A wind mast towered above the entrance gate into the SMART Center in Mzuzu, Malawi. That was just the beginning. As we crossed through the gate, we passed by an extensive technology demonstration area showcasing various models of water pumps and latrines. The SMART Center in Mzuzu is a non-for-profit organization focused on training the local private sector in the installation and maintenance of water and sanitation low-cost technologies.
Hans Kasbergen, a CCAP missionary and inventor extraordinaire, welcomed us and walked us around the exhibition area, pointing our an explaining the different solutions that can be found. He is a Dutch engineer who has been living in Malawi for years supporting local local entrepreneurs. His knowledge about simple, affordable and reparable solutions in the water infrastructure space is extensive, and combined with his experience training entrepreneurs he strives toward the CCAP vision: ‘Safe water for drinking, water for productive use and sanitation with a focus on people in rural areas in Malawi.’
The conversation was captivating from the start. As Hans explained the use-cases of the different devices, each story had few colourful, human-centered anecdotes. He is an engineer passionate about solving problems and his excitement in explaining their experiences comes right out. For example; CCAP assisted the main hospital in Livingstonia to improve the quality, and safety, of its’ water supply. Some of the pipes carrying water toward the hospital were open, and in rainy season, when high water levels would flow into pit toilets and latrines in the area, the supply water that was arriving to the hospital was polluted. A serious cholera outbreak occurred just a few years ago.
The first pump he shows to us is the Rope Pump, a water pump that can be built with easily available and affordable materials. It is built mainly using rope, the rim from a car tire, and small pieces of rubber and it can pump water up to 40 metres depth. Hans explains to us that the Rope Pump model is having a great success because it can be fully built with local materials and, also, because it doesn’t require a lot of physical energy from the user to bring water up to the surface as the wheel runs very smoothly, which makes it easier to be used also by elders and kids.
Another water pump we have the chance to discuss with Hans is the Afri Dev model, a model very commonly found throughout the continent. The Afri Dev model has a design that makes the pump robust and durable making it a good option for community-based solutions, becoming a very attractive solution for NGOs and local governments. Many of the challenges of this water pump are related to its management and governance model, as setting sustainable economic and governance structures for the maintenance of the infrastructure is always a challenge for communities.
Moving to the sanitation area, we discover the Lovable Loo, a latrine model that has become an absolute hit in recent years. The Lovable Loo is a mobile latrine composed of two simple pieces: a plastic bucket and wooden box with a plastic toilet seat on the top. This model has become very successful for elders and for people with reduced mobility as it can be placed in any room of the home and doesn’t require people to squat below their knees. Furthermore, the loo facilitates the collection of faeces for composting.
After spending some time in the demonstration area, we went into the workshop and briefly met with a group of trainees who were working to elaborate quotations using Excel templates. Hans explains to us that the challenges faced by CCAP are not in the identification of low cost solutions to water problems, but in the process of training local entrepreneurs to deliver the solutions and, also, educating the potential demand for these solutions.
Malawi is one of Africa’s poorest countries with enormous inequality between the poorest citizens living mostly in rural areas and the extractive elite that controls the economic and political institutions of the country. The country scores a 0.461 in the Gini index, where 0 represents perfect equality and 1 represents perfect inequality. Although there was an improvement in the GDP per capita during the 70s and 80s, the improvement in the country has slowed down and inequality level keeps rising in recent years.
In such an unequal context, Hans explains to us that it is very difficult to generate trust. Too frequently those individuals with a higher consumption power tend to abuse poorer local service providers by pushing prices far below market value. That is why the training program provided by CCAP places strong emphasis on the business skills and tools that support the development of transactions under more equal and transparent terms. As Hans puts it, “our role is to educate the supply chain”.
CCAP SMART Center in Malawi belongs to a wider network of centres with presence in 5 African countries. The centre not only trains individuals but also provides entrepreneurs with a formal path to professional accreditation – giving them the apprentice or master title – and supporting them in the relationship with material suppliers and clients.
Although progress can be slow, the CCAP training center in Mzuzu is facilitating the creation of jobs, expanding the opportunities for local entrepreneurs and their possibilities for developing productive relationships. These incremental exchanges will contribute towards a more equitable economic system, while advancing the possibility of individuals to achieve their full potential.
We recently finished a route of (well over) 15,000 km around Southern and Eastern Africa, experiencing the diverse cultures and customs, and beautiful flora and fauna in the region. Through our project, 15000km.org, we seek to develop an understanding into how different social structures and institutions influence the adoption of innovative technical and human solutions in the development and use of basic infrastructure: Water, Sanitation, Energy, and Waste management. This article will belong to a series of stories from our trip, which will tie into our final publication. Find out more at http://www.15000km.org.