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Can We Influence People to Turn Off the Faucet?


The most important thing I have learned in my past few months with Bank-On-Rain is that the social engineering behind a project provides infinitely more obstacles than any of the mechanical or civil engineering challenges. Good data, planning, calculations, and material acquisition paired with experienced engineers like Ken Blair and Mike Williamson will ensure the success of a working rainwater catchment system, when we depart from the Barina Agricultural School in Malaki, Sierra Leone in Mid-September.


Bank-On-Rain Directors Mike Williamson, Ken Blair and researcher Emily Berg (that’s me) making final plans for our trip to Africa next month. Note cats are excellent at social engineeering.

How do we know the students will not leave the water running? How do we know that kids will wash their hands after using the latrine? What happens when something breaks?

We do not know what will happen, but we can do a bit of social logistics planning….

Here is the set-up for the system at the Barina Agricultural School in Malaki, Sierra Leone.


Water will be collected from one building as just an inch of rain provides 3,000 liters of water (and Sierra Leone gets close to 10 feet—120 inches—of water each year!). This is amazing to me as Seattle only gets ~35 inches of water/year! The water will run through a series of PVC pipes to a drinking water station (also used for agriculture and cooking) and a hand washing station by the latrines.

We will be constructing the system with students and families at the school…… this is not an installation! It is a learning experience and community project! Teachers, students and the families will be involved in the construction or the rainwater catchment system, and we will show them and help them understand how it works. Our goal will be that when we leave they will be able to fix  & maintain with minimal help.

Caroline Di Diego (CASUDI) came up with the idea of SMS messaging for maintenance reminders. They all have cell phones in Malaki….. wouldn’t it be easy to send a scheduled message via SMS, “Report to the principal when you have cleaned the filter.” By the way, is anyone interested in working with us on this?

When you haven’t had a supply of water you don’t have the culture around hand washing that our schools in the US have. We will provide laminated signs for the classrooms and hand washing station. We plan to provide very short lesson tools for the teachers to educate students on the importance of hygiene. Will we have to motivate and educate the teachers first?


Note the absence of soap and towels here….

 When you have never had running water, you will probably not understand it is a limited resource. Maybe you will leave it running to see how long it runs? Mike is planning to install push button spigots and has another invention up his sleeve, to insure that students don’t forget or play with the water and are encouraged to conserve it.


We hope the students who will be involved in constructing the system will understand where their water comes from and that it is a limited resource.

Social engineering in this respect means the students need to be motivated, educated and even influenced to make the necessary changes in their thought process to wash their hands, and turn off faucets!

We are confident we can combine education, some social engineering with a well engineered and workable 20,000-liter rain collection system for the Barina Agricultural School. Stay tuned for our updates.

Do you have any suggestions for us? Is there something that we didn’t think of? We would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment or email us at!

Emily Berg  Bank On Rain 2011 Intern & Researcher. THINK RAIN!
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Originally published August 23, 2011 on Posterous

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