If even the groundwater is drinkable only when it has been boiled, this has profound effects on people. Children have to walk long distances every day to fetch water instead of going to school. Families have to constantly weigh up whether fetching water or working and learning is more important. Diarrhea from contaminated water causes many deaths. But that is just one of many challenges in Liberia. The electricity can go out unplanned several times a day. Long trips to the airport or hospital often turn into hour-long expeditions under extreme conditions due to torrential rain and broken roads.
In order to achieve long-term and sustainable improvements step by step in this environment, Felix Walz from Schmerikon SG has been committed for years with his Bowier Trust Foundation Switzerland (BTFS) and thanks to the financial support of the Rotary Club Oberer Zürichsee. With material, personal and financial support from the OST and other local organizations (see information below), he also drives projects together with the OST that aim to improve living conditions in the long term. "Water is the basis of life, which is why we also concentrate on it," explains Walz.
Drinking water from the solar water kiosk and training cooperation
Since 2018, the drinking water problem has been solved for part of the population northeast of Liberia's capital, Monrovia. A solar-powered water kiosk equipped with modern membrane filters produces clean drinking water for a catchment area in which around 11,000 people live. And at a price that is well below the usual prices for clean bottled drinking water. The concept is based on taking in just enough money to ensure that laboratory tests on the drinking water quality and necessary maintenance work can be carried out regularly and the water supply is thus guaranteed in the long term. Ein Video zum Projekt ist hier online.
The first complete maintenance cycle was successfully completed for the first time a few weeks ago. A group of students from the OST traveled to Liberia to support the local technicians with the maintenance work. The student team consisted of Dylan Derradj and Simon Grundler (both courses in renewable energies and environmental technology at the OST, graduated this summer) and Julian Rieder (course in environmental sciences at the ETH Zurich). Solar technology lecturer Christof Biba later traveled to represent the OST, among other things to strengthen relationships with various organizations in Liberia and to assess the work of the students.
The timing was just right. When the group visited the facility, a cable fire had damaged the water kiosk. "In retrospect, we could see the cable fire as a stroke of luck, because other components could have been damaged. We took the damage as an opportunity to redesign the entire installation,” says Simon Grundler. In the end, the new electronics were implemented with even less material than was originally installed. The saved components could be used in another project for a maternity clinic (see below), which reduced costs.
For the two OST graduates, the assignment was a complete success. "The work was very interesting from a technical point of view, because we were able to directly apply the knowledge from several focus modules from the course," says Grundler. "The knowledge I needed on site corresponded practically 1:1 to my majors in study, how self-sufficient, solar-powered water treatment and energy systems can be implemented," explains Grundler.
Fellow student Dylan Derradj also draws a positive conclusion: "After this trip, I know what I want to do with my bachelor's degree and that I want to work in development cooperation." Right from the start, it was important to him to work on projects that deal transparently with materials, finances and personnel. Thanks to the work in Liberia, he has now also been able to collect very good references in order to apply to organizations in the field of development cooperation.
Combine direct help and training
In addition to practical projects, the cooperation also includes the training of specialists with the help of specialist training programs. It was only in May 2022 that the OST signed a memorandum of understanding with the UMU United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia, for closer cooperation in the future. Even before that, the OST was involved and, for example, continued to train the student Laryee A. Sannor from Liberia in Rapperswil-Jona using practical exercises in the areas of water and solar technology. Since then, he has been at the center of the local team, which not only operates the water kiosk, but also implements its own projects on site - from water and electricity supply to flood prevention and wastewater treatment.
Supply the maternity clinic with solar power
In mid-October, EEU graduate Derradj was in Monrovia again to enable a maternity clinic to be powered by solar power. He took over the supervision of the construction, with the support of the SPF from Rapperswil-Jona.
Bisher kam es vor, dass die Klinik häufig ohne Strom arbeiten musste. Nachts bedeutete das unter anderem: Ärzte hatten in manchen Nächten nur Smartphone-LEDs als Lichtquelle zur Verfügung, um Kinder auf die Welt zu bringen. Unterdessen ist die neue Energieversorgung installiert und in der Nacht vom 19. auf den 20. Oktober konnte das Team der Geburtsklinik erstmals mit zuverlässiger Stromversorgung und somit auch mit fliessendem Wasser arbeiten.
Broad partnership for Liberia
Various courses and research institutes are involved on the part of OST – Ostschweizer Fachhochschule. Above all, the institutes UMTEC Institute for Environmental and Process Engineering (Prof. Dr. Michael Burkhardt), SPF Institute for Solar Technology (Prof. Christof Biba) and IBU Institute for Construction and Environment (Prof. Felix Wenk), and the associated courses from EEU Renewable energies and environmental technology as well as civil engineering. Felix Walz supports the network around Rapperswil-Jona, which is involved in development projects in Liberia, with his BTFS Bowier Trust Foundation Switzerland massgeblich. Neben dem Rotary Club Oberer Zürichsee gehören dazu die Firma Frei & Krauter Ingenieure Rapperswil, die Wasserversorgung Rapperswil-Jona und das Bau-Unternehmen JMS Schmerikon.
Source: Media release from 28.10.2022 from Ostschweizer Fachhochschule