Q&A: A Spring of Hope

Discussion Forum

PWX members can use this space to discuss elements of the Organization. PWX members can post questions or comments and they will be seen by everybody. Any PWX member can respond to the questions and comments, not just the submitter.

Long-term monitoring

Posted almost 6 years ago

I see that you have built deep borehole wells in 18 schools in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces of South Africa. I also read that you only have two part-time staff members. I wasn't clear if you were planning on expanding to more schools in the region and how the schools are involved in the long-term monitoring and maintenance of the borewells. Can you explain a little how schools are supporting the long-term costs associated with water testing and basic maintenance. Do you also encourage the local communities to get involved? Thanks so much! Silke

Long-term monitoring

Posted almost 6 years ago

Hello Silke,

Thank you for your question. Let me respond to it in several parts.

1. Yes, ASOH presently oversees the continued maintenance of 18 boreholes at 18 schools between Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Presently, we are not expanding, but going more in-depth in our involvement at these schools by providing the necessary support to expand food gardens through partnerships (see 4).

2. Each of the schools has the responsibility to ensure proper use of their borehole and pump. They are instructed on its proper use (which varies from borehole to borehole) ie. how long to run the pump, when not to use it, and what sounds indicate a problem. These instructions are listed in a brief information packet that our schools receive from our construction manager. Due to our selective partnership process, it is rare we have a borehole problem due to negligence. Most technical problems are natural in nature.

3. The construction manager along with the project manager make up the two part-time ASOH employees. The construction manager is only onsite during the borehole drilling and maintenance. The project manager is responsible for day-to-day contact with schools. Schools have her contact information and meet regularly. She is the primary point of contact for schools to ASOH. Up until recently, maintenance had always been covered by us, especially if there is a technical problem outside of the school's control. However, in the interest of self-reliance and promoting sustainability, schools are expected to allot in their budgets funds for borehole/pump maintenance. We make our construction manager available at a competitive rate for such repairs. If the technical problem is due to an error on our part, we will finance those repairs. The Department of Health of Limpopo tests the water quality for free.

Furthermore, schools are responsible for the day-to-day operation of their borehole. It is up to the school's choosing based on relationship with the community whether or not to make the water source available for purchase. We have found school administrators are uncomfortable with this idea, so we have not pushed it. We are sensitive to and respect these concerns despite the growing popularity among NGOs of water management committees which are responsible for collecting water use fees. Our partner schools have profited on the boreholes instead by expanding food gardens and selling the surplus fruits and vegetables to the community. For all schools, student nutrition comes first, then the special needs of vulnerable children, and lastly the sale. For these reasons, very little money is actually made on a monthly basis by selling produce. We estimate that it would require many years of reliable produce sale (and a serious reduction in the amount of produce going to students) to have the funds to entirely replace the borehole system. This has been a goal of ours since the beginning--to help schools become self-reliant to the point they can assert ownership over the boreholes. At the moment, however, that is not a reality. Yet, we are working on designing a new income generating project, specifically with moringa, that will hopefully address this issue.

4. The local community is always involved in the borehole construction, especially with lay work including trench digging. This reduces cost for us and allows us to inculcate a sense of ownership among school and community members.

5. Although ASOH only has 2 part-time employes in the area, our presence is supplemented by strategic partnerships with Seeds of Light (seedsoflight.org), which has provided semi-annual garden instruction (held at our flagship school and open to all administrators of our other 17 schools [attendance is huge!]) to increase knowledge of natural fertilizers, inter-cropping, and herbal medicines. We have also used Food and Trees for Africa (http://trees.co.za) for certain new garden programs.

ASOH's Big Goals

Posted over 5 years ago

Brittany, good morning! You have much to give thanks for, given the great work you have the opportunity to do. I would really appreciate hearing about your big goals for ASOH. What do you want to build your organisation into? What do you want to gain from becoming a member of Blue Planet Network? How can we best help you achieve your goals?
I also am interested in which other water groups, if any, you work with in South Africa and how you partner with the local and district governments in your work.
Many thanks and I look forward to seeing your gardens grow!
Lisa

ASOH's Big Goals

Posted over 5 years ago

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for your question. In terms of the big questions, A Spring of Hope is always reaching toward achieving our ultimate vision of playing a significant role in bringing these former bantustan communities permanently out of poverty. I say this because I want to point to our very localized vision—investing in these particular former bantustans. We do not envision ASOH expanding to new countries, or even new continents (which some people have asked us to do!). I think our strategy and our knowledge is highly specific to the culture, politics, and economics of these historically impoverished communities in South Africa. Although expanding beyond South Africa does not necessarily imply applying a "one-size-fits-all" approach to disparate places, expanding would require specialized knowledge of other countries. In short, we care about depth over breadth. Our experience in SA makes us even better to continue to operate in SA.

So, rather than expand to new countries or continents, I imagine ASOH growing into a locally-run organization that provides a variety of resources for schools, not simply funding support--including advanced gardening production, instruction for teachers who wish to expand on their skills, grant writing workshops, hygiene workshops, and conservation education. We already do a few of these things through partners. Membership in the Blue Planet Network can help us organize our accomplishments and better articulate our goals to ourselves and potential supporters through PWX. The exchange of lessons learned between members would also help us improve what we already do and learn about what else we can.

At the moment, we do not work with other water groups in South Africa. The only other water group we have encountered in our areas is the now-defunct Play Pumps International. We work with local government by meeting with offices of the Department of Education, which receives from us our list of schools with water access, so no duplications are made. They have given us lists of schools they have identified for either water or gardening support.

Best,

Brittany

Partnerships

Posted over 5 years ago

Good morning,

I really enjoyed reading your organizational profile and the questions and answers. It is good to see that your organization is committed to sustainable projects in these schools and that community ownership and involvement are also included.

Networking and partnering with other organizations is very beneficial. It appears that you are committed to work in these schools with partners and focus on water and food gardens. Is your organization, or any of your partnering organizations working on sanitation in these schools or has that already been addressed?

I also look forward to reading your response to Lisa's questions regarding the future and goals!

Thanks!
Jamin

Partnerships

Posted over 5 years ago

Hi Jamin,

Sanitation is a very important concern--I am glad you brought it up. Early on, admittedly, sanitation and hygiene were significant oversights of ours. Research on WASH in schools (see "SWASH+") has concluded that the single most transformative intervention in this sector is simply providing and ensuring the regular use of hand soap. Not surprisingly, many of our schools did not even supply soap to students. If they did, it was often stolen. Promoting regular hand washing and the availability of soap in the bathrooms is a huge struggle, although it seems like a straight forward mission. Our regular check-ups with schools is not enough to reinforce this behavior, although we have made the effort to speak to school clerks to make sure some portion of the school budget is spent on sanitation needs (soap, toilet paper, towels, etc.). One clerk blames administrative corruption for the lack of budgets for these highly essential materials. The problem moves beyond the classroom, too, as students are not instructed by parents to regularly wash hands. (It's extremely rare for running water to be available in the home.) Regardless, we are currently in the process of negotiating a new partnership with a local NGO that will provide traveling instructors in both hygiene and water conservation. Hopefully, this effort can begin to address this systemic problem.

Best,

Brittany

Operations

Posted over 5 years ago

Hi Brittany,

You have 2 part-time people in SA. How many in USA?

How often do the US folks travel to SA?

How does all the communication takes place with your partners and how regularly. Or mainly when you visit?

Do you schedule activities for the SA team to visit the 18 projects on a regular basis? Or when some issues surface only?

I assume you use email and skype regularly. Please confirm that your SA folks are proficient and diligent in using the net.

Do your partners conduct any activities independently? Do they report to the US team or via the SA folks?

Regards,
Rajesh

Operations

Posted over 5 years ago

Hi Rajesh,

Thank you for your question. Allow me to answer them in the order you asked.

At the moment, we have no paid staff in the US. Joanne Young and I (Brittany Young) are the CEO and President respectively of the organization. We take no salary. We have a Board of Directors in the US who take no salary/compensation. In addition, we have a number of volunteers/pro-bono supporters in the US at any given time for particular services (events, website, t-shirt design, etc.). I oversee a small "Executive Board" of young professionals handling grant applications and web-based projects. These individuals are also not paid. At present, this system works as Joanne is retired outside of ASOH and I will soon begin a graduate program. However, it is conceivable that in the near future we will need to hire a paid staff member to increase our productivity.

The US "staff," Joanne and myself (plus sometimes university students on unpaid internships) travel to RSA most summers (June and July). Since our founding, ASOH has been in the country (1 months duration each) 6 times.

Communication with our SA staff is weekly, sometimes daily. We communicate with our project manager via emails and regular Skype calls; with our construction manager via email and "What'sApp," a mobile SMS app which allows him to text message me without charge when he has internet. He can ask me questions while on the job, which is quite useful. In response to your technologic proficiency question, our construction manager can also send me photos of a damaged pump and any progress made over the What'sApp app.

Sarah, our project manager, visits schools regularly. She is currently finishing up a round of our 18 schools, completing updated reports for each. Each of our schools is not distant from another, so unplanned visits are common. Of course we also visit when there are issues.

Our partner, Seeds of Light, has their own programs and partnerships with schools and community centers. Sometimes their programs happen at some of our schools as part of their own mission and vision. This sort of overlap is common in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga area; sometimes numerous nonprofits operate at a single school. This is fine, so long as there are no duplications in support (two wells, double the gardening instruction, etc.) We must make sure that each nonprofit covers different needs. We expect our partners to carry out the gardening instruction program as I described in #5 in my response to the first Peer Water question above. The results of which are emailed to us, complete with photos and a report. Sarah follows-up on the results of these workshops during her regular visits.

All the best,

Brittany

Operations

Posted over 5 years ago

Thanks for the prompt reply during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Looks like you have a good system to follow up on all your projects and are trying to figure out a financial model to ensure repairs and replacement.

I believe PWX would help track each of your projects both its operations and all the communications around it.

Am glad to see you are using Android phones and WhatsApp. We also have an android app for PWX that can help upload photos, video, and audio to project reports as field notes.

Regards,
Rajesh

Operations

Posted over 5 years ago

Hi Brittany

It sounds like ASOH has a very strong, holistic and well managed grass roots project, and thanks for your comprehensive responses to these questions!

The borehole management by the school administration must be challenging at times, I guess you must have done a lot of training and 'learning by doing' with the school management board. The nice thing that comes to mind about this model compared with a community managed system, is the school administration is an already established body that would have salaries (?), and the borehole would be an additional project to manage, that would enhance the health and safety of their students.

You must have many lessons learned from the process of establishing this style of management. As ASOH is quite young, I would recommend setting up your projects on PWX as a platform to store this kind of institutional memory, - it can be such a useful 'hub' for new staff members to review the history of a project.

Good luck, and I look forward to learning more about your projects.

Georgia

Operations

Posted over 5 years ago

I concur with Georgia in that you will find that setting up your projects on PWX will be useful in maintaining a history of your projects. What will be even more useful is being involved in the peer review process and learning how other organizations are addressing water issues. Further, I believe your approach to handling maintenance and sustainability issues presents an alternative to the more common and unreliable approach of training a community member(s) how to maintain and repair their equipment and asking community members to contribute regularly for the cost of maintenance. I've been advocating setting up a 'circuit rider team' of qualified maintenance people that would periodically inspect, repair and offer refresher training. I further suggested that a sustainability fee be part of the initial investment made by the sponsoring organization. Community ownership issues can be resolved in having community input in the planning, construction, and operation phases of the project. The structure you have explained does all of the above and much more by including projects that will use the water to provide nutritious food for the children and community. Check my website (www.scopeint.org), it may provide some ideas that can be adapted for use at your schools.

I apologize for not responding prior to the 2 December deadline. I've been out of email contact in Kenya, in transit back to my home in Denver and have had a houseful of friends and relatives for the holidays. Best of luck.

Don Howard


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Last Updated: 12 Jul, 2019 (about 1 month ago)

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