Garden Project Update

A blog post from a couple of weeks ago ( introduced the “Garden Project” that we are working on here at the Children’s home.  Some have expressed interested in knowing more and learning about how they might support the project.  Thus, here’s an update with some more information.

Below is a cost breakdown of what will be needed to make the project fully happen.  At this point, the project has simply involved labor to prepare all the garden terraces.  We did set up one irrigation system as a test case.  We were able to set that one up primarily with spare materials (pipe, etc.) around the compound.  Going forward, however, we’ll need to purchase some materials.  The below cost breakdown is bare minimum.  With additional funds we could buy more water barrels for rain collection, more pipe for more ditches, more garden tools for the kids and more seed.  So really this project needs between $600 and $1000 USD.

Garden Project Costs


Ethio. Birr


120 meters of plastic pipe for irrigation ditches (180 / 12 meters pipe) 1800 104
5 large (80 liter) water barrels (160 ETB each) 800 46
300 meters of 1 inch plastic irrigation tubing 6000 348
clamps, spouts, and fittings to set up pipe and tubing 200 12
new garden tools (100 ETB / shovel, 30 ETB / hand-hoe) 500 29
seed 1000 58
Total 10,300 $597

Below is an outline of our schedule to launch this project by March (which is when we expect to start getting a little rain, which, together with our irrigation system, should be enough water to start and sustain the gardens.

  1. Jan. 16 – 27 – finish digging and leveling terraces (4 down, 2-3 more to go)
  2. Jan. 19 – 23 – price needed supplies and blog an update with price breakdown
  3. Jan. 30 – Feb. 3 – dig out remaining irrigation ditches
  4. Feb. 3 – hold first meeting with kids to prepare them for planting
  5. Feb. 6 – 8 – set up irrigation pipes and barrels
  6. Feb. 9 – 13 – make trip to Addis; purchase irrigation tubing
  7. Feb. 14 – 17 – spread compost and till up gardens
  8. Feb. 17 – meeting with kids
  9. Feb. 20 – 24 – perforate and set up irrigation tubing
  10. Feb. 24 – meeting with kids
  11. Feb. 27 – Mar. 2 – purchase seed and set up some extra rain collection barrels
  12. Mar. 2 – meeting with kids
  13. March – plant after a couple of good rains

Below are a few updated pictures of our progress.

Looking down on our first 2 completed terraces... now all leveled and ready for irrigation set-up. You can see our 3rd terrace in the background, below it is another that we're working on, and beyond the 3rd one is another completed one and space for at least one more to be made.

Looking up from below on the first 1 completed terraces.

A third completed terrace ready for irrigation set-up... we've intentionally left a slight slope with all the terraces to help with gravity irrigation.

Looking up from below... directly in front is a 5th terrace that we're currently working on... above it, you can see the 3rd terrace from the previous picture.

This is our 4th terrace... there will be at least one more below this one.



This is the point at which our compound is connected to the town water line, a line that only brings us water 1-2 days / week at the very best of times.

It’s Sunday afternoon and just now, as I sat down to write about our water problem here at the Children’s Home, there was a knock at our door.  Richelle, Titay and I live in a small apartment arranged in the middle of the children’s home.  On one side of our apartment are 4 girls’ dormitory-style rooms, on the other side, 4 boys’ dormitory-style rooms.  The knock was from Dawit, a 12-year old boy who lives here at the home.  He was holding a small plastic bottle and asking for a little water to drink.

In the past month, these knocks have come often. Today we happened to still have a few gallons of water in our personal water storage barrel.  I took Dawit’s plastic bottle and filled it.  Many times in the last month, however, when we have gotten this knock on the door, we’ve had to respond that, just like the rest of the compound, we are out of water.  Even today when I gave Dawit the filled bottle of water, I motioned with my finger to my lips that he should keep quiet and not spread the news.  We simply don’t have enough water in our apartment today to give some to each child who wants it.  The family has all had some GI issues lately because of water, so we’ve been forced to protect the small amount of clean-drinking water we have.  Today, like many days lately, the children living here at the home will have to await the arrival of the “donkey water,” water carried by donkey in yellow jerry-cans, which we pay for on days when there is no other water.  One can never be sure of the quality of the “donkey water” and we’ve had a higher rate of children with stomach sickness lately as a result.

One of 2 water storage tanks connected to the town water line. When both are full, we have enough stored water to sustain us for a day beyond the day we get water from the town line. Often, though, there neither enough pressure, nor enough hours, from the town line to actually fill these tanks.

There are 60 children, ages 4 – 18, who live at the Children’s Home.  Richelle, Titay and I have lived here for just over 6 months.  Ever since we’ve been here (and for over a year before we got here), water has been a daily struggle for life on our compound.  The home compound has one hand-pump shallow well (18 meters deep) and two water storage tanks connected to the town water line.  When the Children’s Home was first opened, these water sources were sufficient.  However, in the past five years, not only has the number of children at the home increased, but the population of the town has grown significantly and the town water system just cannot keep up with the water demand.  As a result, the home is scheduled to only receive water from the town line on Mondays and Thursdays.  In the past couple of months, because of the dry season and low water levels, there have been many weeks when we have not received any water from the town at all, or when we do, it’s only for a few hours and with such low pressure that we can’t fill our storage tanks.  Because of low water levels, many of the water department well pumps have broken down from sucking silt at the bottom of the well.  This has further compounded the water scarcity in Soddo.

In the past 6 months, the Children’s Home has had running water (either from the town line, or from water stored in our tanks) 2 days per week at best.  For the remaining 5 days per week, we have been reliant on the hand-pump well.  Our hand-pump well is a hand-dug, 18 meter deep well.  It does not come anywhere near hitting an actual aquifer.  It relies on replenishment from water just below the surface. The quality of the water from the well has always been a concern.  Because it is a shallow well, because Soddo has no proper sewage system, and because our compound is downhill from a garbage-dumping site, we’ve always had concerns about the water quality in our hand-pump well.  Despite quality concerns, up until November, the hand-pump well served us reasonably by at least supplying water.  It was a pain to pump and carry every gallon of water needed for cooking, drinking, bathing, washing clothes, cleaning, and flushing toilets, but at least water was available. Then, as we headed into the driest times in December, the hand-pump well began to fail us.  At first, we could get water from the well in the mornings, before it would run dry by noon, but by the first of January, it was nearly dry all the time, and breaking weekly because of the wear-and-tear of trying to pump water out of a dry well.

The hand-washing station outside the cafeteria. Most days there is no water here for hand-washing. Often you can see a child leaning over the sink with his or her mouth on the tap drying to suck some final drops of water from the pipe for drinking.

So for the past month or so, for at least 5 days per week, the entire function of the CCC Children’s Home has relied on water carried in by donkey.  Because of the difficulty and the cost of paying for “donkey water,” there are many water needs that must be greatly rationed: drinking water is rationed, kids go days without full, proper bathing, toilets can’t be flushed, and clothes and bedding are washed less frequently.  The results have been as one might expect: filthy clothes, dirty kids, stinking bathrooms, more lice, more fungus, and more illness.

If you were to ask the town water department about this issue, they would reply that they’re aware of the struggle and they’re currently working on improving the town water system (and that their tired of hearing from me).  This is true.  We’ve been to the water department dozens of times to petition for more water.  The reality is that more water just doesn’t currently exist in Soddo.  The water department does have a company currently surveying for water on the outside of town, but even the department says that it could be a couple of years before any more water is drilled, piped and pumped into town (which probably means more like 3- 5 years).

The compound clothes-washing rock; it’s connected directly to the town line. Most of the time, we have to keep the water here turned off because there isn’t enough pressure from the town to provide water here and fill our tanks at the same time.

There is a potential solution.  Soddo is sitting on lots of good, consistent water.  There is a mission hospital in town (Soddo Christian Hospital), for example, that runs its entire hospital compound on one well.  Unfortunately, because Soddo is on highland terrain, that good, consistent water is 150 meters or more below the surface.  The cost to drill and case that one well for the hospital was in the range of $20 thousand (USD).  When the whole thing was said and done (surveying, drilling, casing, installing pump, piping), the price tag on one well was in the range of $35 thousand.  That’s nearly half the entire annual budget for the Children’s Home, which is already on stretched resources because of the challenges to raise funds in the U.S. during tough economic times.

Two members of the Aerie Africa Board of Directors, the U.S. non-profit that funds and oversees the Children’s Home (see, recently spent a couple of weeks here at the Children’s Home.  After seeing first-hand the problems caused by the complete lack of water, they decided we need to try to pursue a deep-well solution.  Of course, that is easier said then done; $35-40 thousand is a significant amount of money to raise over and above the regular fund-raising just to keep this home functioning. At this point, we just recently brought a hydrologist down from Addis Ababa to complete an on-site survey and write up a

This is our hand-pump well, which is currently both broken and dry.

hydrologist report.  We are expecting the completed report within the next 2 – 3 weeks.   Once we have this report, we can begin collecting bids from drilling companies on the drilling and casing stage (which could run in the range of $20 thousand, depending on how deep we have to go to secure good, consistent water).  After drilling and casing the well, we’d need to buy and install a pump, set up the “3-phase” power source, and do all the necessary piping.  All of this is, of course, dependent on raising the necessary funds.

Once we have the hydrologist report and can make some more educated estimates on total costs, we’ll be starting a concerted effort to raise funds for this project.  We’ll be sure to update on the blog with some more details at that point.  For now, if you want more information about our water needs, if you know any organizations interested in funding clean-water projects, or if you have a desire to help with this project, please feel free to email us ( or

The CCC Garden Project

One of our primary goals for our time here at the Children’s Home is to develop ways to help the children transition to independent adulthood when they reach that point in their lives.  Obviously, one aspect of the transition to independent adulthood has to do with making a livelihood.

Like many developing countries, the unemployment rate in Ethiopia is ridiculous; it’s probably in the range of 60% of the population.  That statistic is rather deceiving, however, because unlike people in the US, a huge percentage of the population here exists off of small sustenance farming or some form of home-based small business.  These sources of income are usually not captured in official employment statistics.  Also, many Ethiopians supplement their livelihood with support of some extended family member who happens to have employment; it is shocking how many people can scrape out an existence off of support from one employed extended family member.

Because the kids living here at the Children’s Home have neither family financial support, nor a family plot of land to fall back on if they can’t find a job of their own, making a livelihood in the future is a significant obstacle for our children.  Richelle and I are looking hard at how to help our kids develop a set of skills that will equip them to make a living and survive independently in the future.  As an organization, we’re focusing significant resources into education, hoping that will position some of our children with good jobs in the future, but the reality is that there just aren’t enough jobs available in this country.

One project that we’ve been working on we’re simply calling the “The Garden Project.”  The concept is incredibly simple:  give each of the older kids their own garden plot.  They will each be given a plot of land, some seed, and some support.  They will plant and grow some produce, which they can then sell.  They get to keep whatever money they make.  Kids will get to learn some basic gardening skills, as well as some very simple business and money-management skills.  While the concept is simple, the implementation is a little more complex.

Here on the Children’s Home compound, there is a decent amount of land and the soil is pretty good for growing.  There are a few obstacles, however.  First, the whole compound is on a side-hill sloping on at a 45-degree angle.  Second, during the rainy season (July through early Sept.), the rains are often so strong that the surface water run-off can cause some very bad erosion, thus further complicating planting and growing on a 45-degree slope.  Third, outside of the rainy season there is only sporadic precipitation at all, thus making it difficult to grow much of anything from about Oct. through May without some sort of irrigation.  Irrigation is difficult, however, because the water system from the town only provides piped water two days per week.

So we’ve been working hard.  With the help of some of the guys here at the Children’s Home, we have pulled up the sod and leveled a number of large terraced-garden areas.  We have then set up one example irrigation ditch, through which we can run grey-water and rain run-off from the main children’s house down to the garden area.  At the end of the irrigation ditch, we’ve connected a barrel and then some 1-inch plastic tubing coming out of the barrel.  After perforating the tubing, we can run the tubing throughout the garden and distribute the irrigation water more evenly throughout the garden area.  We’ve also been composting like crazy for the past 6 months.

The plan is to dig out and level several more terraced-garden areas, dig out several more irrigation ditches from the houses, and set up the irrigation tubing so that the gardens are ready for planting by March, which is when we hope to start receiving a little rain.  During February, we’ll be assigning plots to the children and getting them set up for planting.

Most of the investment in getting this project up and running has been in labor.  There will be some expenses, however, to purchase the pipe, the tubing and the barrels for the irrigation system, as well as the seed and some extra tools for the actual gardening.  If you have an interest in helping out with this project, please respond to this post or email me at  We’re always looking for people with expert advice.  In this case, if you have expert advice or experience with terraced-gardening, irrigation systems, or using grey-water for irrigation, please reach out.  We’d love to tap your expertise.  Also, if you have some interest in donating some funds directly to this project, we can give you specifics on how much is needed and how you can donate.  A little money (especially USD) could make this project happen and benefit our kids in a big way.

This is an example of the rainwater gutters that run around the Children’s Home and the Kitchen / Cafeteria building.  Because the Children’s Home is built on a slope, all water runs downhill towards the gardens.

We’ve connected pipe at the end of one rainwater gutter, through which water runs down to the gardens.  In this way, we can transport rainwater run-off that collects in the gutters after running off the house.  We can also transport grey-water (water used for cleaning, doing dishes, taking bucket-bathes, etc.) by simply emptying the buckets into the gutters.  The plan is to dig a ditch and run pipe from the end of each of the rain gutters.  We will also run pipe from the hand-pump well to capture spill-water from the well.

When the water comes down the pipe, it empties into a bucket and then flows out through the perforated plastic tubing.  At this point we’ve discovered the bucket in this picture to create a choke point.  The plan is to use a better barrel and move the barrel-point further up the hill.  There would then be greater gravity force through the tube to more effectively distribute the water through the tubing.

This is a view of two terraces with irrigation tubing set up in one part as an example and test site.

This is the view of one of our completed terraces.

This is our hand-pump well.  The plan is to build a catch basin with cement, and run pipe from here so that we can capture spill-water from the pump and run it to the gardens.