A hospital without running water? It’s no longer a problem

Shirati Hospital goes off the grid as solar power brings water, electricity

Nov 15, 2016 by

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SHIRATI, Tanzania — For years, leaking pipes and an erratic power grid stood in the way of a steady water supply for Shirati Hospital. Located a little more than one mile from Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, the hospital often operated without running water for several weeks at a time.

Now a seamless, 4-inch plastic pipe — running 1.7 miles between the lake and the hospital — and a new solar-powered water pump mean a reliable source of water for the 160-bed hospital, a ministry of the Tanzania Mennonite Church. The hospital was started by Mennonite missionaries in 1935.

Maintenance director Samuel Ogoya, right, supervises the unloading of some of the first solar panels for the water project. — Glen Brubaker/Friends of Shirati

Maintenance director Samuel Ogoya, right, supervises the unloading of some of the first solar panels for the water project. — Glen Brubaker/Friends of Shirati

Within the first two weeks of operation, the solar-powered system had pumped 400,000 gallons of water from Lake Victoria to Shirati Hospital. Hospital staff noted that without water shortages, surgical procedures and daily tasks of patient care are much easier.

Bwire Chirangi, medical director, says operating a hospital without consistent running water was an extreme challenge. Many days the operating rooms had no running water.

“One of the permanent agenda items during my leadership has been addressing the unreliable water supply to the hospital,” Chirangi said. “Now I can perform all my surgeries with confidence, knowing that water will be there. Our daily work in the hospital has been changed and made much more efficient by having reliable, affordable water. It has also given us opportunities to serve the neighborhood.”

In addition to providing water to the hospital, the new solar-powered pump will be connected to four water stations, located near the hospital grounds, to which people in the community will have access. Many people in the Shirati area have had to walk several miles round-trip each day for water.

Friends of Shirati, a nonprofit started by Mennonites who had lived and worked in Shirati, funded the water project in partnership with Shirati Hospital. Friends of Shirati board member Glen Brubaker, a physician who lived and worked in Shirati for almost 30 years, helped to oversee the $100,000 water project. The organization contracted with a Tanzanian solar power company to build the pump house, install the solar panels and water pump and lay the pipe.

Brubaker, a member of Willow Street (Pa.) Mennonite Church, says the water project moved quickly and has been exciting to observe.

“When we check the pump and find it pumping without outside intervention, it’s the most satisfying feeling,” he said.

Dale Ressler, volunteer executive director of Friends of Shirati, said seeing a video of people collecting water was a dream come true.

“You simply can’t do medical work without water,” said Ress­ler, who is a member of Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola, Pa., and attends Slate Hill Mennonite Church, Camp Hill, Pa. “After visiting Shirati Hospital in May, when they had no running water for three weeks, I experienced this as a gift from God.”

Hundreds of batteries

The water project is one of two solar power projects at Shirati Hospital. A solar electricity project will use 88 solar panels and more than 400 batteries to generate enough power to run the Shirati Hospital and the Shirati College of Health Sciences, as well as a residence for people living with leprosy.

Solar electricity will give these organizations energy indepen­dence, releasing them from electricity bills and surges. The solar electricity project is expected to be operational by the end of 2016.

Generating electricity and running water from the sun makes sense from economic, environmental and theological perspectives.

“The pump uses God’s abundant sunshine, an almost unused resource, to pump his other abundant resource — water — which is the most urgent need of the people,” Brubaker said. “And it completely avoids poisoning the environment with diesel, oil and carbon dioxide.”

For the solar electricity project, Friends of Shirati purchased the solar panels and set up a lease purchase agreement with the hospital, in which the hospital’s monthly payments to Friends of Shirati go toward the eventual purchase of the system and to replenish the revolving loan fund.

Friends of Shirati will charge the hospital about 60 percent of the amount of the hospital’s previous monthly electricity bill. Additional donations offset the final amount for which the hospital will be responsible.

In addition to estate gifts and individual donations, churches, Sunday school classes and small groups have provided funds to Friends of Shirati for a variety of projects. Friends of Shirati provides grants to Shirati Hospital for medicine and medical supplies, pays hospital bills for children whose families can’t afford to pay, and supports community education efforts that raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.

Through a grant from the Oak Grove Mennonite Church Endowment Fund of Smithville, Ohio, Friends of Shirati has been able to provide scholarships for training for hospital workers.

Video of the solar-powered water project is available on the Friends of Shirati Facebook page. Friends of Shirati is still accepting donations toward completion of the solar electricity project. More information is available at friendsofshirati.org.


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