“Well-Received” – Clean water innovation around Gunung Palung
by Patrick M. Ryan, Volunteer
The first time I went to ASRI, late last year, I brought goodies to the ASRI clinic in Sukadana. Stethoscopes, sphygmomanometer, oximeters, and other medical equipment, and also my favorite travel gift- crayons. Kinari thanked me for the gifts and at some point I let slip that I’m a birder in my Puget Sound home. She said, “I have a job for you!” - A Bornean bird survey in the areas ASRI has been reforesting.
Black-capped Chickadee vs. Chestnut-backed Chickadee — no problem. Maybe even Sharp-shinned vs. Cooper’s Hawks, but these are birds I grew up with. Ferruginous Babbler, Chestnut-hooded Laughing Thrush? Way over my head. I respectfully declined (the job was taken by Chris, another very capable volunteer).
But after years of work as a property manager, landlord, and remodeler, I do possess another skill – I’m rather handy with tools. I made myself as useful as I could around Klinik ASRI.
So when, several months later, Kinari mentioned in an email her interest in well and water system development in areas serviced by ASRI —SCORE! Years at the University of Washington Global Health Department showed me that the development of clean water sources is the keystone of international public health. This was a project right up my alley.
In the case of one typical village, the water source is an open watering hole six kilometers away, directly across a narrow dirt road from decimated forest destined to become palm oil plantation, with all of that industry’s accompanying pesticides and chemical fertilizers – sure to contaminate the water. Another solution was needed.
We needed a pump – human powered, easily repaired from locally available parts. After research performed on the internet and in local hardware stores, I decided on a treadle pump design with bicycle linkages.
We needed a collaborator – someone from the area to take “ownership” over the project and continue it once I was gone. Musa, who is just excellent and thinks well on his feet – turned out to be the one. After building our first pump together, he built all of the models that followed. My Indonesian is awful, his English is awful, but we got along great, because we both understood what the goal was: to build a well that worked.
We needed experience – jetting a well requires expertise. ASRI hired a local well digger to work with as we dug a 12-meter test well behind the bunkhouse.
We needed practice. To get some more experience before going into a village, we dug a 14-meter well and pump installation at the Laman Satong reforestation station. Seedlings need water – and before the well, ASRI had to bring in four truckloads of water a day during the dry season! The well was ready just in time to be showcased at the Green Day celebration.
And finally, we needed a community that could benefit from a well and water system – Penjalaan. Penjalaan is a crossroads village with the area’s mosque, a natural gathering place. The residents get the majority of their drinking water from rainwater harvesting, with roof gutters piped into cisterns, but the amount of water is often insufficient, especially for other uses such as washing and watering. After holding community meetings, the presence and the location of the well was decided – next to the mosque. After a blessing by the local dukun (the equivalent of a shaman) for our success, we started the well jetting. This one was hard work, much harder than the previous two we’d dug. As we toiled, the local men of all ages helped – everybody wanted to take a turn! – an “audience” of as many as 45 people kept watch – and little boys fashioned tiny boats to float down the stream of water that came out as we dug.
Ultimately, the water-bearing gravel layer was found much deeper than our previous wells – this one was 23 meters deep – but very productive. The well awaits a coliform test by the government to confirm the potability of the water. In the meantime, Penjalaan’s residents are thrilled to be able to wash their clothes.
By the end, my team and I had learned a lot about the area’s geology, hydrology, and working with the community – and we did put in a well! The lessons we learned at this site, we hope we can use in our future installations. Even though I am now at home in Washington state, I am still thinking about how to improve the process, scheming about bringing back a portable coliform test, and determined to return to making clean water a reality for the people living around Gunung Palung National Park.