Last week I had my first adventure out of Ardhi University, where we sleep and work, and into the centre of Dar es Salaam, to visit the informal settlement of Vingunguti where the WaSH simplified sewerage project is implemented.
It was an eye-opening experience right from the moment I stepped onto the bus (daladala). The conductor seemed to permanently hang halfway out of the bus entrance as it drove around, yelling the bus route at passers-by in case they wanted to hop on, whilst inside the bus, we all stood like hot and sweaty sardines, swaying and bumping into each other and the few people that were lucky enough to be sat on sticky, padded plastic seats. Outside the window, the roads were lined with dusty paths full of makeshift stalls selling a variety of fruits, street food, furniture and bags of pulses. The traffic was also manic, and all cars seemed to be silver or white with sizeable dents all around their metal bodies, as though everyone was a car crash survivor. Every so often, the conductor managed to push his way through the crowded bodies on the bus, shaking coins in one of his hands to indicate that anyone that hadn’t paid now had to own up and deliver the 40p cost of the bus journey. Transport here is SO cheap!
Once off the bus, it was a short walk along yet another street lined with stalls (this time with loads of electronic stores blaring out recordings of men advertising their products at an extremely unpleasant volume from hidden speakers), and across an unexpected railway line with no barriers or warnings about its presence (I’m not sure if its still in use…). And then, finally, we reached Vingunguti. At its entrance, we were welcomed by the sight of two large lorries there to take away sewage from cesspits, and a massive pond that looked quite peaceful, but I soon learnt was a Waste Stabilisation Pond. For those who don’t know, this basically means I was staring at a massive body of sewage and water, waiting to be broken down by bacteria (anaerobic) after which it would be fed into two other ponds (facultative, and aerobic) as a cheap method to treat the waste releasing it into the environment.
Walking around the settlement itself was a real experience. Vingunguti is an informal settlement in which lower-income individuals have come to live, with housing often not complying with planning and building regulations. Without being led by the KITE DSM Tanzanian members of our team, I would have got completely lost as we picked our way through the rabbit warren of brown-walled housing blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Women sat outside their houses, washing clothes in buckets as we walked past, and young barefoot children danced around us with curiosity. The ground was uneven with unexpected hills, random walls, junction boxes, and the occasional ditch full of rubbish with makeshift bridges made from wooden planks.
Throughout the settlement, well-made latrine blocks stood out, painted white and blue with the CDI logo printed on. I was impressed with how many there were (and how they’d managed to find space for them in between the houses!). Their clear presence demonstrated how much of an impact they were having on the lives of the community, who could now have flushing toilets to take their waste hygienically and effectively to the waste stabilization pond for treatment. Previously, these people would have relied on pit latrines which commonly overflowed during the rainy season, and required emptying by hand as there was no way the waste collection lorry would have fit between the houses to carry away the waste! At regular intervals along the path, concrete junction boxes marked the connection point for pipes on the simplified sewerage system. Again, I was so impressed with how well-made everything was, and how much thought must’ve gone into ensuring the height of the pipes would allow a constant flow down to the waste stabilization pond. Exposed pipes had been carefully sealed off with concrete walls to prevent people damaging them. Everything was so well thought out!
Later that week, members of KITE DSM (Our Tanzanian partner organisation) went into Vingunguti again to conduct monitoring and evaluation questionnaires. This was important to ensure that the community was happy with the system we had implemented, and that it would be sustainable to continue to grow the sewerage network (currently 54 latrines have been built, serving 475 people, with another 20 latrines planned this year which would add 200 more people to the network). The response was overwhelmingly positive, with every interviewee saying they would recommend investing in a latrine. They felt the latrines had helped make the community cleaner and improved people’s health, with much fewer occurrences of diseases than had been prevalent before the system was implemented. Success!!
I would like to give a massive thank you to everyone that has donated to the WaSH project so far this year and made the construction of more latrines a possibility. Seeing first hand where the latrines are built and the community’s response to their installation, I can honestly say that every small donation is making a real difference to the lives of the people in Vingunguti. If you still want to donate, it’s never too late! Just head over to our JustGiving page 😉 £10 will help pay for supervision of one day of construction, £50 covers technicians wages for building one latrine, £100 pays for the delivery of all materials, and £235 covers the cost of materials to construct one latrine.
I’d also like to thank the iMechE for helping make it possible for me to finance the personal costs of flying out to Tanzania to work on this project. I would highly recommend all young and budding engineers to look into the huge variety of grants and scholarships they have available to support your studies and extra-curricular engineering-related activities. They’ve supported me so much throughout my degree and opened up opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Check them out!
By Natasha Wilson, WaSH Project Volunteer 2018/19
Natasha is fourth-year studying Engineering at Emmanuel College.