This is my attempt you take you down the strenuous and exhausting road of my water project for the school. I doubt I will be able to truly lay out the struggles and the levels of authority and complications I have faced, but I am going to try.
In April of 2015, I attended a Peace Corps workshop called Project Design and Management with my selected counterpart, Maravu, my ta in the village and the school treasurer. We identified our community’s need as water. After identifying this need, we set to work trying to figure out the best way to address our water situation, who would participate, how the community would meet the 25% contribution mark, and how much this would cost. At the completion of our workshop, Maravu and I had decided to address both our dirty, undrinkable water source up the mountain and increase water storage in the form of rain catchment tanks, which would require gutter installation and replacing rusty roofs; however, we still struggled with transportation as a hired barge to the island of Waya costs upwards of $9,000.
At this point, our solution was to cut down the overall project cost (buy less rain storage tanks) and factor in the fat penny for transport. The cap for our desired grant was $20,000.
All was going smoothly up until the point where I had to fill the online application. After some finagling, I opted for the offline version, as applying online is a challenge in the island; however, I still faced issues with charging my laptop. Finally, after all my t’s were crossed and my I’s were dotted, it was time to wait for feedback on my application. When mid-June came and I had heard nothing from the Peace Corps office, I inquired only to learn that the Small Project Grant had run out for the year. Well, this meant my $20,000 project would be put on hold until the upcoming year.
In the meantime, I felt it was my duty to start haggling Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) about the fact that our school had no clean drinking water and a very limited supply of dirty water used for washing and bathing. As Ratu Naivalu is a boarding school something like water is rather essential, but I seemed to be the only one who thought so. If they had guns in Fiji, someone from the office of the Water Authority would’ve certainly shot me. Every single time I went to the mainland, I spent hours their office drinking tea, and trying to explain our water situation to anyone who was willing to listen. I felt like I was beating a dead horse! It got to the point where the employees in town would call out my name or invite me home to eat even after working hours. Finally, after the struggle of typing letters written by the Head Teacher, Turaga-ni-koro (village headman), and our school manager and helping the Turaga-ni-koro fill out forms, I was taken seriously by the Water Authority. In late September, after rescheduling several times, they finally came to survey our current water supply. I was ecstatic that they’d be coming to the island thinking I had accomplished the hardest part. However, their survey indicated that our water source was not sufficient for a boarding school with a roll of 164. Their solution to our lack of surface water was a borehole. Yet, the WAF doesn’t drill, fund, or even condone (due to environmental reasons) boreholes. Well, thanks for the help WAF. We were back to square one.
At this time I was very frustrated but had decided to wait until 2016 to reinstate my project with Maravu when I got a call from the Peace Corps office. They had exactly $10,000 dollars left over, and they were offering it to me! Here was the catch, if I didn’t apply within a week the funds would be returned to Washington D.C.- Sorry Obama, I wasn’t going to let that happen. I struggled and struggled but managed to cut my budget in half (meaning no money for barge transportation) and complete the application in the allocated time. Our new school manager told me “no problem, the government will fund the transport,” and he would see to that. Despite his confidence, I had my doubts about trying to coordinate with the government; however, I wasn’t going to argue, because I wanted that money badly. So here are the details of the project made fit within the compromised budget: 5- 5,300 litter storage tanks, gutters for all 5 tanks plus 2 additional already existing tanks, and new roofing iron for two teachers quarters and one school hostel. This is not the solution for all our water shortages, but it is a step in the right direction and upon completion will definitely help the school, so I was pleased.
Nothing happened for four months. Then, one day in the mainland, I checked my bank account and realised, I was rich. I had an extra $10,000 to my name. No bank notice, no email from Peace Corps, just a deposit. I must remind you that my trips to the mainland (the closest ATM) are not as casual as I make them sound. It takes me about 3 hours each way, requires that I spend the night there, and costs anywhere from $60-250 depending on the boat captain, the day of the week, the availability of boat fuel, and everyone’s mood. So there I was in the mainland with access to all of my grant money but no quotes, material lists, or contact information. Short of having someone break into my house to retrieve everything and recite if over the phone, I would have to go back to the island to pick everything up and then return to the mainland. So, this past week that is exactly what I did. Maravu and I returned to the mainland where we visited multiple hardware stores in Lautoka. Finally, we found one that claimed to have everything we ordered in stock and could deliver 3 days from the current date. We then walked to the bank where I flashed my passport and my debit card and was given $10,000 cash. No questions asked. For about 10 minutes, I felt rich and even considered going to the airport instead of the hardware… But, I did the right thing and forked over the cash to my new friend, Asad, behind the counter of Carpenters Hardware. I was able to pay for everything, the tanks and all materials, through this magical store that even dropped the price of the water tanks and matched all competitor prices. Of course, getting into it further there ended up being issues at the magical hardware with stock and delivery dates, but as of today Wednesday 27, 2016, everything has finally been delivered to the government supply yard where it awaits a government barge!!
So more on transport: I had to constantly email and visit the District Officer, Mrs. Ruth, multiple times alone (because we now have another school manager) but she agreed to help with transport to the island but the time frame was unknown- Fiji time. So, currently, all my materials are waiting at the yard in Lautoka for the next available barge. I am hoping they’ll arrive to the island in the next week… Please keep your fingers crossed for me!
Once the materials are on the island than the hardest part begins- motivating my village to keep the deal on the 25% community contribution to install the tanks. It will be like pulling teeth, but I am determined to sure it gets done; however, it’s not going to be easy as island life and Fiji time have proven themselves to be rather unproductive.
Overall, this road has had many bumps, curves, two different head teachers and three different school managers all with different plans where this project should go. In a nutshell, it’s been beyond challenging and extremely frustrating, but I have learned a lot about how to write grants, liaise with different organizations, work with the Fijian government, budget money, and prioritize. When I physically see all the tanks installed and hooked up, it may be the happiest day of my life! I am definitely going to find a way to celebrate!