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Water, Water Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink…


I visited Sierra Leone last September with the Bank-On-Rain team and even though they have over 130″ of rainfall each year, there is a severe shortage of water in Sierra Leone, especially clean drinking water!

Where I live near Seattle we have less than a quarter of the annual rainfall that Sierra Leone has, and I install professionally designed rain collection systems every day that supply families and commercial projects with more than enough clean water for drinking, living and working throughout the year.


The purpose of Bank-On-Rain’s visit to Africa was to install a rain harvesting system for the Barina Agricultural school in Makali (see above).However we also had the privilege of meeting Rajesh Shah founder of Peer Water Exchange (PWX) , a non-profit organization which consists of a conglomerate of over 80 smaller organizations.  PWX serves to fund and assess the impact of water and sanitation projects with the review process all implemented by their members.

The founder of PWX, Rajesh, took us to a Barefoot College  about half a day from Freetown, which had a very expensive solar system donated by well known brand, with a large array of panels and battery bank( see below)



Looking around, I noticed a water tower near a building, but no gutters on the actual building. When I asked about this I was told that a water truck came regularly to pump water into the tank, which in itself was used to gravity feed the water to the facility. On further investigation I noticed there were no gutters on any of the metal roof buildings. Instead, there were cement ditches under the eve lines to divert the rainwater run off from the property.

Sometimes people just don’t connect the dots! The connection had not been made between the rainwater runoff and the storage tower a few feet away. An efficient sustainable water system could easily be implemented by installing gutters and plastic cisterns, available in Freetown several hours  away. This could have been a pretty sophisticated set up considering the electricity available through the solar system for pumping and filtering rainwater.

Sadly this opportunity has been missed so far, but I am hopeful in the future they will connect the dots and use Barefoot College as a teaching tool for rainwater harvesting as a sustainable water source. 

The principal of the Barina Agricultural school in Makali, where I supervised the installation of a 20,000 liter system for 300 students, also was unable to connect the dots. The principal, was extremely skeptical that their old rusty metal roofs would produce anything but rust colored undrinkable water too scant to fill their needs!


I had to think of something fast…….


…. a quick demonstration on how much water could be collected and how clean rainwater really can be. So I had my helpers drag the fish totes under the first gutter that local volunteers had installed on the building with the best roof.  We had a wonderful rain shower that night and in the morning the tote was full of the most pristine, pure water anyone had ever seen.

I filled my bottle and gulped down a whole liter. Big smiles came across the work group, while others filled bottles from the tote and drank as well.  A good demo has more worth than hours of lectures and government pamphlets. The principal of the school was now a true believer after only one night of rainwater collection!

My demo, and the installation of the system by the locals under Bank-On-Rain direction gives 300 students clean drinking water. While the students certainly learned valuable skills and information by seeing and helping to install the rainwater catchment system, these are three lessons I learned.

1.   When the locals build and contribute ~ they own the system. When the students create their own teaching materials they learn. Contribution = ownership.

2.   Sanitation education & practices  ~ without these in place first and being embraced continuously, the clean water supply can become contaminated.

3.   Small things, details, systems connect the dots ~ and we hope these dots stay connected in remote areas when students from the Barina Agricultural School return to their homes. We hope one of them will start a rain harvesting business using the 50gal plastic containers we saw for sale in Freetown. And yes, gutters made of bamboo. (see below)


Below is the small demo we did, a usable demo which would we hope begin to connect the dots for the students & those from the village who helped us.


Bank on Rain continues to bring knowledge and acceptance of rainwater collection to developing areas, with the strong conviction that this practice of helping people help themselves, will supply clean drinking water to those who are in need.


Check out our posts Rainwater Harvesting Sierra Leone , When do students learn the fastest? and  Africa update 2 to find out more about the rainwater harvesting system we installed in Africa.

Please leave your comments or suggestions below please email us at

Ken Blair, Director of Bank-On-Rain. THINK RAIN

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KEN BLAIR¬†is a professional rainwater systems designer and installer in the Northwest, United State. His successful company¬†Rainbank¬†evolved in 2006. He is a founding director of Bank-On-Rain and brings the ‚Äúnuts & bolts‚ÄĚ expertise to the Bank-On-Rain board. Ken can be reached at

The title of this post was inspired by ‚ÄúThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner‚ÄĚ which was written by ¬†English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Published originally January 9, 2012 on Posterous


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