Aiding, assisting and helping over 100,000 people in the Congo

If intelligent people never experience boredom then I must be as dumb as a door
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Life for me here in the hardcore part of the huge African continent, aka Central Africa, hasn't changed much since last week. Oh you know...small stuff of course...I have been walking about a bit and seeing some stuff and shaking some hands. But mainly it has been the administrative madness of getting my papers in order so that we can cross the Congo River and get to country 101.
 
I did however meet a great guy who is of mixed decent: Danish/American. He contacted me after having met Simone, whom I am sure you all remember that I couch-surfed at in Guinea Bissau almost a year ago? ;) Just kidding - who would ever remember something like that - apart from me? Simone however told him, Per Besson, about me and that's how things get rolling sometimes. Per and I had a few days together here in Brazzaville talking about travel and life (he has been to more than 140 countries).
 
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Per Besson who speaks Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, English and Danish! 
 
So instead of boring you with trivial stuff I have added this (hopefully) much more interesting story, for all of you to dive into. Enjoy :)
 
 
 
WATSAN (water and sanitation):
Improving drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 
 
In February 2016 I reached Brazzaville, the capital of Congo in Central Africa, and found myself learning about the joint cooperation of the Congolese/French Red Cross 100 km north of the city. I learned that it was a project aiming at providing thousands of people with a clean and consistent source of drinking water in the 2 districts of Ignie and Ngabe. Although I was learning about it from a distance, it sounded interesting so I asked Jérémie Sibeoni, HOD FRC, for permission to visit and see it for myself. Jérémie, who is a hardworking man, always appears kind and forthcoming. He instantly found it to be a good idea and within minutes it had been organized.
 
The next morning, Tuesday on February 16th, I could hear an engine and someone honking a horn outside my window. I was already packed and ready to go. Outside I saw a white Toyota land cruiser and met Gaëtan Bonne, the Project Manager, who had come to pick me up. Soon after we had left the city heading north, and green fields dotted with small villages started dominating the landscape. Gaëtan is French and passionate about his work in Congo, where he has spent much time since he first arrived 6 years earlier. He was clearly familiar with the road and was soon talking about "a great little place" where we had to stop and pick up some meat on our way. The road we were on was straight as an arrow and after 2 hours we had arrived to a small Red Cross compound, near the project site. The driver honked the horn again and a guard opened the gate and let us inside. Before we entered a few neighbors greeted us with smiles and waved us welcome.
 
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Picking up meat. 
 
The house inside was peaceful and set in quiet idyllic surroundings with flowers and plants all around it. Gaëtan gave me a quick tour of the compound which revealed that it was also the setting for a few offices. In a small office Garonne got out of his chair and stretched his arm out to greet me. Garonne is Congolese and has been working side by side with Gaëtan since 2011. Just around the corner of the house another office appeared and inside it I saw a familiar face. It was Elio Kok, a French engineer, whom I had met on several occasions back in Brazzaville. Elio was clearly busy hanging over his laptop. He has been working on the project since 2014 as the technical manager, but now only had 2 weeks left in Congo before returning home to France.
 
Suddenly Gaëtan's phone rang and soon after we were back in the white Toyota land cruiser. This time heading to nearby Ingah which is one of the two villages where the WATSAN project takes place. Elio joined us and after a short drive we turned off onto a dirt road with the tall green grass on each side of the Toyota. The grass cleared and an opening appeared with a busy worksite inside it.
 
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Foundation of water tower. 
 
Elio walked off to shake hands and speak with some of the workers while Gaëtan started to explain what I was looking at. First he showed me the wellhead which is the only visible part of the 300 meter deep well. The wellhead had been covered by a low brick building for its protection. Next we took a look at the foundation of a service building which will someday contain chemicals, tools and other necessities. The workers around us were busy arranging for the next phase of the construction. The foundation of the water tower had already been completed and around it you could see sand, gravel and rebar which would later go into the construction.
 
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Gaëtan explained that this water tower would very soon rise to 13 meters and has been designed to contain 50cbm of water. It would some day in the near future provide 6,000 people with clean drinking water through its 8 water stations. Gaëtan went on to explain that it could produce 120cbm per day, but was quickly interrupted when a supplier appeared from the tall grass.
 
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Elio, Gaëtan and the supplier went on to discuss the project for a while. I strolled about a bit and thought about the long road it had taken the Red Cross to get this far. The 2 districts of Ignie and Ngabe had been chosen by the Red Cross long ago as they were hit particularly hard by the civil war in 97/98. There was even fighting going on as late as in 04/05. The Red Cross had been actively engaged in the district since 2005 while this particular project saw its first light towards the end of 2011. 
 
Nothing is ever easy. They had started out with preparations and studies of the social aspect, the technical studies and much more before the first planing could begin. Finances needed to be in place, tenders were sent out, offers were evaluated, negotiations, new tenders, situational changes, more evaluation... When the wells were ready to be drilled the pilling rigs were still in a neighboring country. It's not like calling a taxi. Not even close.
 
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The meeting with the supplier ended and it was now time to head on over to the other construction site in Imvouba, the other village. It was a 30 minute drive to Imvouba which gave Elio and Gaëtan time to explain about all the other things the project included. Already the joint cooperation of the Congolese and the French Red Cross had implemented 100 water tanks for harvesting rainwater for private homes. It rains during 9 months of the year in this area, so it is an ideal solution for those faraway farms and houses, which will not benefit directly from the water towers. Before receiving a water tank and rain harvest system villagers had to commit to it personally with a small amount of money. They also had to get involved by contributing with manpower. Such technics gets the local community involved which creates much better results. Other projects included 3 X 30cbm tanks at 3 different health clinics, 1,600 latrines and a communication campaign for hygiene informing about: Storage of rubbish, clean drinking water, the importance of washing hands etc...
 
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The land cruiser arrived with us at the second construction site at Imvouba, which appeared a little larger than the one we came from in Ingah. This site was likewise going to contain a water tower and the progress here looked similar to the site in Ingah. The main difference between the 2 sites was a larger production capacity. The tower here would be built to 20 meters hight and will store 100cbm of water. The well is also a little deeper and will be able to supply 12,000 people with 240cbm water per day through 15 water stations. All of this perhaps only 3 months away Gaëtan told me...
 
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From left to right: Gaëtan, Prince and Elio.
 
It was late when we again returned to the small idyllic house, but the day was not over. The small living room filled up with people and a meeting was held to discuss the project around the dining table.
 
Later that night the meeting finished. Everybody left and only Elio, Gaëtan and I were left in the house. Elio then picked up his backpack and returned to his office...there was still work to do...
 
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The next morning the 3 of us had breakfast together. Gaëtan explained that this project, when completed, will be the first implementation of a rural network/management system in Congo. Something similar already exists in the cities, but it is a first for Congo in a rural area.
 
Gaëtan has been spending much time in Brazzaville talking to government officials. He has been training government staff in mapping of geography and storing information about relevant history for greater common understanding.
 
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Elio working in the back of the 4WD.
 
3 scientific stations are also a part of the project. 1 meteorological station, 1 station for measuring the water in the wells and a station for measuring the water and streamflow in the river. Gaëtan explained that throughout the entire project the French Red Cross and the Congolese Red Cross had been training together and Gaëtan would have continued to explain if it wasn't for that familiar honking from the land cruiser. Jean-Claude entered the room and said it was time to go. He is Congolese and has been in charge of logistics and administration since 2014.
 
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As the driver and I backed out of the small courtyard and began to make our way back to Brazzaville Elio and Gaëtan stayed behind. There was still much work to do. I looked at the villagers, as we turned to go south, and thought to myself: "There is no doubt, that in Congo the Red Cross is always present".
 


Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - I love it here, but please let me go!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
Once Upon a Saga
Made by Kameli