We’ve had a really frustrating few days and its made it really hard to even want to sit down and write anything at all. So for that I apologise. I know in my heart that we like to remain as positive as possible at all times, but its been particularly hard this week. Our last blog told of how we’d fixed every leak, every shower and every toilet at Jairos Jiri School for Blind Children. It told of how we’d given the children constant running water for the first time in their memories. We were understandably pretty chuffed with ourselves and proud that we’d put your donations to such good use and I wasn’t shy about saying all about it in the blog either.
Then, when we thought we were not long away from turning around and declaring job well done, we went for the first of MANY final walk arounds to check on everything only to be greeted with problems at every turn. A shower is working at night, but then next day its not. A toilet flushes one morning, but by the afternoon it doesn’t. A water tank fills up with ease one minute, and the next its dry as a bone; and all without a reasonable reason. Not one that we could immediately see anyway. It was a very frustrating time I can tell you!
We only have 4 weeks here and every day counts, so imagine feeling like you are chasing around after yourself for days on end and wasting those days. Every day we lose, is a day day we haven’t been able to do something to help someone else. We haven’t been able to head back to see Miss O yet and make a start on the classroom we promised to repair for her, for example. We will 100% make that happen, but the fact that its taken this long and we still haven’t gotten around to it yet, is disappointing to say the least.
So, 4 days of chasing our tails and here I am writing about sabotage, vandalism & disappointment… What do I mean by this?
It’s going to be really hard to for me to explain quite how antiquated the plumbing system is at Jairos Jiri, but the original plumbing has been added to and altered an incalculable number of times, and not to its benefit. This is, of course, on top of the fact that this building hasn’t actually been upgraded at all since its original build in 1981. So, it’s a hodge podge of decrepit pipes running in random directions, from well (borehole) water to intermittently supplied government water to irrigation systems for the fields and water tanks competing for limited resources. So, use your imagination to think how frustrating it could be when someone starts sabotaging your best laid plans and you have no idea why or how.
For example, to get water from the borehole to the girls toilets it has to be dragged up from 50m below ground via an electric pump. This pipe then runs to a T junction where half of it is meant to be pushed into a water tank that is used for irrigation of the allotment that feeds the children on a day to day basis, and the rest is pushed towards another water tank that is then used to service the girls bathrooms. Along this pipework that covers around 200m of ground there are various stop cocks, taps, diverters and valves. When we finally thought we’d finished all the plumbing, and had water running to the bathrooms, imagine coming back the very next day to find no water and all the girls complaining about it to us. We were hoping for a different reaction entirely.
Now we were on a mission to try and find out what had gone wrong. In one day, half of the stop cocks and valves had been closed, the water tank servicing the bathrooms was now empty and we had no idea how, or more to the point, why, this had happened at all. We’d been working with the plumbers for a fair few days solidly moving towards an end product and now we felt like we were being asked to almost start all over again.
So why would the water have been switched off at all?
First thoughts running through our mind was that the staff had been switching it off to conserve water. Short term thoughts going against long term goals perhaps? We are always wary of people we don’t know and who’s interests can not always be clearly defined as running parallel to our own. So before speaking to anyone at the school we ran a series of tests, opening the valves that needed to be opened, and then coming back in a hour or two’s time to see if the had been closed again. Invariably they had.
After a few days of discussions, accusations, traps and still no consistent water to the girls bathrooms we finally got the bottom of it all… It turns out that the water tank that is being used to irrigate the fields, has been the number one, and ONLY, priority. The minute our backs were turned, the farmer/allotment keeper would switch off as many valves as he could to give him the best water pressure, regardless of if that left the 49 blind children without running water. Needless to say, we were fuming.
It takes 3 hours to fill the 5000 litre tank with the pump switched on, but each day its only on for 1 hour and during that hour the water was constantly being redirected to the fields and the girls were being ignored. Today we put a stop to this. We had to threaten to walk away from everything and stop helping the school out (it was of course a bluff, but one they seemed to believe) if the water wasn’t allowed to flow. We really just hope that we don’t have to go in tomorrow and check and find an empty tank all over again, but it does feel like we’ve turned a corner, finally.
So, if that was the sabotage, what was the vandalism, then? This time, it was the boys turn; except they were not the victims, but the perpetrators.
If you’ve been following the blog, you will know how bad of a state the boys toilets were in when we first came across them. We’d replaced every toilet cistern, fixed the large steel urinal so that it now finally flushed, put shower heads in every cubicle and made every tap work as well. So doing our “final” walk around we were absolutely gutted to turn into the entrance and find one of the boys was stood there fiddling with the pipe work on the urinal. When we got up and near, it became quickly apparently either he, or someone before him, had completely taken the system apart and now it was merely flooding the floor instead. We were not at all happy and took him to the headmistress for him to explain what had happened. He claims he hadn’t done anything and it was already like that, but who really knows anything other than the fact that someone had broken the system, and to what end?
We headed back to the bathroom to check for more damage and found a toilet cistern had also been taken apart and the plastic flushing mechanism was in pieces. Luckily it was all inside the cistern ready to be put back together again, but quite why this was done in the first place was beyond us.
Next up was the showers. These were the main focus of all the photos we took on our first visit as they were so disgusting and most of all, didn’t work. So we were happy that even though we hadn’t (yet) made them look any nicer, they did finally work. So, final checks were being done and one by one each shower is put through its paces and works fine. Then all of a sudden, one of them refused to work. The taps had been changed, the water was on and there were no leaks, so why did this one not work? It must be a blockage. After a short demolition job on the shower unit, it turned out that the pipe leading to the new shower head had somehow become blocked. At this stage, we still believed it was an innocent blockage, though. After all, water hadn’t run through the system in months, if not years, so there was bound to be some sort of build up or sediment. I’d already seen on many occassions the filthy water that would find its way out of a newly opened outlet. It would run a muddy red colour and then eventually clear. So, imagine our surprise and dismay that after a full 5 mins of jamming around in it with various wires and a even a screwdriver we finally get to what the blockage is. Its a piece of sponge. Small, but still large enough to have been compacted into the pipe. The shower head had been removed, packed with sponge and replaced as if nothing had ever occurred! Again, why on earth would this have happened in the first place? We were at a loss for words and together with the broken urinal and broken toilet cistern this was 3 of the 8 pieces in the one room out of action in 24 hours and this was meant to be our confirmation walk through that all was in full working order.
So, why did the boys decide to vandalise their own toilets? It was something we found really hard to reconcile with at first, but when put into context, it was less about vandalism, and more to do with the lack of education of what they shouldn’t be doing. It was even more to do with the fact that these children are blind and do everything with their hands and not their eyes. Perhaps the toilet wasn’t filling up fast enough, or flushing fast enough, so they took it apart to try and feel their way to making it work. This, of course, actually broke it, but they perhaps didn’t know that at the time. The urinal hadn’t worked in over a decade, so perhaps the boys were being curious as to how it was now suddenly working and fiddled with it to try and find out. Again, using their hands as their eyes and breaking it in the process. None of this, however, explains why one of the boys decided to shove a piece of foam to stop the water running out of the shower completely.
I know this sounds like a long moan about everything, but I do feel its really important to showcase the rough with the smooth. Its vital that you can see everything isn’t plain sailing but we don’t give up in the face of adversity. Your donations have allowed us the ability to do what we can, even if (at times) the children don’t really understand what it is that we are doing. We won’t stop helping them, we won’t walk away from them despite our threats to do exactly that. Everything we are doing is to benefit the children and its your donations that are helping to make that happen. If you’d like to help out and donate, then the link is here. I hope you see the benefit in helping others and any donation is gratefully accepted. 🙂
So after days of work, fixing everything left right and centre, running into massive overtime as a result of all the sabotage and vandalism, we are just about, finally there.
Watch this space, but we hope that there is no more disappointment to come…
Friday morning we head to Harare to the mattress factory to finally get the mattresses final price and quantity ordered for the children. Fingers crossed that they can be tamper free and remain in one piece. Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.