Engaging Bush Mechanics in Water Point Repairs

When concerns arose among residents of Jayilosi Village, located in the jurisdiction of T/A Mkanda in Mchinji, regarding what they perceived as a delay by the government in repairing their water source—a borehole equipped with an Afridev Pump at Puye Primary School—they opted to enlist the services of Bush Mechanics to address the issue. The borehole wasn’t functioning properly, sinking halfway and collapsing, needing extensive rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the involvement of the bush mechanic only exacerbated the situation, resulting in further damage to the water point and causing pupils and teachers to seek water from unprotected sources.

Senior Group Village Headman Jayilosi said the decision to engage the bush mechanic stemmed from worries about the potential spread of cholera, which was claiming lives across the border in Zambia. The threat prompted concerns about the well-being of schoolchildren, teachers, and the wider community, prompting urgent action to address the water crisis.

However, Mchinji District Water Development Officer Mike Chilim’madzi said as soon as they got the report on the broken pump from the District Education Manager’s Office, the council responded urgently by sending a Water Monitoring Assistant who was accompanied by a Beyond Water contracted Area Mechanic to assess the hand pump. “The sinking borehole needed thorough rehabilitation in addition to repair works. So, we had to establish what expertise and materials were needed for a professional job, then mobilise the community to source a few additional items to the readily available spare parts that Beyond Water had already set aside for the job. Unfortunately, some members of the community rushed in by engaging bush mechanics who multiplied the problems at the water point,” Chilim’madzi clarified. 

Beyond Water’s Field Officer in Mchinji Licy Nkoloma said beside the bush mechanics destroying the pipes of the already submerging borehole, he asked the community to buy all the spare parts including new pipes to replace the ones he had destroyed. He also demanded a separate labour charge amounting to K150,000.00 at the beginning of his work. “The items that he told the community to buy, and his service fee amounted to K340,000.00, fortunately the Headmaster, Water Point Committee (WPC) and members of the School Committee realised they were being overcharged and stopped him from proceeding with the work where he had already damaged the pipes.” Licy said. “But as much this required major rehabilitation works at the time Puye Water Point was already on Direct Contract with Beyond Water, if this community would have worked directly with us as per contractual agreement, the major rehab would have costed only K116,000.00.” Licy concluded.

Beyond Water’s Area Mechanic, Gift Kamanga had a difficult time rehabilitating and repairing the borehole because of the extent of the damage impacted by the Bush Mechanic. “It took me 10 days to complete the work that normally would have been completed in 3 days. My call to Chiefs, WPCs and Water Users is to stop trusting Bush Mechanics with fixing their Water Points, because some will cause worst destruction to their Pumps, making the community suffer for longer.” Gift said.                

Pupils, teachers, and members of the surrounding communities had stayed for 3 months without accessing clean water which particularly affected learning at the school as 14-year-old standard 8 learner Bridget Zulu testified. “We lacked safe water for drinking, even for mopping in classrooms and toilets; Our health was at great risk.” She said.

Absenteeism especially among teenage girls increased in the 3 ‘dry months’. “Most of us stopped coming to school because of lack of safe water to clean-up with during menstruation, but now we are happy that Beyond Water restored functionality of our Water Point.” Bridget said.

One of the teachers at Puye Primary School, Agalatiya Njobvuyalema said that class timetables and schedules were affected as both teachers and pupils used to spend a lot of time to draw water from the unsafe wells near the Kapuye stream which is far from the school. “Most of us teachers got sick with diarrhoea, meaning we had to spend more time in hospital or at home instead of teaching at school. This was another key factor that resulted in poor attendance of classes at school.” “Sometimes we could come to class without bathing, such a bad experience that would have been avoided had those in charge of the Water Point Committee fully trusted Beyond Water from the beginning.” Said Njobvuyalema.

Puye school committee chairperson, James Kanyinji shared the lesson learnt from using a Bush Mechanic. “The take home lesson from our side is never to hurry again in making uniformed decisions in matters of Water Point Repair, because we have spent way too much money, energy, and time to get this pump fixed again; It would have even costed us an arm and leg had Beyond Water not come in with cheaper spare parts and the professional Area Mechanics to restore functionality of this hand pump. However, we are so thankful to Beyond Water for fixing our it again and both teachers and pupils are back to school in large numbers.” Kanyinji said.

Meanwhile, Mchinji District School Health and Nutrition Officer, Custens Zimomo has appealed to Beyond Water to extend the Professionalised Repair and Maintenance (PRM) model to as many schools as possible to fix broken water pumps.

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