Nora is about to embark on a kitchen renovation at Amal in Marrakech. This restaurant is where desperately poor women receive skills training and, upon graduation, job placement in the food industry. When she initiated the restaurant, their goal was to train 10 girls at a time and serve 30-40 customers a day. They are now serving 200-300 customers a day, and this places an incredible burden on the kitchen staff and girls in training. What’s more, safety issues have developed, including gas and electrical risks. Over the next couple of months, they will tear everything out of the kitchen, redo the plumbing and wiring to ensure it is up to code and will serve their expanded needs, install safer gas installations for the stoves/ovens, get a non-slip floor, proper exhaust vents, and a number of other things which will make work in the kitchen much smoother and safer. In the process, the kitchen will be expanded to about twice the size, and this will allow them to add more trainees. They plan to start the renovation on July 10th, and hope to be done by late August, in time to open again in September.
Martin has made incredible progress in the 50 villages where we work. Prior to his 3-hour per day after-school tutoring and enrichment program, almost no child continued past the 5th grade. Now almost every child continues, with most boys and many girls continuing through high school and even university. The maternal health project has been similarly successful, with maternal and infant deaths dropping to ZERO! Surrounding villages have eagerly requested that they be included in the program, so there are now 85 villages participating. It seemed like things couldn’t be going better, until climate change hit southern India.
At first monsoon rains became lighter and more sporadic, and then they failed entirely. For 5 years these agricultural villages have received no rain. Half the men in each village have migrated away in search of manual labor jobs. Women, children, and the elderly remain and struggle to survive. With no ability to grow food, families are subsisting on government rice rations and often eat just one meal of white rice each day. Water supplies have dried up so families must now buy water from water trucks for all their drinking, cooking, and cleaning needs – a tremendous financial burden. To earn money for water, women are taking jobs digging ditches and other manual work. Without money for uniforms and school supplies, school enrollment is dropping. If that all weren’t bad enough, men are returning home three times a year during national holidays and infecting their wives with venereal diseases and dying of AIDs. Widows, ashamed and hopeless, are committing suicide. But even situations that appear hopeless are anything but, when hard work and resilience are partnered with opportunity.
At the request of the villagers in our project area, we have started an agricultural bore well project. Agricultural land is centralized in each village, so one bore well can serve an entire village. A consistent supply of water means men can return to their villages, families can grow food and receive an income, they have a ready supply of clean water for drinking so they no longer need to buy water from trucks, and higher incomes combined with lower expenses means children can continue in school! At a one-time cost of about $25 per villager, this is one of the best bargains in the economic development world!
We are building sustainability into the program in two ways. First, villagers have agreed to stop farming rice, and we are sending them to dry-soil cultivation workshops so they can learn how to grow vegetables and ground nuts instead. These crops use far less water than rice, and the profit margins are much higher! Second, each village will form a committee to oversee the well. They will collect small fees from the families for using the well, and this money will provide the funds needed for long-term repairs and maintenance on the wells. Such a system has worked quite well in southern India for several decades.
To maximize the number of people we can help as quickly as possible, each village receiving a well agrees to let surrounding villagers collect water from the well for their personal needs for free. Though they won’t be able to return to farming yet, they can avoid the cost of buying water from trucks, and this will be a huge financial burden lifted.
The plan is good, but drilling wells to 500 or 600 feet (we want them deep so they will continue producing for a long time) can be tricky. Drilling is straightforward for about the first 200 feet, but then we hit difficult layers. Our first well hit solid rock at 250 feet, and that greatly slowed the progress and drilling costs started rising. To keep us within budget, the villagers volunteered their labor to carry the heavy pipes along with 20 tons of gravel to fill the bore hole. The well was a success and is producing ample, and very clean, water. Villagers: 1 – Climate Change 0.
Our second bore well was quite difficult. At 210 feet they hit a big hole creating a vacuum. Only by filling the hole could they continue drilling. There was no money in the budget to do this, so, again, the villagers stepped in. Their first two attempts failed miserably, but they succeeded on the third attempt. The villagers acquired filler – bricks, mud, waste from saw mills, rice husks, paddy hay, coconut fiber – sometimes travelling to faraway places to collect enough. The villagers, young and old, women and children, sat and made the mud balls and packed them inside special plastic bags, stitching each bag with jute thread. These filled the vacuum so drilling could continue. When the drilling was completed, they carried and packed more than 30 tons of gravel to finish off the well. It was a very tedious and tiresome job, but the villagers were determined to obtain the well at any cost. They succeeded! Villagers: 2 – Climate Change: 0.
Stay tuned for the results of our third bore well!