By Naja Robinson
“Are we still going to Zimbabwe?” I asked my teammates. We were scheduled to depart in just four days for Africa in July 2021. Delta, the newest variant of the COVID virus, had emerged, and for the first time since the pandemic gripped the world, Zimbabwe enacted a national lockdown, to try to curtail the virus and save lives. But our field partner, Karanda Mission Hospital, said, “Come on. You’re with us.” The mission of bringing safe water to the people in the rural communities surrounding the hospital also helps to save lives. So we decided to go. I was the last of the DO team of four to say that I was still in, but I’m so glad that I did.
Notwithstanding this being my first trip to Africa, profoundly impacting my own worldview, the impact we were able to make on the lives of thousands can be qualified and quantified in many ways. Working alongside the local team, we were able to install 14 new LifePumps and LifePumpLinks in just eight days. At one location, Date Secondary School, a young man named Onesto walked us to the nearest water source, a dried-up, dirty riverbed 20 minutes away. Prior to the LifePump installation, the nearest hand pump was half a mile away and broken.
With each LifePump, we also installed LifePumpLink, our innovative remote-monitoring satellite technology, developed in partnership with SonSet Solutions. Through another strategic partnership with software company E2 InfoSystems, our mobile app and desktop tool allow us to go beyond presenting how much time a pump is being used daily or how many gallons are being pumped. Together, we developed our custom, alert-management platform and user interface, translating operational usage data into meaningful, actionable indicators, alerts, and recommendations.
At a glance, we can tell if pump usage has dropped to unusually low levels, warranting a phone call or a community visit. With these tools in the hands of our field partners, they are equipped to proactively ensure pump uptime.
Additionally, our mobile app also provides a way to electronically enter installation reports in real time on location. As program lead for the LifePumpLink project, I worked closely with E2 InfoSystem’s Satish Albert to ensure the feature was pilot-ready for our Zimbabwe trip. At each installation, I captured site and pump data, personal testimonies, and photos on the mobile app. Through interviews with the local village headmen in each community, we estimated that over 1,200 households and two school communities would now have access to water. This app reduces by weeks—in some cases, months—the time between a field installation and DO’s access to critical data, enabling more rapid sharing with supporters about the impact of their partnership.
In November, when Design Outreach CEO Greg Bixler visited Zimbabwe, he found more evidence of the impact of that July trip: just feet away from the LifePump in Chiudza, Zimbabwe, a newly-planted garden was thriving with sweet potatoes, corn, and tomatoes—in the height of the dry season in Zimbabwe! In Dr. Bixler’s words, “To have a garden this time of year is extremely rare, because the wells run dry, and carrying water long distances is really hard.” The LifePumpLink dashboard gives us a window to “see” the need being met. This graph shows the story. With rainfall at its seasonal low, pump usage peaked at slightly upward of 12 hours a day!
“Are we still going to Zimbabwe?” YES! And I’m so glad that we did!