Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yann is back. Local radio station shares his story...

Yann arrived safely back in Cincinnati over the weekend and is likely still adjusting to the time change.  Yann's posts have been very informative and have provided a glimpse into an area of the world and a culture that many of us are not familiar with. We are thankful he was able to share his experiences. Local public radio station 91.7 WVXU spoke to Yann while he was in Rwanda and aired his story on Monday morning. If you missed it and would like to hear the story by reporter Ann Thompson, click on the link below. 


Friday, February 25, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (14) - Final Post ...

The assignment is over and I will be home in a few days.  This has been a tremendous experience, made possible by the generous financial support of many family members, friends, and fellow parishioners, who thus have participated in drinking water improvement in the Kicukiro district of Kigali.  This assignment was the first step to move from the “scoop hole” situation pictured below to sufficient coverage with public kiosks of piped water (shown after).

This small country is the most densely populated of Africa, and with its nickname of the “Land of Thousand Hills” and its drive for cleanliness and business, could become the “Switzerland of Africa”.  Three adjectives about Rwanda come to mind: resilient (overcoming the tragedy of the genocide), resourceful (making do with what they have), and youthful (young, energetic population).

Yann in Rwanda (13) - A Brief Snapshot on Politics

Even though Water for People needed French-speaking engineers, because it had been an official language in Rwanda since the Belgian mandate in the first part of the last century, English has been pushed by the government because after the genocide they had decided to join the English-speaking alliance of Eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi), and also because the current government had generally spent their youth in English-speaking Uganda before returning in the early 1990s in Rwanda to defeat the radical Hutu-led autocratic regime.

This decision has also other ramifications (intended or not), such as going over the country’s past and preparing them for the global economy.  By keeping both French and English languages, the country would also become the trading partner of most of Africa (Western Africa speaks French).  However, it appears that French teaching in primary and secondary schools has actually been abandoned in the last couple of years to be replaced with English only unfortunately, so the workforce in 10-15 years would not be bilingual. 
Today I traveled to the District of Rulindo (Northeast of Kigali) to witness the election of the Mayor of the District through a long and complex, but highly democratic process (and diverse with 30% of the committees being represented by women).  The picture below shows the swearing in of one of the multiple committees who will vote in the mayoral election.  The elected Mayor (pictured with WFP’s in-country staff coordinator Perpétue Kamuyumbu, and WFP’s World Water Corps team lead Monica Brown) has already built ties with Water for People, so the “Rulindo Challenge” (see WFP’s website for more info on this project, Rulindo Challenge) will continue to have strong political support.

The Rwandan flag (show below) was adopted in 2001 (and replaces the earlier one of 1961).  The green stripe represents the natural resources and prosperity of the country.  The yellow stripe stands for the country's mineral wealth and economic development.  The blue stripe is symbolic of happiness and peace. The sun and its rays represent unity, transparency and enlightenment from ignorance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (12) - Water Treatment Plant in Kigali

Perpétue Kamuyumbu (WFP-Rwanda in-country coordinator) managed to secure a visit of one of RWASCO’s water treatment plant in Kigali (Kimisagara) for Guy and me.  The plant, originally constructed in the early 1980s and expanded in 1987 by SAUR (a French water company), treats river water and turned out to be very well operated and maintained.  It is a typical surface water treatment plant with alum coagulation, tube settler sedimentation, rapid sand filtration, calcium hypochlorite disinfection, and serves several areas of Kigali (because the region is hilly, several pump stations are used to convey water to their destination points).

The advantage of a blank slate is that water infrastructure does not have to follow what occurred in the Western world (e.g., telecommunications in Rwanda essentially use cell phones, there was no need to go through the telegraph step); therefore I believe Rwanda can forge its way ahead learning from other countries’ mistakes in a forward-thinking, cost –effective, and realistic manner.  The focus should be on water availability (increased piped supply) first, then on improving water quality.  This means that a master plan should be coordinated with the local jurisdictions and RWASCO (Kigali’s drinking water utility) so this district can move forth from the situation below ...

Yann in Rwanda (11) - Daily Life in Kigali

The bright economic future of Rwanda is almost palpable in spite of the genocide of 1 million people, which took place only 17 years ago.  It is almost as if there was a collective decision to pour themselves into work, business, etc. to avoid contemplating or reflecting too long on the significance of this immense tragedy. 
Kigali itself is a safe (probably because of the strong military and police presence), clean and busy city that has almost Swiss-like cleanliness tendencies: it is forbidden to walk on the grass, no plastic bag is allowed, etc.  That said, pedestrians are at the bottom of the “traffic chain” (as in food chain) in Kigali: they can be run over by anyone, starting with the numerous taxi-motos (you hop on the back of a motorbike and put on a helmet shared by all the previous customers).  Bicycles are very frequent in the peri-urban areas (not so much in the City center and main thoroughfares) and are used to carry anything: bales of banana leaves, cement bags, water jerry cans, chairs, or even … your wife!  
Then cars (which have the driving wheel either on the right or left side depending on which country it was exported) and taxi-minibuses (which need to be filled with passengers to capacity, folding benches included, before they actually leave for the driver-shouted destination) are in the upper echelon and generally drive to the right side of the road, unless there is a traffic jam and then everybody just goes where they want.  Finally, trucks own the road.  The one traffic rule is that size matters: priority increases with the volume you displace …
Businesses vary from small pharmacies and supermarkets (fitting within the ground floor of a building) to selling of cell phone cards in the street (yellow-shirted salespeople for MTN, blue for the competing Tigo), or the numerous taxi-motos (green shirts for one company, blue for the other).  There is also a lot of construction going on in the City (please overlook the OSHA safety violations in the picture below).

When moving away from the City center towards the peri-urban areas, you would find markets where a wide range of goods and items can be sold: traditional charcoal made from eucalyptus tree (which explains the lingering sweet burnt smell as you walk the streets of Kigali), bicycle spare parts, various food items, etc.  Women carry these in baskets on their head (sometimes in addition to the infant they carry wrapped in a cloth around their back!).

Businesses are normally open normal all week (if one is closed on one day, the next door shop would be open) from early in the morning to late at night, except on the compulsory community day (the morning of the last Saturday of every month).  The community day activities can range from building a house of the poor family in the village, to weeding the public gardens, repairing broken pipes, etc.  If a Rwandese does not participate (e.g., goes to its normal work), he is fined and the money goes to the community.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (10) - The 1994 Genocide

Yesterday (Sunday, Feb 20, 2011) I toured the Genocide Memorial that was built in 2004, above mass graves that had been found.  The museum presents in painstaking details the multiple causes and horrific events of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.  In a space of 3 months, there were more than 1 million people dead (out of 8,000,000), not counting the mutilated, wounded, refugees, etc.  The methodical and planned approach of the massacres (e.g., killing 1,000 people every 20 minutes) belies any spontaneity in that genocide, and their preparations were eerily similar to those of the Nazis towards the Jews. 
The massacres are too graphic and heart-wrenching to be included in this blog.  I left the museum deeply shaken by the abysmal madness that had momentarily gripped Rwanda.  If you want to know more about the genocide, you can watch “Hotel Rwanda” or read Romeo Dalhaire’s “I Shook the Hand of the Devil” [Romeo Dalhaire was the UN general of the peacekeeping force who witnessed powerless, because the UN did not give him the means to control them, these nightmarish events]. 
Today, Rwandans are amazingly working side by side and trying to put behind this tragic event.  One of the survivor’s quote in the museum summarizes well the emotional and mental state of the future of Rwanda: “There will be no humanity without forgiveness.  There will be no forgiveness without justice.  But there will be no justice without humanity”.  Below is a picture where the UN peacekeeping force was headquartered.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (9) - Field Impressions

At the end of the previous entry, one is left with an apparent conundrum about development work.  Water for People actually attempts to resolve it by getting the commitment of the served population by employing an in-country coordinator who builds capacity and thus has a long term stake in the projects.  Water for People’s experience in Honduras shows that after 10 years, the in-country office region in the area they first started is ready to operate on its own, with just sporadic monitoring from the Denver office.  In Rwanda the program was started 2 years ago, so there are quite a few years ahead …
The women working in the field wear elegant, vividly-colored dresses that remain surprisingly clean given the work these women are doing.  Six-year old kids carry what looks like heavy burdens on their head (long banana tree branches, 5-gal water jugs, etc.) while the younger ones just stand immobile looking wide-eyed at the jeep passing by.  The ones with most temerity point towards me joyfully screaming “umuzungu! umuzungu!” (“white person! white person!” in kinyarwandese) or are hand-waving while trying out the one English word they seem to remember from school: “gooduh morrrning!”. 

School is divided in morning and afternoon classes, that’s why you would see as many kids in the banana plantations as you drive towards the school, as in the school itself when you arrive to test the quality of its water system.  The photo below is in a school that has 1,800 students total (primary and secondary).  That means there are 900 students for 12 latrines (six for the boys, six for the girls) during the morning or afternoon session.   

Generally people are quite reticent about having their picture taken, and that’s why I don’t have a lot of photos or videos of Rwandans in their everyday activities to show.  Below is a picture of a brick-making oven (just using the local clay and dry wood): the bricks will be ready in 5 to 8 days when the "oven" has cooled off.

Below are a few pictures of Afridev hand pumps (boreholes) that are ubiquitous in the more rural areas of the suburbs surrounding Kigali. 

Waiting at a Community Water Point

In the picture below Jean-Bosco (The Generation Rwanda volunteer student helping me go around) is standing in front of the Nyabarongo River (the one that had such high levels of E. Coli).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (8) - Reflections of a Newbie Volunteer in Africa

The first day in the field (Tuesday Feb. 15, 2011) had its ups and downs for the water quality testing of selected water points.  Thanks to the preparation the night before (we had all the instruments calibrated and divided between the two teams).  What did not go as well, is that the survey data was supposed to be saved each time we press the “save and start new” button on the Android (cell phone), but we realized later that the data was lost (got never saved, or kept being re-written, not clear yet what the glitch was) in particular the GPS coordinates corresponding to the water quality sample sites.  Guy Beauchemin (who is military trained) had a back-up of a back-up (you know PACE: Plan, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency) and had all his coordinates handwritten in his notebook.
The Water Quality team may have been unlucky that day (because of all the extra preparation that got us back to the hotel a little before 11:00 pm), but it was worse for the survey teams given: (1) the above issue (critical for the survey teams) and (2) the fact that there was a torrential downpour that afternoon (and I mean literally sheets of water for an hour) ... The water quality teams were cozily back that afternoon in the lab for the analyses and updating results.

When leaving the US for the WFP assignment in Rwanda, I was mildly anxious (How is the assignment going to be actually performed? Will plans/equipment be reliable? How much redundancy/contingency to consider when packing? etc.) with a dash of trepidation (looking forward to experience equatorial Africa, directly helping a region of the world in dismal need of drinking water and sanitation, etc.).  Having the trip fully supported (thanks to the great generosity of family, friends, and fellow parishioners) and the fact that GCWW allowed me to be on City time meant that I could go headlong without having to worry about finances at home and be free to go headlong into the mission. 
The BlackBerry upgrade to the Global plan proved to be crucial (thanks again April!) because for the first few days, it was the ONLY means of communications back to the US (email and voice) since issues kept plaguing the WiFi internet access at the inn (and also interface issues between the internet cable connection of the Water for People-Rwanda office and my laptop had be resolved before I finally was able to post some blogs; that connection proved very slow though [certainly not DSL-grade!], so I could not upload any of the short videos on GCWW’s YouTube channel because each would take over 100 minutes …  That’s why you did not see videos of the volunteers as I was mentioning in the earlier posts.
Often this assignment gives the impression of being a drop in the ocean of water and sanitation needs for this developing country.  The capacity needs to be built, and I don’t mean system capacity, but rather population education: skills, buy-in into the necessity and benefit of public health progress, etc.  Bringing just water systems is wholly inadequate for true sustainable progress if the local population does not believe that (1) the improvement is necessary and that (2) proper administration, operation, and maintenance of the system is required for continually deriving benefits from it. 
If the benefits are not obvious to the local population (e.g., if they are not sick now, maybe because of some immunity they developed towards the pathogens), then any water improvement is not seen as necessary and they will simply end up entertaining the goodwill of NGOs (e.g., if the system breaks, they will wait until the next NGO comes along to repair it). 
The water system improvement has to last, otherwise (and I believe that has happened in a number of developing countries), when the drinking water system breaks down, the population becomes sicker: while the system was ongoing, their immune system decreased because of the improved water quality (i.e., similar to the Western world), and become more susceptible to the pathogens when the system breaks down.  Hence good intentions without a long term (sustainable) plan end up doing more damage than doing nothing …

Yann in Rwanda (7) - Introducing the World Water Corps team

Monica Brown is the Assistant Director for Foundation Relations at Water for People (WFP) and leads the World Water Corps team for this assignment.  Born in the Seychelles (Indian Ocean) and raised up in Uganda, she worked for the World Bank for 12 years before joining WFP.  She is excited about the mission the team will perform in Rwanda.

Julie Labonté, originally from Quebec and now living in San Francisco, is the director of the 12-year, $4.6-billion water system improvement program for San Francisco Public Utilities.  This is her first assignment with the World Water Corps (WWC), and very excited about being in Rwanda and help the team come up with water solutions for some of the water issues in this country.  She has been to Africa before, but this is the first time with an organization like Water for People.

Guy Beauchemin comes from Montreal, Quebec (Canada) and his background is in water treatment.  He is a specialist in “municipal water, sewage water, industrial water, bottled water, and even … military water as Engineer in the Canadian Army”.  It is now his first experience in “humanitarian water”.  He thanks his wife and four kids to allow him to go to the warm and special continent of Africa.

And then there is me ... (and you know what I do and what I look like!)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (6) - First Field Day!

After a very short night (gone to bed around midnight, up at 6:00 am) and with a pinch of apprehension about how well the day will go (e.g., getting the team together, meeting the various local officials to guide us at the selected water points, sampling conditions, testing methods, etc.), Guy and I headed two water quality teams, each with a driver, student, and local official in a 4x4. 

The first sector (out of 4 for this 2-week assignment) was located in Masaka, and as soon as you leave the outskirt of Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) any road branching off the principal road going East becomes a red-dirt road meandering through banana plantations.  The going was slow (usually no more than 15 mph) that day between the four target community water points.  We returned back to the office early in the afternoon to enter the data and start the microbiological analyses.

Some of the sites were piped (under pressure) community water taps, but one was also the river down in the valley (very turbid, and definitely E. Coli positive: 16 cfu/mL !).  Below are a couple pictures of the river (Nyabarongo) and of a typical community water tap.

Yann in Rwanda (5) - Preparation Day

Monday was preparation day for the next several field days.  Perpetue Kamuyumbu, WFP country coordinator and Monica Brown (WFP staff in Denver and also a World Water Corps team member) explained to the rest of the WWC team (Julie Labonte, Guy Beauchemin, and me) and the volunteer students (Generation Rwanda) and local officials (e.g., sector representatives, etc.) the purpose of the assignment and how the surveys and the water quality tests would be conducted. 

A key part of the mission is the Android phone with the survey app that will feed the data (GPS coordinates, photo, type of water system, number of people using the system, and 50 other similar questions about the system and the population it serves, etc.) for the FLOW program (www.waterforpeople.org/flow).  Below is a snapshot from the presentation, which briefly explains the objectives and methods to get there.

In the evening, the water quality team (Guy Beauchemin and I) went to the WFP-Rwanda office to check on all equipment and supplies for the tests (flow, pH, hardness, alkalinity, chlorine, turbidity, TDS, total coliforms, and E. Coli).  We went back to the hotel late that night but ready for the next day (see next post!).

Yann in Rwanda (4) - Finally Back with an Internet Connection

For a few days I have been out of communications (internet) and therefore I could not update the blog during that time.  The WiFi from the hotel was very temperemental and excruciatingly slow and directly plugging the internet cable at the WFP-Rwanda office did not work.  I realized later that I needed to completely turn off both the wireless and radio features on the laptop before the internet cable could be attached.  Anyway, now I am back and I can share a little more of what has been happening in the last 2 or 3 days.  In the following posts, I will try to give you an idea of what happened since Monday along with a few pictures.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (3) - "the Genius of Water"

            In downtown Cincinnati, the aptly named Fountain Square, displays many sculptures integrated in one fountain representing the genius of water: drinking water, fire protection, agriculture, etc.  Water is a requisite tool in the development of a region: lack of it, or inadequate treatment, blocks lasting (sustainable) development.  Water is such an essential element, even more than food in that you can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water. 

At the turn of the tap, we receive for pennies an abundant supply of high quality water because of the dedicated and continued efforts of engaged employees at GCWW.  The continuous investments in research and infrastructure over the almost 200 years of its history, made GCWW a prominent water system in the US, and even in the word. 

As the water quality improved, especially at the turn of the 20th century when sand filtration (Cincinnati Water Works was a pioneer with the work of George Fuller) and chlorination dramatically decreased typhoid fever cases, people started to take greater care of it and to use more of it, which further contributed to the economic development of the region.  

The lack of adequate water systems in rural and peri-urban areas in Rwanda prevents such sustainable economic growth.  Imagine having to walk half a mile each way, wait for your turn to get water (from 20 min to up to 1 hour), carry back 5-gal jugs so your family can have water (with a quality we would probably object to): at the minimum, the time spent for getting this basic necessity is time not available to do some productive work. 

So how can this situation be turned around?  See the upcoming post about Water for People and its mission.  I plan also tomorrow to have a quick video introduction of the other World Water Corps team members, so keep tuned!

Yann in Rwanda (2) - "But First, a Word from our Sponsors ..."

I would like to thank numerous people and organizations who made this mission possible. 

§  Water for People and their World Water Corps (WWC) for organizing these assignments and recruiting volunteers to accomplish them.
§  Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW)
üDavid Rager (past Director) and Biju George (interim Director) for allowing me to participate in this assignment
üRick Merz and Verna Arnette for agreeing to let me check water system operation far away from the Richard Miller Treatment Plant
ü Debbie Metz for arranging the initial funding of this trip
üYeongho Lee and Mike Tyree for scrambling to find me a pH meter and portable chlorine monitor, as well as all kinds of water quality strip tests
üApril Sherril for working hard with ETS and Verizon to upgrade my BlackBerry so I can communicate (voice and email) while in the field
§  Family and friends who made very generous donations from as far as Japan, Scotland, sunny Florida, cool California, under-the-snow Massachusetts, historic Virginia, and here in Cincinnati.
§  Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Anderson for the initial donation that kick started the rest, and the pastor and fellow parishioners of St Gertrude Church in Madeira who have shown tremendous financial support.
§  And last but not least my wife Mary and my five children Thomas, Gabriel, Paul, Isabelle, and Dominic for encouraging me to take this assignment without holding back.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (1) - Introduction

I am Yann Le Gouellec, Senior Engineer in the Operations section of GCWW’s Supply Division, and I will be blogging from Rwanda over the next two weeks. This is an exciting opportunity to contribute in improving drinking water and sanitation in Africa.  In the next posts, I will give my musings and observations about this 2-week assignment with Water for People.  Also be sure to check the GCWW’s YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/cincinnatiwater) for short videos that I will be taking while there. 

I landed in Kigali about 2-3 hours ago and headed straight to the hotel for  hopefully a good night sleep.  It's now 10:30 pm (7 hours ahead of Cincinnati) and it's been a long trip but not too grueling (all the planes were on time and it took about 24 hours to get there: Cincinnati to Washington DC, Washington DC to Bruxelles in Belgium, then on to Kigali).  Check the blog for another update tomorrow morning (2:00 or 3:00 am Cincinnati time). Cheers! 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Remembering the 1937 Flood

Many of us today take for granted the dependable supply of clean water that comes out of our tap each and every day. However, 74-years ago Cincinnatians experienced the 1937 flood – the only time in Water Works history that it was unable to provide water to its customers. Below is an excerpt taken from Bill Reeves’ book on the history of Greater Cincinnati Water Works as well as images (far below) of the 1937 Flood.

“On Sunday January 24th (often referred to as Black Sunday) with water approaching the windowsills at both the River and Main Stations, shutdown appeared to be inevitable. Realizing this, efforts were directed throughout the day to fill all storage reservoirs to overflow. The Western Hills Station was operated with the engines’ flywheels partially submerged until all storage was at the overflow level. Having accomplished this goal, the Main and Western Hills stations were shut down at 6:10 PM with the river level at 75.5 feet. Flooding of the buildings was now inescapable and the Main Station was abandoned.”
Water rose 80-feet above flood stage - the highest to date. Plaques have been erected at Water Works’ River and Main Stations permanently marking the high water level reached. A faint stain can still be seen in the limestone at the Main Station as a result of the 1937 flood. Since then, Water Works' facilities have been protected against a flood of similar magnitude. In addition, a flood wall has been erected and Water Works has taken several operational measures to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New issue of E-Tap News, our customer newsletter

GCWW has just published the February/March issue of E-Tap News, an electronic newsletter created for our customers and members of the Greater Cincinnati community. It's filled with seasonal tips, answers to common customer questions and shares the latest news and information about our projects and community events.  To view the the latest issue, click here.   If you'd like to be added to our mailing list, send us an e-mail at info@gcww.cincinnati-oh.gov

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Getting Started...

Greater Cincinnati Water Works, also known as GCWW, is excited to start using this blog to tell our story...who we are, what we do and the service we provide. Nearly 600 people work hard each and every day to provide a plentiful supply of the highest quality water in a financially responsible manner to our customers. We take great pride in the job we do.