Laban Kaduma

While attending the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) forum in Kampala, Uganda, last week, I was fortunate to spend some time with Laban Kaduma, working as a manual driller in Tanzania. I wrote down his story below.

Top: Laban Kaduma

“I was born in 1979, near Njombe, Tanzania. We soon moved to Iringa, where I spent my youth. By the time I was 26, I was working as a plumber with a construction company. At that time, I wanted to start my own business as a plumber, but buying the necessary equipment is expensive, and it was hard to get started.

“At a certain moment, some friends pointed me to a poster hanging at the technical school in Iringa. The poster had been put up by the Shipo organisation, an NGO working in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, in Njombe. They asked for people that wanted to be trained to manually drill boreholes.

“I was interested in this, and wrote an application letter. Because the deadline was already near, I decided to travel to Njombe myself, and deliver the letter by hand. Two friends, who had also applied, and myself, were accepted for the training after we had an interview.

“The training started on 25 April 2005, with six teams. The manual drilling technique we were learning, the rota-sludge method, had been introduced to Tanzania by a Dutch Engineer, Aris van Herwijnen. The people he trained now trained us. After a few days, my two friends left again, saying they found the drilling was too difficult. I stayed.

“After a month, I thought that I already had learned enough. But then in May two other Dutch engineers came, Henk Holtslag of Connect International, and Arjen van der Wal of the Practica Foundation. The taught us a lot more about properly working with PVC pipes, using soil profiles to know where the water layer is, how to make a filter screen, and lots more.

“At the same time as I was improving my drilling skills, I needed to improved my English. The presentations and the courses were in English, and I wanted to understand as much as possible. I used children’s books, a dictionary, an English bible, and the English drilling manual that I had received.

“After their training, I was confident that my skills were now at the same level as my trainers. I also learned how to make and install rope pumps, so that I would have all the skills needed to make my own company. My plan now was to get the equipment needed, and start a company drilling wells and making rope pumps.

“First, I started to work with Shipo as a trainer myself. In 2008, Shipo encouraged us to set up our own companies, and they asked me to choose two of my fellow drillers as my partners. Some of the drillers used to spend money they earned right away on clothes or drink, instead of on tools or other investments. So I chose two people I liked, and we set up a business. It is called the Uvinjo group, which is short for “Uchimbaji wa visima vya maji na ufungaji wa pampu Njombe”, which is Swahili for “Borehole drilling and pump installation in Njombe”.

“At first, it was hard to get an office and get started. But we managed, and two months later, we could already hire three more people. We worked for Shipo, and for the government we installed five boreholes plus rope pump at five schools. We even installed a pump in the garden of the District Executive Officer. He paid for the pump, and we explained exactly what the money was used for — wages, tools, materials, etc. Many people want their own pump, because the water supply is often unreliable. Now, after a few years, we are doing well, and have a lot of work. The company is now owned by four people, and we hire 16 people. We have drilled over 400 wells.

Laban Kaduma

Laban Kaduma installing a demonstration rope pump during the Rural Water Supply Network conference in Kampala, Uganda, held in November 2011.

“We have also had serious challenges. Two of the six people we started with were not honest, and started to work secretly for themselves, and delivering bad quality. They were only interested in the money. They installed a bad pump at the sister mission, and that was a bad situation, because they have a lot of influence. Shipo even started getting complaints about our company, about the work these two were doing. When we found out, they left the company even before we confronted them about their behaviour.

“Now, I am a trainer myself. I have given trainings in many locations in Tanzania, such as Ngorogoro, Dar es Salaam, Ifekar, Mefinga, Songea, Same, and Mwanza. I have also given four trainings in Malawi, two together with Henk Holtslag, and two by myself. In Malawi, this has led to a new company, that recently was awarded a contract to make 200 boreholes. They have already been able to buy a pick-up truck for their business.

“For next year, things are going well. We just were awarded a contract with Winrock, to fit 50 existing wells with rope pumps, drill 50 new boreholes and install pumps on them, and do drip irrigation and recharge. It is a one-year project, it will start in January, and we are very proud that they chose us to do such a large project.

 Laban Kaduma

“For the future, I have many plans. First of all, I want to introduce new technologies, I want to innovate. We teach others how to drill, so we create our own competition. This is ok, as long as we keep introducing new things. So we improve pump designs, sell spare parts, and look for new technologies to introduce. At the moment, we are planning to set up a workshop, the Uvinjo workshop, as part of the Uvinjo group. The workshop will make the pumps and maintains the drilling equipment, but also makes other products.

“Finally, we need to invest in a car. At the moment, we still have to hire cars, and this is expensive and inconvenient. It will be a US$1500 investment, and we are looking at how to finance that.

“In short, we want to be a solid drilling company, that focusses on low-cost, high-quality pumps and boreholes. And I think we are well on the way to getting there.”

Mark Tiele Westra is Akvopedia editor and programme manager at Akvo