The Playpump – A Review from Teachers

The sixth in a series of posts on the playpump. (Posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

In addition, we had a school garden, whereby you plant some vegetables, rice, but after installing that Playpump, we failed to get that garden, and now it’s dry.”

So because of the Playpump, now you no longer have a garden at your school?”

Yes. We have water problems.”

Oh dear.

The following is an interview Duncan and I recorded with the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher, and another teacher at Mikolongo (Chikonde) School, Chikhwawa District, Malawi. We shot this video after filming the now (slightly) famous Playpump vs. AfriDev video posted on this blog last March. The Playpump at this school was installed by UK-based NGO One Difference, as indicated on their website here. One Difference uses money raised through the sale of a bottled water product, One Water, to support the installation of Playpumps in rural Africa. Check out this link to see some of their reasoning behind supporting Playpumps.

Enjoy the video. As usual, we’re not documentary film makers, but we are talking to the right people. A written transcript of the interview is provided below. (Also, BIG thanks to Josh Workman from the Vancouver City Chapter of EWB for editing and subtitling!)

Interview with Teachers at Mikolongo School, Chikhwawa District, Malawi, March, 2010..

0:00 Can you start by telling us your names and your positions?

0:06 I’m Mr. Nkupuki Deputy Head Teacher, Mikorongo School.

0:13 I’m Mr. Mzunga, Head Teacher, Mikorongo School.

0:18 I’m Justin, Teacher, Section 10, at this school.

0:25 And when was this PlayPump installed?

0:30 It was installed last year, in June.

0:36 And what was the process to install? Did the school request to have a Playpump?

0:42 At first we had a borehole.

0:47 And then what happened?

0:49 And the borehole it was alright, and all of a sudden, they came, a certain organization, to replace that borehole with the Playpump.

0:60 Did they ask you before they replaced it?

1:03 No, they didn’t ask us. Just come and say that we are going to replace this borehole with this Playpump because we are…they said the government invited these Playpumps from South Africa, so we want to try these here in Malawi.

1:26 And at this school, which one do you prefer: the Playpump, or the borehole that you had before?

1:31 We prefer the borehole we had before.

1:34 Why is that?

1:35 It was very fast. We had no any difficult when we were playing with that borehole, than this Playpump.

1:49 In addition the Playpump is also difficult to, anylike, to draw some water than this borehole, because they can’t draw that Playpump to draw some water.

2:02 And the kids, do they play on the Playpump?

2:05 Yes.

2:07 Is it enough to fill the tank?

2:10 Since it was installed, they have never filled the tank.

2:21 Do you have any questions Duncan?

2:23 Did you have any problems with the borehole?

2:25 No, we had no problems with the borehole. Everything was alright. Because they said “we want to try this technology” and our school was picked as a pilot project.

2:36 Oh, as a pilot project?

2:37 Ya.

2:38 And then will they come back to check on the Playpump?

2:41 No. No, they failed. They said once we get problems we should phone them, but one day we had a pipe that was broken, so we phoned them…they didn’t come.

2:52 How long ago was this? How long ago did that happen?

3:00 Four months.

3:04 And what did you do with the broken pipe?

3:07 We tried our best to use our…to use our initiative?

3:13 Oh, so you just fixed it yourself?

3:15 Ya.

3:17 Do you have anywhere else around the school where you can get water?

3:20 No, we don’t have.

3:24 So if you could have this Playpump removed and have a new AfriDev handpump back, which would you prefer?

3:30 Ya, we can prefer that new handpump, rather than this one. This one, ah, it’s too much boring [tiring for community members to use]. It’s not working properly. Because we have the enrolment and the community, we have more people than we get little water from that Playpump. Then, in order to make the system goes well, to get water properly, than we need a very good pump that can manage to supply water to the number of people around the school grounds.

4:08 In addition, we had a school garden, whereby you plant some vegetables, rice, but after installing that Playpump, we failed to get that garden, and now it’s dry.

4:28 So because of the Playpump, now you no longer have a garden at your school?

4:30 Yes. We have water problems.

4:34 I’m very sorry.

4:36 So if you could send one message to the people who installed that Playpump, what would you say?

4:41 Ah, they don’t answer.

4:44 Ah, in addition, especially we should say: if the message can go to them, then I think they should come, and remove that Playpump, and replace our old one. Maybe we can stay a little bit better than that one.

5:01 Sure.

5:03 If even another organization may come and replace that one with a certain system, maybe an electrical pump, or a solar pump it can be a very good thing rather than that one. Because they come here, they said: “this pump is a very good one”, talking about that one, Playpump, to us not knowing that it is very boring [slow to use]. They realized very early that, ah, this pump cannot assist us. Then we may wish other organizations to come and remove that one.

5:39 Ok, that one is best for only children. They just play there, and draw some water to drink for them. But ??? and community, that one is boring. If they can give us another borehole, and leave that pump – no problem – because our learners or pupils will go to play there. They enjoy it. They enjoy it but to us, we have got a problem with water. We spend hours and hours waiting for some people to draw some water.

15 responses to “The Playpump – A Review from Teachers

  1. Pingback: The Playpump V – Response to Recent Publicity | Barefoot Economics

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  3. Pingback: The Playpump II | Barefoot Economics

  4. Owen, your comments on the PlayPumps in Malawi need to be answered in order to add some balance to your personal opinion, we sent a researcher to both the schools you mention as we do work with the Malawian Government on this project. We have two letters one from each school ( Chikonde and Mlomba ) signed by the school heads that say they are very happy and grateful for the Playpump installations. This totally contradicts all your arguments!!!! I can’t attach these letters because this is a blog, but anyone that would like to see these letters, can respond to this blog with a valid email address and I will send them to you.

    • Hey Tony. Just a note to say that other than the manner of presentation, nothing in this blog post is my “personal opinion”. Just an interview with teachers. Not even edited or rearranged for effect – this is the whole thing start to finish. All your letters purport to contradict is the opinions of the teachers themselves. On that issue, I’d recommend reading the below comment from Jeniffer…

  5. Owen – For me, it’s very exciting when we stop talking to the so-called “aid experts” and start talking openly with the aid “recipients” for their genuine feedback. It is not done often enough. Kudos!

    Tony – Let me offer that after living in Malawi, I have no doubt that you received a thankful letter from the school heads. However, this does not serve as proof to refute what the teachers are saying in the video. Unfortunately, Malawi as a nation has now been receiving development aid for over 40 years, yet still ranks among the lowest in terms of the Human Development Index. My experience working there demonstrated to me that in human-to-human terms, this often means that people in the “warm heart of Africa” feel an obligation to accept aid on whatever terms it is given. What we as outsiders fail to recognize many times is that our mere suggestion of a “solution” is often not accepted based on its merits or feasibility, but rather due to our position and many, many years of disempowerment. In Malawi and elsewhere, it takes quite a lot of effort to build the trust that is necessary to develop shared and realistic expectations in our “helping” relationships. It seems like this might be an important moment of reflection for One Difference.

  6. Owen
    The letters are from the same teachers ….and the school heads signed consent forms prior to the PlayPump being installed,it was well decribed to them ( video on a laptop) and they asked for the instalation specificaly as they were unhappy with the exsiting hand pump as ( in there own words ) was rusting , old and they could not afford or acsess parts, plus no one at the school had been trained to repair them In your interview above (time code ) 5.39 the teacher says the children play and enjoy the PlayPump! thats why they are installed at schools, the arrangement with the government which we have in writing and signed by the permanent secretary for water, is that the old hand pumps are returned to the department and will be used and reinstalled in communities by the water department. Owen we are both on the same page as we both are providing water to Malawian people …..I for one would like to work with you, as together we can make a big difference………. i see on your EWB Canada website it is clearly stated that EWB wishes to improve the exsisting groundwater pumps in Malawi from the present 40% that are not working to a target of 10% over the next 5 years, when you consider that the PlayPumps are on average 96% working at any one time, i would suggest that the hand pumps that are down should be your main concern. The fact there is no budget for maintinence on hand pumps is the reason why they fail, as you well know, however PlayPumps do have a budget and get repaired regularly so the model is good. Its better to have continuous safe water supply than almost half the hanpumps with no water at all!

    • So much I could address here, but one quick note: handpump sustainability is largely about maintenance and management, not technology. Two reasons I’d guess as to why you have high functionality rates for Playpumps:

      (1) They’re guaranteed by your organization. Any type of handpump that has an external maintenance guarantee (which handpumps don’t), if that guarantee were administered well, should have a high rate of functionality. It’s not rocket science. In fact my question is why your Playpumps don’t have a 100% functionality rate? Regardless, if you installed AfriDevs, Rope and Washer Pumps, or anything really with an external maintenance financing, the functionality rate would be high.
      (2) They’re new. AfriDev handpumps have an average functionality rate of 93% within their first 3 years, without any external guarantee of maintenance financing. Functionality rates only decline in later years. Let’s see how your Playpumps are doing 15 years down the line…

      Comparing functionality rates of recently installed and fully guaranteed Playpumps with ageing community managed handpumps should be immediately evident as a completely false comparison to anyone with experience in the water sector – grasping at straws in my opinion.

  7. Owen & Tony – an article worth checking out:

    The Importance of Reflective Philanthropy: Lessons for donors interested in innovation

  8. Pingback: How Matters /  Listening to People on the Receiving End of Aid

  9. Tony, what do you make of the contradiction between what the teachers said in the video, and the letters written in their names? I don’t pretend to be an authority in this case, but the teachers’ statements to the interviewer can’t be dismissed without an explanation.

  10. Keeping reading your journeys for months, I am always fascinated by your analyse of development work. I think that’s the difference between one with engineering mindset and one without.
    I was an engineer before being a volunteer here- a HIV/AIDS related project. Many things I met recently made me think more. One is how more effective it can be if more people know more technology. That article about water-point drilling sympathized me.
    I’ll go to Lilongwe tomorrow, for the IELTS test. I guess you are also there. If possible I want to meet you and share more. What do you think?


  11. Pingback: Pragmatic Development | Where in the World is Colleen?

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