First solar-powered well for Cameroon: clean drinking water for thousands of people.
Clean drinking water is essential. Since 2017, up to 30,000 people in West Cameroon have been supplied from this well. In one of the biggest employee projects in the history of the non-profit organization Knorr-Bremse Global Care , two Knorr-Bremse employees in Munich organized the building of a well in a West Cameroon village, which now supplies up to 30,000 people.
“The hard work we put into the project is almost forgotten; what has stayed with us is an indescribable sense of satisfaction.” Martin Ganswindt and Romuald Kana, both from quality management at the Munich headquarters, are the “fathers” of an outstandingly sustainable well in Cameroon. The well has been reliably supplying precious fresh water since 2017. Following an initial test phase, the official inauguration ceremony was held at the end of 2018. Romuald Kana, who attended the event, describes the crucial role of the well for the inhabitants throughout the region, and the high level of interest and gratitude which accompanied the project throughout its progress. The government even sent a member of parliament to the ceremony, who held a speech thanking Knorr-Bremse and the initiators in German. “The evening news shows on Cameroon’s biggest TV channels broadcast in-depth reports of our project,” recalls Ganswindt.
Clean water saves lives
Ganswindt casts his mind back. “It all started in 2013 when Knorr-Bremse Global Care sent out a call for project proposals in their new funding priority, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene).” As luck would have it, Romuald Kana’s father had visited Munich a short while previously. “I showed Martin a few photos of Kongni, my father’s village where I was born,” says Kana. Ganswindt was stunned to see that the drinking water supply for the village was drawn by the women from waterholes which were also used for washing clothes and showering. “Conditions there are very basic – and very difficult.” In many countries including Cameroon, impure drinking water is responsible for life-threatening infections and diarrheal diseases, which in turn cause high levels of infant mortality. This situation was the reason behind Knorr-Bremse Global Care’s choice of WASH as a funding priority.
The two colleagues apply to build the well in Cameroon
Ganswindt and Kana came up with the idea of applying for funding for a well-building project in Kongni, West Cameroon, near the city of Dschang. The village had no public well, the public buildings were extremely dilapidated, and not even the hospital, school, church and houses had a water supply. Around 50,000 people live in the region around Kongni. Kana’s father was asked to provide assistance, and readily agreed to play an active role. Before his retirement he had been a high-ranking civil servant with responsibility for overseeing schools and education in Cameroon’s West province; in addition, he has the status of a respected figure, as a member of the royal family of the Bafou region and a mayor of his village district.
Search for a suitable partner to build the well
The next step was to find a partner for the project. “That proved to be more difficult that we had expected,” remembers Martin Ganswindt. The German Embassy in Cameroon and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) were also unable to help. “We ended up knocking on the doors of aid organizations in Europe for months until we finally found the perfect partner.” Austrian charitable foundation ‘Leben braucht Wasser’ (Life Needs Water) was founded by a family which owned a well construction company in St. Veit an der Glan, Carinthia. Their concept, backed up by ample experience, convinced Ganswindt. “A well is only useful if someone on the spot can take care of it and knows something about maintenance and repair.” This ‘capacity building’––or helping people to help themselves––is a good fit for the Knorr-Bremse Global Care philosophy.
The maintenance engineer’s job: helping people help themselves
‘Leben braucht Wasser’ is partnered by Don Bosco, an aid organization that selects suitable candidates for the job of well maintenance engineer––preferably with some knowledge of tools and crafts. In Austria, they receive basic training as well builders and learn a lot about water hygiene. After an in-depth presentation held by Ganswindt, Kana, and ‘Leben braucht Wasser,’ Knorr-Bremse Global Care finally agreed to fund the project.
The rugged design of the pump is tailored to operation in the region. “The tower contains a small electric motor which is powered by four solar modules,” explains Ganswindt. “It drives a simple mechanical siphon pump in the pipe. The only maintenance it needs is an occasional gasket change, and it won’t grind to a halt immediately if sand gets into the works.” The charity was also experienced in dealing with customs formalities, so that all the components eventually reached their destination complete. The site was surveyed in detail in 2015 and drilling started in 2016, using a mobile drill rig on a truck parked in a small dip. After just under 50 meters, the drill hit a water source of excellent quality. Now water is collected in a tank directly at the drill tower and pumped around 950 meters further by a submersible pump to a large tank located in the center of Kongni. The well went into operation in 2016 and was further optimized during a testing period of several months in 2017.
Photovoltaic well system provides clean water for up to 30,000 people
The land for the well and pipeline was provided by Kana senior, who signed it over to the village. Today the water from Cameroon’s first solar-powered well supplies up to 30,000 people, who can fetch water regularly without charge. “The project was acclaimed throughout the country,” recalls Romuald Kana. Martin Ganswindt has not yet visited Cameroon personally. “I’m very grateful that I was able to help. It was a rewarding experience and a wonderful sense of achievement. But there’s still a lot to do.”