Tanzania trek

Filtration system may be solution to school’s water problems

Photos courtesy of Bill Koeckeritz Jim Thomas of New Ulm, standing at left, looks over the concrete foundation that has been poured for a water filtration system to remove fluoride from the water at Kikatiti Secondary School in Tanzania.

KIKATITI, TANZANIA — Jim Thomas and Bill Koeckeritz are in Tanzania to help oversee a project that may at last bring a steady source of safe water to the Kikatiti Secondary School.

Thomas and Koeckeritz have been involved with the school in many ways since 2000, when they first traveled to Tanzania at the invitation of missionary friends Doug and Linda Dybsetter. Over the years they have traveled to Tanzania six times, sometimes with groups of local volunteers who helped build dormitories and classrooms for the school, helped set up gardens, provide equipment for the school, and conduct eye exams and distributing glasses to the students.

But the lack of safe drinking water has been the school’s most pressing need. Excessive natural fluoride is present in the subsurface water in the area. High fluoride levels in drinking water leads to serious health problems. An early indication is brown, mottled teeth, which many students have. In the long term it leads to skeletal fluorosis, a disease which causes brittle bones and other skeletal and joint problems.

Koeckeritz and Thomas traveled to Tanzania in 2014 to seek a location to drill a well that would provide fluoride-free water. After extensive research, a deep well (78 meters) was drilled in 2017, but water tests showed the fluoride levels were still far above the levels considered safe.

Koeckeritz sent an email Saturday describing the latest efforts.

Students carry water from the cistern to their kitchen at Kikatiti Secondary School. With the water project, safe water will be piped directly to the kitchen.

“On May 5th Jim Thomas and I Thomas returned to Kikatiti to work on our long-planned-for water project to bring adequate and safe drinking water to the students at Kikatiti Secondary School. This plan has been worked on and generously supported by many people in the New Ulm area for many years.

“Jim and I have made 6 trips to Kikatiti Secondary School since 2000 . Some of those trips have included volunteers from the area to work on service projects at the school. The last large group came in 2012 when the major service project was doing eye exams and distributing eye glasses to students, staff and neighboring villagers. Approximately 800 exams were completed and over 400 pair of prescription eyeglasses were dispensed.”

“To provide minimal safe water for students to survive (I) started a program called Water Angels wherein individuals and families from Minnesota provided funds to purchase water for the kids. This temporary fix was necessary until a permanent solution could be found.

“After extensive research a decision was made to use a new technology that was designed on the island of Saint Lucia. The consultant our mission has employed to assist us is Groundwater Tanzania, who’s American owner and his Tanzanian partner discovered and recommended this very new technology. This technology is intended to lower the fluoride level to a safe level and not create the very unsafe byproduct that a reverse osmosis system would create.

“This trip’s need was to build the needed infrastructure and put into operation the water purification equipment. Using local tradesmen with very basic equipment we are moving forward. Today we are making progress on the infrastructure but have been delayed by our solar-powered pump company. One of their key installers became ill yesterday and is hospitalized. We need to test this new pump as soon as possible in our next needed steps.

Photos courtesy of Bill Koeckeritz Jim Thomas (right) and Bill Koeckeritz (second from right) talk with the consultants working on the Kikatiti Secondary School water filtration project.

“Sometimes, things occur that we can’t control. We are praying the delay will be short. Jim, I and our lead consultant all are scheduled to depart for America on the 17th. Luckily, we will have our Tanzanian expert here after we are gone to follow up on construction. Our experts have been working with two science teachers here at the school who will become the staff to operate and maintain the system after we leave but we need to get it operational and tested before we leave to assure the purification equipment is working properly.”

Without a system to deliver safe water to the school, water from a safe source has been delivered to the school by a tractor pulling a 3,000 liter tanker, which is emptied into a shallow well near the school. The students have to carry five-gallon pails of water to a cistern near the school’s kitchen each day.

Last Monday, Koeckeritz reported that the driver, who pulls the water over a mile of dangerous, rutted road, had an accident, flipping the tractor. He was critically injured and the tractor and tanker were seriously damaged.

“Currently, the school is frantically trying to figure out how to bring in safe water. Jim and I wanted to provide for medical care and living expenses for the driver’s family,” said Koeckeritz.

A Go Fund Me page is being set up to raise funds for the family.

Photos courtesy of Bill Koeckeritz Above, students at the Kikatiti Secondary School carried rocks needed to create the base for the footings for the school’s new water filtration system.

Koeckeritz reports the hard work of all involved in the project is inspirational.

“We needed to move about 800 rocks of various weights and sizes to create the base of our footings for the water project. Task (was) completed by the Form 4 (about 15-year-olds) students who carried each stone by hand about 125 yards. Concrete (was) mixed by hand to finish the footings. We are amazed by the hard work of all involved.”

In addition to working on the water project, Thomas and Koeckeritz delivered 22 solar-powered lights which students can use in their dormitories, to reduce the risk of fire from other forms of illumination.

Koeckeritz has been posting updates on the project on his Facebook page.

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