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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Professors utilize donation to build wells

Acquiring clean water is not something that requires much effort for most of us. We can turn on the faucet and drink directly from the tap. Or we can easily purchase a high-tech filtering system, or pick up a fancy Evian bottle at the grocery store.

For communities in the Rukwa region of Tanzania, Africa, obtaining clean water is much more difficult. But thanks to a generous donation from the Winters Rotary Club and the hard work of two UC Davis professors, this process will be improved and simplified for many Tanzanian villagers.

Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, an anthropology professor at UC Davis, and her husband Tim Caro, a professor of wildlife, fish and conservation biology, recently received a $6,000 donation from the Winters Rotary Club to help Tanzanian villagers build drinking wells.

Caro said he first traveled to Tanzania in 1970 to work as a research assistant before he began his undergraduate career at Cambridge. Borgerhoff Mulder said she conducted research for her doctorate on the Kenya-Tanzania border. Eventually, the two decided that it would be fun to work in a part of Tanzania where little prior research had been done.

Borgerhoff Mulder and Caro are currently living in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. They have also spent time working and conducting research in the Rukwa region of Western Tanzania, where the project is being carried out.

“After a 5,000-mile journey around Tanzania with our then 3-year-old son, looking for a new study site, we decided to work in the Rukwa,” Borgerhoff Mulder said in an e-mail interview. “However, living in a remote village in Africa with no electricity and where one has to carry water from the river brings its own responsibilities, and we have inevitably become involved in community development work.”

The Winters Rotary Club first became interested in the wells project after Borgerhoff Mulder and Caro gave a presentation about the day-to-day challenges that African villagers have to face. According to the couple, the problems they described resonated with the farming community of Winters, as their livelihood heavily depends on the irrigation of a similarly dry region.

Caro said that they talked about “women carrying water sometimes miles to their families, children waiting in line with buckets at a single malfunctioning well and the deep, dirty waterholes that many people rely on and share with their cattle and goats in the dry season.”

Since the initiation of this project, Borgerhoff Mulder, Caro and the villagers have seen the completion of five wells, but the process has been a long one.

“Tanzania requires that foreign researchers go through a fairly lengthy vetting process to obtain permission for their work,” Borgerhoff Mulder said. “When you finally reach the village level you bring your letters of introduction, and you become the responsibility of the village government with the rights and responsibilities of a citizen.”

Furthermore, Caro explained that development projects are no longer “free” in the traditional sense, and that villagers are expected to contribute to the development initiative. For impoverished villages, this is frequently problematic.

“With schools and health centers, villagers must provide labor, but with wells they must make a 5 percent cash contribution to the total cost,” Caro said in an e-mail interview. “In a poor area like Rukwa, where often the basics like soap and cooking oil are beyond the household budget, an obligatory household contribution of $2 can be crippling. The Rotary contribution was used to support half of each household’s contribution.”

Woody Fridae, mayor of Winters and international project coordinator of the Winters Rotary Club, said the Rotary Club offered to pay half of the 5 percent contribution for 10 villages. He said another big challenge, but one that was ultimately beneficial, was that communities oftentimes did not have any form of government to set up an account in which to deposit the money.

Therefore, a group of people from each community had to be organized to make a trip to the regional capital and set up an account.

“It was a big deal to get these people organized to build trust … and in charge of managing wells later on,” Fridae said. “Monique got a doctoral student to be in charge of the project. In the process of doing this, [they] have also spawned an awakening of local leadership and community involvement.”

Fridae added that since this elected body formed, villagers have also taken on other projects such as building a girls’ dormitory so girls can also attend school, as well as sharing agricultural knowledge among communities.

Next on the agenda, according to Caro and Mulder, is to continue to train more Tanzanians to work at their study site.

“Last summer, UC Davis provided funds for us to match Tanzanian graduates with our UCD students, and this has already led to productive collaborations,” Caro said. “Some of these Tanzanians are now enrolling as master’s students and continue to work in basic and applied research at the study site.”


DARCEY LEWIS can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com.


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