In three years since its inception, the non-profit Save the Rain organization has completed projects in 13 villages in Eastern Africa, helping 120,000 people get access to clean water.

In three years since its inception, the non-profit Save the Rain organization has completed projects in 13 villages in Eastern Africa, helping 120,000 people get access to clean water.

Based in Mount Shasta, Calif., Save the Rain is committed to solving the world’s water crisis through the simple means of harvesting rainwater.

It can be difficult to imagine the conditions that the less fortunate live with each day, said Kelly Coleman, one of the founding members of Save the Rain.

Worldwide, 14,000 people (7,000 of whom are children) die every day from water-related illnesses or starvation from a lack of clean drinking water. More than one billion people walk at least three hours a day to collect one 5 gallon bucket of water.

“When one inch of rain falls on a 1000 square foot surface, you can collect 600 gallons of water,” said Coleman.

Rain catchment systems require no electricity. “They can be installed in the most rural areas and can be made from the most primitive materials,” she said.

Coleman explained that Save the Rain teaches communities to harvest rain through roof and surface water collection. The systems are built with only local materials, by the local work force.

“This assures our systems are repairable by the communities themselves ... they have all the knowledge and tools they need to be sustain themselves through a relationship with nature.

Save the Rain’s program

Save the Rain’s programs are completed in two phases. During Phase I a community is selected and the organization introduces themselves through the village’s primary school. Education in these primary schools is free, although in reality many are not able to afford the required uniforms, which are approximately $2 each.

Interviews are conducted with parents and students of the community to assess the village’s water practices – including available water sources and whether they boil water before use.

Shockingly, Coleman said, in Africa very few people boil water before drinking it. If they can afford the $1.50 per week for coal to boil the water or find firewood, which is scarce, then they do. But the reality is, most don’t.

“It’s a simple issue of economics and energy,” Coleman said.

Water from available sources is tested. They are usually found to be loaded with fecal coliforms, parasites, and many other bacteria.

Health assessments are then performed on the students, where extremely high percentages of starvation, parasites, water-borne illnesses, and HIV/AIDS cases have been found.

Coleman said that often in Africa, schoolchildren bring a bucket to school like the western children bring a back pack.

"Every day they walk miles to a stream, which is often infected with disease and polluted with trash. They take turns filling their buckets, then walk home carrying 40 pounds of water for their families.”

To solve this problem, Save the Rain’s Phase I continues by building a rain catchment system on the school premises. Local masons and laborers use local materials to complete a tank that will provide the school with enough water to sustain the children and nourish a school farm, which will provide enough food to feed the students every day.

Each community then comes together to democratically elect a water committee that will work on governance, maintenance and the implementation of a Phase II?project.

The cost of Phase I is surprisingly inexpensive, said Coleman.

“Only $15 per villager provides them with a clean water supply for the rest of their lives, and the lives of their offspring.”

The length of time required to complete Phase I differs for each village, depending on the people’s needs and the supplies on hand, but usually this takes about 6 weeks.

Phase 2 involves teaching women villagers to build 5000 liter rain catchment systems at their homes. Each woman who signs up for the program is required to teach five additional women the technology. Save the Rain provides these women with the education and materials necessary to build the systems.

As each of the initial participants begins to repay the cost of the materials (over a time period that the each separate community deems feasible) additional loans are funded. The local water committees manage the repayment process, and Save the Rain audits it monthly. Cash is never given out as the projects begin; instead, materials are delivered.

The starting capital is never returned to the investor, but rather cycled through the community.

“Through this ‘pay it forward’ system, we should be able to get every household clean water within four loan cycles,” said Coleman.

Encouraging news

Recent results of medical evaluations in the village of Kikwe, Tanzania – which was the site of Save the Rain’s Phase I a little less than a year ago – were “absolutely amazing,” Coleman said.

“Back in January, we partnered with the University of Washington and examined 292 of the 500 students in the Tanzanian village of Kikwe. The children ranged in ages from 5 to 12 years old. We found high percentages of starvation, parasites, water-borne diseases, and enough cases of HIV/AIDS to break your heart in half,” said Coleman, who returned from a second trip to Kikwe only a few weeks ago.

“In September, during a re-evaluation of the community, we found as much as a 40 percent decrease in malnutrition and parasitical disease. ... We found happy, hydrated children whose performance in school had skyrocketed."

In addition, Coleman reports that for the fourth time in two years, all of the rain catchment systems built by Save the Rain in Tanzania were tested for water quality.

“We scored 100 percent on all of the systems. ... We found that rainwater is actually cleaner than most bottled water,” she said.

Save the Rain’s origins

In 2005, after hearing about the world water crisis, Coleman said her family was moved to do something to help.

“We decided that the conditions for many in Africa were unacceptable, and just decided to do something about it.

"We came together at my mom’s dining room table, address books in hand, and made a list of 200 family members and friends that we could ask for help,” Coleman said.

They wrote letters, and in six weeks had raised $17,000. Coleman applied for and received Save the Rain’s non-profit status, and on Dec. 1, 2005, “armed with little more than our conviction, we headed off to Africa to begin our first project.”

Coleman has been to Africa seven times now. She learned how to speak Swahili and is proficient enough to conduct interviews on her own. In January, she is headed back to Africa to continue working with villages to provide them with clean drinking water.

“I’ve been accused of being a huge dreamer, but I really think that the problems happening in this world are because we forgot how to dream. The most adverse ripple effect of poverty is that you stop dreaming.”

Annual raffle

Save the Rain is raising money to end the water crisis in Africa by raffling off a new 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid 4x4. The drawing will take place Dec. 1. Only 2000 tickets will be sold, and the car can be delivered in the continental U.S.

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