Like many good stories, this one began with food. A group of students at TAU’s Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering organized a campus beer and bratwurst sale to kickstart fundraising for a volunteering project in Africa. Many sausages later, and with a lead donation from Arison Group’s Shikun & Binui construction company, a TAU team arrived in Tanzania to build a system that would provide hundreds of students at a local high school with clean drinking water.
Leading the TAU delegation was electrical engineering student Eran Roll, the director of TAU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which initiated and supervised the project. EWB is an international organization dedicated to bringing engineering solutions to disadvantaged communities.
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Roll explained that the project’s genesis went back to 2007, when engineering alumnus Itai Perry saw the hardship caused by contaminated water during a TAU-affiliated volunteer trip to the northern Tanzanian village of Minjingu. The residents’ drinking water was saturated with exceptionally high levels of fluoride, causing skeletal deformities and severe dental problems among the local children. Seven years later, Roll and four others came to Minjingu to build and install a 48,000-liter rainwater harvesting and advanced filtration system that would allow the 400 students and staff members at Nkaiti Secondary School – the only high school in the region – to drink and cook with clean, safe water. They also trained school officials and volunteers on how to operate and maintain the system, and they kept in touch with local residents to ensure that any bugs would be worked out. The team created the system with the help of Israeli rainwater harvesting expert Amir Yechieli.
Once the project was complete, the school’s principal, Mr. Tango, wrote the TAU team a letter of gratitude. “Thanks to this project, we are now one family with you. Let us maintain our relationship more and more,” he wrote. “We hope that you will bring more projects for the development of our school.”
The learning process
Before Roll and his team – electrical engineering student Maayan Raviv, MBA student Meital Shamia, neuroscience student Roey Ravits and industrial engineering graduate Tomer Avitzur – were able to build the water system, they needed to determine how best to help the people of Minjingu. “Without going there and seeing the problems with our own eyes, we wouldn’t know what to do,” said Roll. He, Raviv and water engineer Idit Zarchi traveled to Tanzania a year before the full delegation to assess the community’s specific needs, speak to local leaders and villagers and to set a goal that was within reach.
“When the people in Minjingu saw us return after a year, they said, ‘the first time you came here you were boys, now you are men,’” Roll recalled, explaining that the Tanzanians were used to being promised humanitarian projects that never came to fruition. “We came through with our promise, and it meant a lot to me,” he said.
As he continues to plan for the upcoming projects and to recruit volunteers, Roll is proud of the success the small delegation has achieved so far. “It felt like we really made a difference,” he said. “When the project was done, my friends and I just stood there after everyone had left. We felt like we had accomplished something – something big.”
When funding permits, the team plans to return to Tanzania to expand the existing rainwater harvesting system to 160,000 liters and to create a similar one for the village’s medical center, for which they will also install solar panels.