Gicumbi: DEFAST and D’Furious

James’ Rwanda Impact Tour Journal
Water for People Impact Tour Rwanda 2019
James Hoyt, P.E.


Day 4

Today is the last day of the tour and we spent the day in the Gicumbi District. Compared to Rulindo, the Water for People Everyone Forever program is relatively new to Gicumbi, but a great deal of progress has already been made.

After our final ‘Coffee Club’ visit to Question Coffee, went set out for the Gicumbi District and were hosted for a Mayoral visit. Although early in the Everyone Forever process, great progress has already been made, and the Mayor was optimistic they could reach every goal ahead of schedule. Once again, it was very encouraging to see the District Government supporting the Water for People work and committing to long term success.

 

Water Treatment Plant

Following our meeting with the Mayor, we conducted field visits to a small rural Water Treatment Plant, a decentralized sludge processing facility, a recently completed water distribution system, and a home visit.

Unlike the large WTF serving Kigali, the WTF we toured today was a small, rural plant that treats approximately 0.4 MGD of spring-fed water. The plant treats the water using lime pH adjustment, aeration, filtration and chlorination. The plant is looking to expand capacity by adding additional spring sources and upgrades to the treatment process.

DEFAST

A highlight for me as a wastewater engineer was touring the Decentralized Fecal Sludge Treatment (DEFAST). As sanitation facilities are installed through Rwanda, there is an increased demand for safe disposal of the pit latrine waste. Historically, when a pit would become full of waste, you would just dig a new pit beside it. With increased focus on sanitary conditions and space becoming limited, there is now a need for improved latrines to be serviced and emptied. The service must be affordable for homeowners. Although Water for People does not fund widespread sanitation infrastructure projects in the same way they fund water projects, they support sanitation improvements through education, technology research and recommendations, establishment of supply chains, and support of local businesses and entrepreneurs.

The DEFAST facility is an example of the Water for People sanitation approach. Water for People has helped a local solid waste business owner expand his business to include pumping, hauling and treatment of latrine sludge waste. A portable vacuum pump is used to empty the latrines, and the waste is brought to the DEFAST plant for treatment. The plant screens large debris and rubbish for onsite incineration. The waste is then stored in a settling tank for separation of liquid and solid waste. The liquid supernatant receives biological treatment in lagoons and filtration though artificial wetlands. The final liquid product is sold as liquid nutrients. The sludge is anaerobically digested and applied to sand drying beds. The dried product is stabilized with charcoal and sold as fertilizer for land application. The ability to sell the end products allows the economics of the process to reduce the price for individual homeowners.

The Impact of Our Dollars

We briefly visited a recently completed water system which provided a fascinating look into the impact our dollars can make in a Rwandan community. The project included new water infrastructure to serve over 33,000 beneficiaries and cost approximately $3.2M USD. The cost to bring water and sanitation to a community for the first time costs less than $100 per person. This is considered an expensive project by Water for People Rwanda standards, who typically target a cost of $65 per beneficiary.

Home Visit

Lastly, we visited another home. This home belonged to a widow who lost her husband to the Rwandan genocide. It was once again heart warming to hear of the positive impact water has had on her life. It was also comforting to see that the Rwandan government had provided her with a cow and that her community supported her by providing work opportunities.

The drive back was long, dark and winding. Driving in Rwanda is an intense experience. Vehicles often pass each other on narrow roads and get close to pedestrians and obstacles as they wind through the hilly countryside. The driving made several people nervous, but we were always delivered safely to our destinations. As we proceeded towards our farewell dinner, we drove through areas not yet reached by Water for People and saw countless school children and people returning from work, walking long distances in the dark, with no lights, often pushing bicycles comically loaded sky-high with goods. It was a sobering reminder of how much work is left to do.

Farewell, Water for People

The farewell dinner was bittersweet. The food and conversation were great. We shared stories and laughter with our new friends, but too soon it was time to say goodbye. We shared one last time our high and low points of the day, and shared our ideas from bringing our experiences home in a meaningful way.

Although the trip had come to an end, I knew that my Water for People journey was just beginning. I am excited to bring all I’ve learned home and to become a champion for Water for People.

High Point: My high point today was the visit to the DEFAST facility. It was fascinating to hear about the approach Water for People had taken to address the emerging problem of fecal sludge in Rwanda. It was also fun to engage with the staff about their challenges and discuss their ideas for improve control and performance of the facility.

Low Point: Saying goodbye to new friends.

Learn more about the Water Treatment Plants here.

Rulindo and the Pump Station with a View

Rulindo and the Pump Station with a View

James’ Rwanda Impact Tour Journal
Water for People Impact Tour Rwanda 2019
James Hoyt, P.E.


Day 3

The partnerships and cooperative spirit of the Water for People Everyone Forever model was on full display today in the Rulindo District. The day started with a meeting at the District Mayor’s office where the Water for People Rwanda staff led a conversation with the Mayor and Vice Mayors.

Rulindo District was the birthplace of the Everyone Forever approach. The community and institution milestones have been met, and Water for People projects that the household milestone will be met in early 2020. The Mayor and his staff were proud supporters of the program and demonstrated a strong commitment to the work being completed as well as sustaining the systems in the future. Most of all, they were proud of what has already been accomplished and how the work in Rulindo now serves as proof that the Everyone Forever model is truly effective.

Prior to the trip, I already had an understanding of the world’s water crisis and I had a high level of confidence in Water for People. My biggest question was regarding the sustainability of solutions and the long-term success of the communities when Water for People’s work was done. Hearing the District staff’s commitment to the Everyone Forever model, and seeing the long-term plans they’ve laid out was exciting. The District has initiated financial strategies to fund O&M of the infrastructure and have prioritized community outreach and education. Leaving the Mayor’s offices, I was impressed and excited to see the Rulindo District system in action.

Field Visits

Our field visits today included a pump station, a water storage tank, a school, and a private home — all of which provided a great cross section of the impacts that water and sanitation projects are having throughout the community. The pump station had the best view of any pump station I’ve been to — sitting atop a hill, overlooking countless acres of farmland.

The Pump Station with a View

The pump station conveys water collected from springs to storage tanks in the distribution system. There was also a water point just outside the pump station fence that provides free water to the station’s neighbors in recognition that the spring water, which traditionally served them, is now shared with the community.

 

School Visit

Another highlight of the day was our visit to a local school. We didn’t meet with any students as we did not want to to disrupt the learning, but we could hear them reciting lessons and hear their singing ring throughout the school campus. I couldn’t help but smile hearing it. We got a tour of the school campus and met several teachers, including the hygiene teacher. The Everyone Forever model includes providing water and sanitation to all schools. This school had potable drinking water, rainwater collection, and composting sanitation facilities.

The availability of water at the school alleviates the need for students to fetch water to bring to school each day, thus improving attendance. Attendance is especially improved for female students. The school features a room for young girls stocked with feminine hygiene products and a resting area to use as needed.

The addition of rainwater collection and composting toilets has allowed the school to increase harvesting of onsite crops from one harvest to three harvests per year.

Finally, the hygiene education is teaching students proper hygiene practices which they bring back to their families to implement in their own homes. One of my favorite statistics is that 20% of home sanitation improvements are credited as being student driven.

Home Visit

Last, but not least, we were graciously welcomed into the private home of a woman who lives in a village that recently experienced access to safe water. Access to water nearby has allowed her to focus on raising chickens and making linens for sale. She was also able to get a loan from the local hygiene committee to install improved sanitation at her home. It is common practice for members of the community to pool money each month to help fund improvements for a community member. The money is paid back with a small amount of interest. It’s a great example of the local community coming together to improve the quality of life for its members.  

High Point: The entire day felt like one giant high point, but if I had to choose, I’d say visiting the school topped the list. It was so encouraging to see education and improved water/sanitation come together to provide opportunities for the next generation. These students are growing up with an understanding of the importance of water and sanitation, providing hope for continued success and improvement of life in Rwanda.

Low Point: I tried to come up with a low point for today, but it all felt like nit-picking. What a great day!

Click here to see some of the differences between the Rulindo ‘Pump Station with a view’ and ones we have designed here in New England!