November 2011 Update: Saying Goodbye to the Buyungule Pygmies

August 1st, 2013

With only two days left before they were scheduled to leave, Xavier and Melanie still had a lot of work to do in the Buyungule Pygmy village. Time was a factor, so they wanted to make sure the Pygmies had what they would need to sustain themselves in their dangerous environment.

The couple decided to spend their final days teaching three basic, but essential projects: basic solar ovens, with which they could cook food, making it safe to eat; a sand-gravel water filter, to clean the 20,000 litres of water from the pond, making it safe for washing; and a solar disinfection system, to make the water from the 1,000-litre tank safe to drink.

In an area where resources are scarce, a solar oven can save lives. Collecting firewood requires villagers to walk long distances through rough, dangerous terrain, and the smoke it produces when burned can be harmful to their eyes and lungs. A solar oven, on the other hand, is completely safe and requires no resources except for the materials used in construction ? simple models can be made using only cardboard, aluminum foil, black spray paint, a piece of plastic or glass and adhesive tape. Once assembled and placed in direct sunlight, the oven can cook a meal in only 30 minutes.

Xavier and Melanie showed the villagers how to build the ovens and together they constructed 10 of them.

They then demonstrated how to build a simple sand-gravel-charcoal water filter to make the pond water suitable for use in washing. It consisted of two plastic buckets, one placed atop the other. One bucket had holes punched in the bottom and was lined with layers of sand, gravel and charcoal. A sheet of cloth covered the top. When water was poured inside, the silt and residue would trickle down through the layers and out the holes into the second bucket, cleaner and free of silt.

While filtering the water would make it cleaner, it wouldn?t make it safe to drink. Contaminated drinking water is a serious problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Bacteria and parasites lurking in infected water can make people seriously ill ? or even kill them.

Xavier and Melanie demonstrated how plastic bottles coated in black paint could be used to purify water. The paint, absorbing the sunlight, would heat up the water inside the bottle. After about six hours, the water would reach temperatures as high at 65 degrees Celsius ? hot enough to kill most pathogens, resulting in water safe to drink.

After sharing these three techniques to the villagers, it was finally time for Xavier and Melanie to leave the village. The last few weeks had flown by, but together they accomplished a lot. Thousands of vegetables were planted, a new rainwater collection system was installed, and villagers now had access to potable water. While life in the Congo would still be treacherous and difficult, the Pygmies were now equipped with tools that would help them live sustainably.