Bariadi Reforestation and Water

by Herbert Gappa

Our efforts in reforestation are sufficiently documented, including the Maryknoll video, Earthkeepers. As Gilligan used to say, to make a looong story short, let it be said that after all these years the parish now has some 13,000 trees of over 20 species growing in 10 parish plots, and harvesting has begun. Some of those trees were planted by visiting Maryknollers. Parishioners long ago were asked to plant and take care of 5 seedlings a year at their homes, that goal was not met, but their trees and those of St. John's parish now number over 40,000. Add another 100,000 or so by others in our area who were in part influenced by our project; bare Bariadi is now bursting forth green. Not so bad for a distressed area in a continent often termed "hopeless".

During this past year's dry season, we contracted owners of ox-carts to water some 1500 small seedlings in three parish fields. Our main push is now to encourage people to start private nurseries, so the supply side can continue by private enterprise, not dependent on hand-outs by church or state.

At Pentecost 1994 we turned our attention to water. The Dutch shallow well program had over the years put in many shallow wells in Shinyanga Region, where up to 90% of people lack accessible clean water. But most of the Bariadi pumps were not working. Again, was this also hopeless? Just another tough fact in Third World reality of "See, nothing works anyhow" fatalism? A half-hour of skimming through the Bible (from Gen. 1:2 to Acts 2 and beyond) suggested that to make order of this chaos would be but a breeze for that sent Spirit. And so it came to pass.

We announced Operation Pentecost - a year campaign to supply clean water to every corner of the parish, and we damn near did it. Only two villages are still without. A re-structured program by the Dutch included some distancing from normal government channels, setting up their supply store on our compound with our storekeeper (amazing, supplies are now available!) and naming Mwanasha, a gentle tiger of a gal, as director. Mapokezi (reception) makes the difference: people are available in the office and want to help. We asked the Small Christian Communities to be the marines in this job, "kuwasha injini" or "to start the engine" as we say theologically, to get the villagers going on wells. Also building programs waited as I took Marsiali off his regular work; he has been another St. Paul, and he and the roar of the old Honda 250 motorcycle are known throughout the parish and beyond. Benefactors from New Ulm, Minnesota, support us. 

Analysis of "why didn't it work" pretty much came down to lack of ownership right from the start, poor village leadership, stealing of collected funds, a general distaste for maintenance, and a lack of prophetic "engine starters" in a de-spirited people. The solution: selling the idea that it CAN work, lots of talking (including homilies in church to a congregation already tired of hearing about the Baptism / tree connection), tough guidelines, organizing user groups to trust and work together, lots of, encouragement & praise, training seminars. One telltale new requirement is that each group must have a maintenance account in the bank. "No Account, no Pump".

So we use the carrot / stick and KISS methods. Each group must have 25 names to qualify. The Dutch (and Government) water people organize, advise and inspect; rings are available free, and pumps for a discounted 25,000/= or 50,000/= each. Within the parish boundaries, any group which qualified was given a free pump by me. WAS, not IS; they're on their own now.

We announced that the parish has now closed Operation Pentecost, people should continue to use the existing program, the Small Christian Communities continue to gadfly. Total results in the Parish show the Spirit is still at work, quite a change from 1994 when the total wells production in the entire district was TWO. But disengagement isn't that easy! This year it's a Sooner-like rush, with many vitongoji (sub-sections of villages), flush with cotton money, in seeming competition, even outside the targeted areas. Hereabouts, well construction and repair is the only thing spreading faster than AlDS. The present success is still inconclusive. After 5 years, will the groups still be strong enough to ensure maintenance and organization? The test is time.

Some reflections:

  1. Sio Rahisi, it ain't easy. Things don't happen overnight. The tree project took some 15 years of sheer stubbornness to bear fruit; the water thing 15 months before it took off, and that after years of thinking, discussing and clarifying plans.

  2. Jesus said He will ask us two questions: I was hungry and thirsty....

  3. Some areas of Bariadi where the name Jesus was seldom heard now know the word Pentecost and its meaning.

  4. These days, there are many proud and happy people about.

  5. Be careful; if you invoke the Spirit, anything can happen. Probably most disconcerting, he takes away satisfying bellyaching, shows that it CAN happen, and enlists the invoker in the happening.