Mangochi

The hard sun was beating down on us and I could see the sweat glistening on all the cyclists we passed. The distant hills ahead looked faded through the humidity and the maize fields, to my left and right, were bright green, interrupted by the blur of trees by the roadside flashing by.  I felt the cooling wind through the mesh of my motorcycle gloves, and the big smile in my helmet was only accompanied by the sound of wind whirling past the ventilation holes.

Soon, I found I was still able to see a hint of their brake light begin to illuminate despite the sun’s intensity. They both looked left and turned quickly off the road, down a hill and on to a dirt path. I tried my best to keep control while I guided the bike off the tarmac and dropped down to the eroded path below.

We pulled up beside a woman who was drawing water from an open well, and jumped off our bikes. I pulled off my helmet and started greeting the small gathering of women that materialized around the well.

Jonas began to explain to me that these women formed the water committee of this village and they have been overseeing the community’s participation in the construction of this well. I was able to ask the chairwoman of this committee a few questions and we proceeded to talk about a lot regarding it’s construction, the history and how to maintain it in the future.

The water committee gathered around a new shallow well under construction

I’ll spare you the entire list of notes but here are a few facts:

  • The Water Committee:
    • The Water committee will be asking all in the area, 10-50 Malawian Kwacha per month from people who use the well to build a maintenance fund
    • They are trained in basic maintenance and are encouraged to buy spare parts
    • The water committee must  have a female to male ratio of at least 50% but the expected ratio would be 7-8 out of 10 members would be women
  • The Well Construction
    • It is a shallow well that the community was able to dig themselves with the assistance of the District Water Office who supplied a generator and pump to remove the water that filled the dig
    • It had concrete liners at the bottom and built up to the surface with bricks that the village made themselves.
    • It will be covered with a concrete slab and an AfriDev water pump
  • Shallow Well vs. Borehole
    • This shallow well will require chlorination every 3-6 months as it is more susceptible to contamination than a bore hole
    • Construction costs of 1 borehole equates to the costs of 5 shallow wells
    • They will be indistinguishable from the surface since boreholes and these shallow wells will have a pump and concrete slab covering both of them

We put on our helmets after many more minutes of discussion and started our bikes. Belinda and Jonas set off back to the road, and I followed closely behind. The fields and trees eventually disappeared to brick walls and straw fences. I followed closely, more confident about the way back to the office. We parked our bikes outside the water office and went in and out of the sun.

Broken Parts Behind the Water Office