Garden Project Update (2)

Thanks to our friend Kim and a group of her friends, our garden project is reaching its final stages.  All of the terraces are dug, leveled, etc. (3600 square feet of new garden space in 6 terraces).  Pipes have been laid and buried from house rain gutters to upper pasture fence.  Four barrels have been placed at the ends of the pipes.  These barrels have 1-inch outlets at the bottom to which are connected 1-inch black plastic pipe that runs downhill underground to the terraces.  At the terraces, blue irrigation tubing has been attached to the 1 inch black plastic pipe.  This irrigation tubing runs throughout the gardens.

The older kids (ages 12 and up, boys and girls) have been divided into partners and given a plot of garden (about 275 square feet per pair).  Just this weekend, they have begun to till up the soil and spread compost on their gardens to prepare to do some planting in the next few weeks (as soon as we get some rain… the “small rains” usually come in March here in Wolaita; with our irrigation set up, we hope that these rains will be sufficient for us to plant).  This past Friday, we went to market and bought some garden tools for the kids to use.

We have a few little loose ends to complete, such as straightening out and perforating the irrigation tubing, cleaning out the rain gutters, pouring a little cement at the head of the pipes where they connect with the rain gutters, etc., but we’re nearly finished.  In the next week, kids will be deciding what they want to plant and we’ll be purchasing seed.

Below are some pictures of the current set up.

Here is the new spill-water catch basin at the base of our hand-pump well.  With this basin, we can capture extra water from the well and direct it to the pipes and run it to our gardens.

One of the pipes running from the house rain gutters.

Up through the banana trees you can see the green barrel.  There is 1 inch black plastic pipe connected to a spout at the base of the barrel (buried under ground).  At the end of the black plastic pipe we’ve attached the blue irrigation tubing.

View of several of our new garden terraces with the blue irrigation tubing spread out.

View of 2 of the 4 water collection barrels.  Water that comes down the pipes from the house rain gutters empty into these barrels and then exists through a 1 inch spout buried at the base, which is

One of four points at which water coming through house water gutters enters piping on its way to the garden.


“Donkey Water”

(Note:  this is a long one, but with some good info. on the water situation here in Soddo)

Yesterday evening we arrived back at our home (and the Children’s Home) here in Soddo, Wolaita, after a few days break away in Addis.  This morning I got up to assess the water situation on the compound.  It’s now been two weeks since the town electrical sub-station blew up.  For the past week, Soddo has had some inconsistent and low-voltage electrical power by re-routing some lines and connecting Soddo to a sub-station further north.  Unfortunately, the electrical power has not been sufficient to run the town water dept. water pumps and thus the town water system has remained inoperable for the past two weeks.  This has left the whole town relying on donkey water or small hand-pump wells (many of which are dry this time of year, including ours).  Because of increased demand for donkey water, prices have doubled and it has become difficult to arrange delivery from a donkey water carrier.

Last week before we left for Addis, because of some special donations to Aerie Africa, we were able to contract with one donkey water carrier to supply the Children’s Home exclusively on a daily basis.  We arranged for him to bring 12 – 14 donkeys worth of water to the Children’s Home daily.  This is what is required daily to cook, clean, wash clothes, bathe children and for drinking.  This morning I learned that our contract was working out reasonably well.  The carrier has been able to deliver between 10 – 14 donkeys worth of water to the Children’s Home per day for the last week.  The inconsistency is based on how busy the spring is and how long he has to wait in line to fill up his jerry cans.  This particular carrier has two donkeys, therefore he has to make between 6 – 7 trips / day just to supply the Children’s Home with water.  As I discovered this morning, the walk from the Children’s Home to the spring and back is about one hour round trip, not including wait time at the spring.  So, though this has been an additional expense, getting consistent, daily donkey water has allowed the home to function and the children to remain clean (at 15 ETB / donkey, this costs the home about 1,260 ETB or $75 / week).

As the first donkeys were arriving this morning with water, I decided to go for a little hike to find the source of the donkey water these days.  Prior to the sub-station problem, most donkey water simply came from a town tap in a part of town that had running water that day.  Without the town taps, the donkey carriers have been forced to travel outside of town to springs and small streams.  So this morning, I grabbed my camera, took along a few friends who are visiting us, and went in search of the nearest spring.

Our hike took us out our compound main gate, down the road heading away from town a few hundred meters, then to the left down a small path that ran along outside the south fence of the Children’s Home compound.  This path descended down hill, then to the right and basically continued for about 30 minutes in a westerly direction downhill into the valley west of the town.  After about 30 minutes, the path crossed the dirt road that runs towards Jenka in Gamo-Gofa southwest of Soddo.  Shortly after crossing this road, the path turned right and opened up into a large flat field area, in which there are lots of people, donkeys and cattle.  There were three springs at three edges of this field and some small ditches of water running across the field from the three springs (and apparently a fourth spring a little further beyond the field that we did not go to).

One of springs was really more of a well.  It had been hand-dug, cased in cement and capped off.  There was a small square opening in the cement cap where people lined up to dip their buckets and jerry cans to fill up with water.  Because this well required dipping buckets down into the water, the water was pretty dirty, but there was little to no line to fill up.  One donkey water carrier who was filling up as this well told me that he often uses this well because he doesn’t like waiting in the long lines at the other springs for cleaner water.  He said he was recently charging 20 ETB / donkey in town for the water from this well, but if customers wanted the cleaner water, he charged more.

Across the field there was a second spring.  At this spring we found a crowd of people trying to fill up their jugs and jerry cans.  As we approached, there was a small scrap that broke out between several people as they struggled to get their buckets under the pipe.  This spring has been capped with a concrete structure with three pipes running from it.  The water running from the pipes seemed pretty clean and the people standing around waiting for water told us that it was good and clean for drinking.  The third spring as further across the field again.  This spring involved one large pipe flowing out of the side of a concrete structure.  At this spring, a few boys seemed to have imposed some organization.  People were lining their jerry cans up in one straight line and waiting while the boys filled the jerry cans one at a time in order.  When we asked if there was lots of water, everyone said ‘yes’ and that they’d never seen the spring dry.  Some of the people were from just nearby and said that they’d always come to this spring for water (they’re far enough out of town that there are no town taps any way).  Others in line were from further away or were donkey carriers and said that though there was always lots of decent water at these springs, it was far from town and involved a lot of walking and waiting since the town water system stopped working and more people were coming to these springs for water.

We’ve had a lot of emails from people trying to better understand our water situation here at the Children’s Home.  Sometimes it’s difficult to explain exactly the issue that we have here.  While currently, because of our reliance on donkey water, water cleanliness is somewhat of a concern, our primary concern is water access.  There is plenty of good quality water underground here in Soddo, but because Soddo is on highland terrain, this water is deep underground, somewhere in the range of 150+ meters down.  On the outskirts of town, particularly where the terrain slopes down into valleys, there are springs and good wells much closer to the surface.  Cleanliness of our water currently is an issue mainly because of the way in which the water is transported – in old, dirty jerry cans on the backs of donkeys – and because we can’t guarantee that our donkey water carrier is always waiting to fill up at the clean springs.  There are, however, fairly economical ways to purify water for drinking here.  There are these Indian-made “candle” water filters (“Welofil”) that work well (we use one in our house and we’ve just bought another so that the Children’s Home kitchen now has two).  There are also fairly cheap purification tablets available at any pharmacy in town that can purify a bucket of water per tablet.

The primary issue that we have here at the Children’s Home has to do with water access.  It is very difficult to manage a home of 60 kids without a consistent water source.  We have a shallow hand-pump well on the compound, but for several months each year, it is essentially useless (it’s dry during dry season).  We have water storage tanks hooked up to the town water pipes, but the town system can only supply a few hours of water to us per week during the best of times, and it’s completely dependent on electricity, which is also inconsistent and unreliable (as we’ve recently discovered).  We can purchase donkey water, but the cost adds up (even at normal prices, it would cost about $3,000 USD / year to keep the Children’s Home supplied with a sufficient amount of donkey water), its availability fluctuates, and it makes the function of the rest of the home completely reliant on when the donkey arrives with water (because it’s about 1 ½ hours between donkey loads, there are points in the day when our cleaner has to just wait for water to finish the laundry, our kitchen has to just wait for water to finish the cooking, or our nanny nurses just have to wait for water to bathe kids).

It is for all of these reasons that we’ve concluded that a deep well here on the Children’s Home compound is the best long-term solution for our water access issues.  Yes, a deep well is a significant financial investment up-front, but we believe it is the only means to ensure the long-term function of the home and health of the children.  Aerie Africa ( has officially decided to launch a fund-raising campaign for this deep well project.  We will soon update with specific information about this campaign and how you can help.

Update on the Power Situation in Soddo

The short version is that we remain without power here in Soddo…

The longer version…

Still no one really seems able to predict how long it will be. Our director thinks we could be back up and running with electricity within two weeks, so we’ve decided to share in his optimism and take it two weeks at a time.

We’ve put together a little analysis of the extra costs that will be accrued to run the children’s home over the next two weeks without any electrical power. Here’s the breakdown:

Gasoline for the office generator

Four liters of gas / day will run the little office generator enough to keep computers charged and the office running. Because none of the fuel stations in town are operating (fuel pumps require electricity), fuel is being brought in by jerry can from out of town by middlemen. This has resulted in increased fuel costs to 26 ETB / liter ($1.51 USD / liter). Thus we will need an extra $85 USD to cover fuel costs for the next two weeks.


Without the electric oven in the kitchen, which is typically used to baking bread daily, the kitchen will require extra firewood. We expect to buy an extra 300 ETB worth of firewood over the next two weeks ($18 USD).

Donkey Water

Because of increased water scarcity and donkey water demand, the cost of donkey water has doubled this weeks from 8 ETB / donkey to 15 ETB. Because we’re now completely reliant on donkey water for all cleaning, cooking, washing and drinking, we’ll need about 14 donkeys worth of water / day. That’s 2,940 ETB for 2 weeks ($171 USD).

A couple of one-time extra expenses

Because its difficult to stagger the arrival of donkey water throughout the day, we’ll need to purchase a couple more large water barrels to hold the water when the donkeys arrive… 500 ETB ($29 USD).

Because the donkey water is now all coming from small streams and surface springs, we’re extra concerned about water quality for drinking. We need to buy a couple more water filters to ensure that the kids are drinking filtered water… 500 ETB ($29 USD).

So the children’s home will need about $330 (USD) extra to cover these unexpected costs for the next 2 weeks. If this problem persists beyond the next 2 weeks, we’ll be updating the blog regarding our on-going needs. If you’re interested in helping with these costs, you can send a check to Aerie Africa at the address below or you can go online and donate at Either way, if you include the note “Power” with your donation, Aerie will ensure that it gets used to help cover these extra costs. If you have further questions, please feel free to email us ( or

On a related note, this week has further enforced our need for a long-term water solution for the children’s home. We’re still awaiting the hydrologist report before we can create a more accurate estimate of total costs, but if you’re interested in donating or helping us to raise funds for this project, please let us know. It is going to require a significant fund-raising effort and we’ll need all the help we can get.

Aerie Africa, Inc.

c/o Robin Browning

2234 South Abbey Loop

New Braunfels, TX 78130

Off the Grid

Our facebook posts yesterday generated a little buzz, so now that we have a computer charged up and functional, we thought it important to explain what happened.  It’s important to note that we have no real official news source here in town.  There are no local newspapers or television stations, and, as far as we know, the only local radio station is a Wolaita-language radio, which we wouldn’t understand even if we did tune in.  Official news is usually distributed from speakers on a truck that drives around town.  The news we tend to rely on is simply word-of-mouth… and yesterday the word-of-mouth news was mostly conjecture.  But… here’s a little of what we know.

Yesterday morning at 8am, the electrical power sub-station in Soddo blew up and burned for about two hours.  Apparently, the sub-station involved some old equipment.  The power step-down / distributor unit (which is what initially blew up) was installed some 30-plus years ago.  The fire was eventually put out by towns-people with shovels throwing dirt on the step-down unit at the sub-station.  Because the electrical power-grid for much of the region directly surrounding us and south of us all passes through Soddo, the entire area (up to 150 km or so south of us) is now without electrical power.

There are a wide variety of opinions about just how long it may take to get Soddo and the surrounding area back up on the power grid.  We’ve heard everything from a couple of weeks to several months (one gentleman last night even predicted it could be up to a year… surely he’s crazy, right?).  From what we’ve heard, it all depends on whether or not the proper equipment can be found in country.  If a new power step-down / distributor unit must be imported from abroad, it could be awhile.  There will also be the problem of updating the rest of the sub-station equipment to function with a new step-down / distributor unit.

Now, living off the power grid for a while is not exactly the apocalypse.  After all, there are chunks of this country that exist without electrical power at all, Soddo pretty much shuts down after dark anyway, and even when we are on the grid, there are often hours at a time without power (especially during dry season… Ethiopia’s electric power is all hydro-generated).  We personally have lots of candles and a couple of gas stove-burners, the children’s home does most of its cooking on a wood or charcoal fire already, the office has a small gasoline generator to run computers, and, even with power, we never have hot-water.  It’s not the end of the world, but there will be problems that arise without power over the long-term.  Here are a few examples: there will likely be shortages of fuel because of the extra reliance on generators around town (the town already often runs out of fuel on the weekends before Monday fuel trucks arrive at the fuel stations).  The town will probably run out of candles at some point.  Charcoal and firewood prices will go up.  Flour may become scarce and expensive because all the grinding machines in town run on electric power (special 3-phase power that is hard to generate by gasoline generators).  There will also be some obvious personal inconveniences.  Cooking, heating water, reading in the evenings, charging computers and mobile phones… all of these things become more difficult without electricity.

The real issue goes back to our water situation here in Soddo.  As we’ve mentioned before, the children’s home is desperate these days for water.  It’s dry season, so our hand-pump well is dry (we sometimes squeeze a few buckets out of it each morning) and the town water department system only supplies water for a few hours per week.  We’ve been relying mostly on “donkey-water,” water carried in by yellow jerry cans on the backs of donkeys.  The absence of electric power in Soddo has just further compounded our water problems.  The sources of water for the town system are all deep wells scattered around the outskirts of the town.  These are not artesian wells, so water must be pumped out of these deep wells and pumped through the water lines to distribute the water around down.  All of the pumps are electric.  No electricity, no water pumps… no water.

I know what you’re thinking… is that really such a big deal if the children’s home was only getting a few hours of town water per week anyway?  The answer is yes, for two reasons.  First, though we have only been getting water from the town a few hours per week, during those few hours, the compound goes crazy filling every bucket, barrel and tank we can find so that we have stored water to last us up to a day after the water is turned off.  No town water means we have no water to store up, and thus even greater reliance on donkey water.  Second, even the donkey water usually comes from town taps.  There are public water taps throughout the town connected to the water department system.  When one part of town doesn’t have water, donkey water carriers fill up their jerry cans at a tap in another part of town and transport it to areas that need it.  With the water department out of commission, there will be no water running at these town taps, thus the donkey water carriers will now all have to rely on streams and natural springs.  Because it’s dry season, most of the streams are pretty dried up, and even the natural springs are very low.  The price of donkey water is bound to go up considerably because of scarcity, higher demand and the greater distances the donkey water carriers have to travel.  The quality of the donkey water will be further reduced because of relying on surface springs and low-water streams.

A number of people have asked how they can help in some way.  We greatly appreciate that people are thinking about us and asking to help.  We will definitely need to tap into some above-the-budget funds to cover the unexpected costs of paying more for donkey water, buying bottled water for drinking, buying fuel for the generator, and paying higher costs for charcoal, firewood and flour.  We’ll be spending today trying to get a better sense of what this is all going to look like and we’ll be discussing the situation of funds further with Aerie Africa.  We’ll post an update by tomorrow morning regarding specific ways people can help out.

In the meantime, together with a few friends around town, we’ve started a little betting pool.  Each of us has submitted 50 birr to the pot with our best guess of when Soddo will be back up and running with electricity.  The winner, he or she who guesses the closest, will take the pot.  So far the most optimistic submission has been Feb. 29th, while the most pessimistic has been May 15th.  Feel free to join in the fun and let us know your prediction.