News Archive
February 28, 2015

South Africa Travel Blog Part II by Joe Schwiterman

See here for Part 1 of Joe’s travel blog


After our initial field work, we began developing initial solutions based on our observations of how the community pumps, stores and distributes water, keeping in mind that ‘This is Africa’ and theft is a real problem. The efficiency of the process could be improved by sizing the pumps and running them appropriately for the recharge of the wells. Only half the diesel purchased is used to run the pump east of town because the other half must be resold to pay for its delivery. We would suggest converting this well to an electric/solar powered motor, the cost of running would be paid by the municipality. The abandoned well could be tested and restored to provide additional water keeping the storage tanks better supplied. It may be necessary to improve the taps along the distribution main, which break easily, causing leaks and loss of water.

The field work required a lot of walking outside, which also provided an opportunity to talk with members of the community and learn a bit more of their daily lives and struggles. We met a lot of motivated people trying to create opportunity in hopes of a brighter future. They would invite us into their homes to show us some of the projects they were doing to support their family. These included weaving, gardening, ceramics, carving wood posts and cutting wire for fencing and construction products. They showed a lot of pride in their work, which was very impressive. ‘This is Africa’ so we heard a lot of organic sounds from barking dogs lying out in the sun, baying goats, crowing roosters, cowbells ringing in the fields, tromping of donkey feet and laughter of kids playing and running around the streets usually barefoot, sometimes wearing sandals. The kids would stop their fun and games and run up to us sometimes following us around town for kilometers. They enjoyed being swung around and picked up into the air. We got to perfect the ‘Bergnek handshake’ and take many pictures, so they could see themselves on the camera screen.


We arranged with the headman of the school for an opportunity to speak with the 8th grade students. First we introduced ourselves, which included a geography lesson to explain where we’re from. We made sure to enforce the importance of education and the role it had in our careers, which led us here to help the community get more water. They agreed and understood all of this. Next we engaged the students through a lesson that covered the water cycle, sources of water and its uses, water tests and quality. They knew a lot about these topics, learning a bit more about the properties and processes used for testing the quality of water. After the hour lesson, we entertained them for the next half hour, which was a cultural lesson for us all. On the topic of sports, we tried explaining American football and baseball and asked them about the 2010 South Africa World Cup and Rugby but we learned that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is more popular. Many of the students speak multiple languages, Sepedi, English, Afrikaans and some other tribal tongues, so we taught them a couple phrases in Spanish and German. We eventually got on the subject of dance and music, so we busted a few moves in front of class to the thrill of the students. They started singing the national anthem in beautiful voices but got a bit too loud, prompting the headman to come over and dismiss the class.


Our final days were spent meeting with local groups in the area to build relationships and gather information. These groups included My Arms Wide Open, the Polokwane Rotary and Engineers without Borders chapter at Wits University. We also met with the mayor and community chief to sign partnership agreements as a formal approval to continue with our proposed work in Bergnek. We had a meeting in Bergnek, in which Travis spoke some Sepedi to thank the community for their kind hospitality and let them know this would not be a final farewell that we plan on returning in ten months to implement the project. Back home we are analyzing the information to design improvements to Bergnek’s water supply and distribution while raising money for equipment and supplies.


Thanks for reading our travel blog. Our team will now focus on developing and raising funds for our implementation project that we plan to complete in August 2015. Stay tuned for more updates and contact us if you would like to get involved or support our project!