Thirst Quenched

January 24 2022 | by

BURUNDI is listed by the United Nations as one of the poorest countries on Earth. Nyanza Lac, a small Burundian village, lies close to the border with Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s separated from the latter by Lake Tanganyika. “Periodic ethnic wars have seen a succession of emigrations and returns of entire families,” explains Brother Paolo of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy, and project monitoring manager. “Burundian families fled to neighbouring countries, and then returned to Burundi during the period of peace and reconciliation – from 2005 to 2015 – but stayed close to the border ready for a new exodus.”


Educational project


Children of these migrant families, born and raised in countries where their parents took refuge, now find themselves strangers in their own country. Not only do they often have great cultural and linguistic problems, but also need to navigate a completely different education system. To provide integration assistance to these children, the bishop of the diocese of Bururi asked the Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy to help with an educational project. The Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy have been present in Burundi since 1950, and now number 42 religious brothers and two priests. They manage a centre for children who are physically or mentally disabled and two school centres in Bujumbura. The collaboration between the diocese and the Brothers has already seen the construction of part of the school complex in Nyanza Lac – both primary and secondary – with a separate facility for boarders being built with the aim to facilitate integration.


Insufficient water


The nursery and primary schools were ready when the Brothers discovered a problem: the municipality couldn’t guarantee sufficient drinking water to the school because the supply is insufficient even for the local population. But the authorities did suggest a solution. They indicated the existence of a spring in the surrounding mountains with an abundant supply of water. Not only could that well supply the school, but also other schools and part of the population of the district – all told, to more than 7,000 people. “To bring water from there to the point of consumption would incur considerable costs because of the 13 km from the source to the village, and the village authorities knew they didn’t have the financial capacity to build an aqueduct,” explains Br. Paolo. They could provide workers from the local population to dig the route of the aqueduct during their ‘community work’ time, but the main technical costs – a topographical study, capturing water from the source, distributing on site, and the pipes and hydraulic equipment – would be out of their financial reach.


€ 50,000 donation


The total cost of such a project was calculated at a little under € 160,000. After consideration of the work to be carried out by the local population, this was reduced to € 146,500. After some other benefactors stepped forward, including a number of industrialists, and two other charities – one Swiss and one Italian, St. Anthony’s Charities was asked for and then granted a sum of € 50,000. This sum would be used specifically to pay for hydraulic materials and a contribution towards the cost of pipes.

The project ran into a little difficulty right at the start when the rainy period, which normally runs until the end of January, continued to the first week in March 2020. “With the arrival of good weather – and heat – we got to work,” explains Br. Paolo. “One group dedicated itself to the water storage tanks along the route, while another concentrated on the collecting and departure tanks at the source, and yet another to the excavation of the route, and the laying and welding of pipes.” There was also an excavator from Italy which dug the route where the depth needed to be more than one metre. Each of the pipes was twelve metres long and needed to be transported. Unfortunately, promised help from the municipality didn’t materialise and local labour had to be hired to do this. There was a further problem with rice fields through which the route of the aqueduct would pass – in March they are flooded. Consequently this part of the work was rescheduled for June, when the fields would be dry.


Indescribable joy


The rainy period delayed work, but it was possible to complete the storage tanks and construct some of the public fountains. Unfortunately further delays were to be encountered: the paddy fields, which the municipality had said would be left dry, had again been flooded for rice production, which inhibited construction of that part of the route.

In the end, the project finished at the beginning of September 2021, with water arriving at the end of its path with sufficient pressure. “The joy of the inhabitants is indescribable. Photographs and videos can only give a faint idea of the enthusiasm all the people feel, no longer having to travel miles to get drinking water,” says Br. Paolo. “With ten public fountains, and three schools served, and still an abundance of water, the project extended to four rural populations located along the way from the source to the school complex, and the same is promised to a fifth.”

And there are more new works in the planning: “The abundance and pressure of water has given rise to new demands,” says Brother Paolo. “Among these is the Civil Hospital, which is close to your hearts. There is a 500 metre route which crosses an asphalt road, but we can see the possibility of fulfilling this request.”

“Thanks should go to the people of Nyanza Lac who participated in the project and now use it with so much joy,” concludes Brother Paolo. “And to St. Anthony’s Charities, the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, and so many other institutions and special people whose collaboration made everything possible. They have given thirsty people something to drink. Only the Lord can reward them. He who has promised a hundredfold to anyone who gives a single glass of water to drink in His name. May Mary, Our Lady of Mercy, accompany you in your apostolic work.”


Updated on January 27 2022