In late 2007 our family moved from Auckland, New Zealand, to a city older than Rome on the other side of the world. Located in one of the former republics of the Soviet Union, it’s a city that merges old with new. Horse drawn carts clog up the motor traffic, Internet cafés sit alongside traditional bazaars, and both Turkic languages and Russian are spoken.
I’m an engineer with a non-government organisation working in the area of appropriate technology. The NGO evaluates and uses simple sustainable technology to improve the living standards of locals in the areas of water supply, sanitation and housing.
I’d been forewarned that working here wouldn’t be like engineering in New Zealand, and it’s not. My first trip was to a work site to construct and install a new pump. I discovered the welding machine “plugged” into the power by bare cables pushed into the supply box. There were also bare cables laid along the ground just waiting for someone’s unsuspecting foot. A local official visited, keen on a bribe for “allowing” the pump to be installed, as did the drunk policeman carrying a gun. This is definitely not New Zealand.
While work here has many challenges not faced in New Zealand (for example, two power cuts totalling about 12 hours every day), it’s still possible to achieve positive change in living standards for people who desperately need it. Following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the economy collapsed and living standards dropped. Although it’s recovered slightly, the country is still one of the poorest in the world.
Over the past seven years our organisation has worked with communities to develop appropriate technology solutions. These have included non-electrical water pumps for irrigation, passive solar houses, solar water heaters, high efficiency ovens and hygienic toilets. Biogas (producing gas for cooking from cow dung), micro hydro power, and wind energy for electricity production are currently being developed.
Some of these have been readily adopted by communities, while others have not because of a clash with the traditional way of life and culture. Two projects that have been positively received are our coil pump and our passive solar house.
The low annual rainfall and very hot summers, with temperatures up to mid-40s Celsius, mean that many farmers must rely on irrigation. During Soviet times they used a system of canals and electric pumps but times have changed. Many of the irrigation channels are now broken, the price of electricity has skyrocketed, and the cost of an electric pump is beyond the financial means of most farmers. Even those who can scrape together enough money usually have no money left to pay for repairs. A combination of inferior quality and damage caused by fluctuating voltage and intermittent power supply means nothing electrical lasts long. Having to carry water by hand from the river or canal severely limits the amount of land that can be watered. Then there’s the physical effort required for those sent to get the water, often children and women, whose lives are already hard enough.
As an alternative to the electric pumps, our organisation introduced a “ram” pump, which doesn’t need electricity. A ram pump is good if there’s a big height difference between the water supply and the pump location. However, there are many streams and canals where there is a good flow of water but no significant change in elevation. A pump that could work without electricity and use only the power of the water flow to operate was required.
Enter Jonathan, an engineer from New Zealand. He and his family spent a year here as part of Interserve’s On Track programme. Jonathan developed the coil pump, which is able to pump water uphill away from the river.
From Jonathan’s initial work, the pump has been further developed and installed in many places, supplying water to houses, small farms, and even to trees in a cemetery. By using only stream energy, these coil pumps can lift water up to 30 or 40 metres vertically above the river and supply up to 60,000 litres per day. They are built with locally available materials, cost much less to set up than electric options, and, best of all, they cost nothing to run.
Our aim is to teach people how to make the pumps themselves so they don’t have to keep relying on us.
All our project work seeks to help rural communities and the urban poor. By providing free advice and assistance with technologies like the coil pump we can bring about change for good. This breaks down any distrust and suspicion about our motives and shows them what it means to have a holistic faith that affects all areas of life.
Our work is not done in isolation. We are in partnership with locals and other expats, including the community development teams that research the problems communities face. We work together to provide technological solutions that are within most people’s financial means.
As the technologies become more widely sought after, we train local technicians, businessmen, and even pastors. They, in turn, can make them available to a larger number of people, while at the same time earning an income for themselves.
The success of the coil pump in bringing life-giving water to the wastelands demonstrates the significant impact someone with technical skills can have in the world of mission.
We’re always in need of more workers – engineers, teachers, health professionals and so on – so if you want to make a difference through your work and witness, enjoy novel work environments and interesting countries stuffed full of mountains, check us out on www.interserve.org.nz.
– Andrew and Anne and their children, Luke and Hannah, are from Royal Oak Baptist in Auckland. They are serving in central Asia with Interserve, a strategic mission partner of MISSION WORLD.