Our Quest for Water: The Journey

 

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Three years ago, we embarked on a quest.

Our quest for water started in 2013 when we were evaluating our first year in the farm.  Our main concern then was the lack of water especially for irrigation.  We realized that the potential of the land to be more productive could not be met without a steady source of water.  Our rainwater harvesting system, graywater recycling system and our other water conservation practices could not sustain the water needs of our farm. We even tried pumping water from the creek using our DIY-ed ram pump but it was still not enough.

We then made a plan and researched on how we could tap the ground water, which we considered the most viable water source for us.  We learned about deep well pumps, how they work and the process of drilling, installing and operating them.  But most of the pump models we canvassed were either fuel powered or electric.  Although these pump units are affordable, it would be expensive to operate.

We did further research on deep well pump using alternative energies like solar.  We found out that this technology was already available in the Philippines.  We then decided that this would be the one for us. So we laid out our options on how we could raise the budget for this.

We thought of entertaining investors but they would require something in return and it’s usually in the form of profit.  Applying for grants on the other hand would require a lot of paperwork. The nearest thing to paperwork that we do nowadays is putting used paper around our plants to serve as mulch. And applying for a loan from a bank was out of the picture. How about indecent proposals? Definitely not!

And so our quest for water was stalled. The plan was shelved.

Crowdfunding: Easier Googled than Done

After months of pondering on how we could raise enough money for the solar pump, we came across the concept of crowdfunding, which was new for us then. We googled and researched, got excited, and knew we could do this. If somebody from the United States were able to raise money for a drinking birthday bash, why couldn’t we do it for a solar deep well pump that would provide water to make the land more productive?  Well, it was easier said than done.

The first thing we did was choosing a crowdfunding platform.  We decided to launch our campaign with We The Trees, which is a crowdfunding platform for permaculture practitioners from all over the world.  We then made a campaign plan and assessed our potential crowd starting with relatives and friends.  We prepared other requirements like the campaign write up and video. We were ready to launch by November of 2014 but then we realized that our campaign period would fall just before the Christmas holidays and people would be busy spending and they would have second thoughts in donating some of their moolah to us.

So we decided to launch our 45-day all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign in March 2015.  It was a good month to launch because the International Working Women’s Day (March 8) and the World Water Day (March 22) fall on this month.  It made sense because we are women farmers and our campaign was all about water.  A week before our launching date (March 2), we pre-launched the campaign in our blogsite so we could already advise our potential donors. We also talked to some friends and relatives to help and be part of our tribe of campaigners.  We got good responses and commitments.

The first weeks of the campaign were great.  Donations and pledges came steadily.  A lot of our friends and relatives helped us share and promote the campaign to their friends and contacts using the social media.  Even those we just met during the campaign like other permaculture practitioners from all over helped us promote it.  Our friends from the local and national media also pitched in and wrote about it.  Our campaign was also featured in many blogs.

But towards the end of March, we still hadn’t reached half of our goal.  We started to panic and the frequent trips to the toilet had begun.  We had to do something.

We followed up commitments and hadn’t pledged yet and asked our tribe of campaigners to continue to help us boost the campaign.  We asked our good friend Angel Aquino, a famous TV/movie actress and commercial model here in the country, to do a video endorsement of our campaign.  It was a sigh of relief for us when she was able to do it despite her busy schedule.  In a span of a few hours of shooting, editing and finalizing it, we were able to post it.  It was shared and re-shared several times.

And suddenly our campaign gained momentum again.  A few days before the April 15 deadline, we needed to raise a few hundred dollars more.  We were sleepless, fidgety and restless already.  Our friends were sending us messages telling us they were also panicking for us. And suddenly, two days before the deadline, we were able to meet the target of $13,121.  We made it!

Thank You Crowd

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We were able to raise a total of $14,211 online.  We also received donations offline during the campaign mainly because some donors were not comfortable doing financial transactions online and some were just not techno savvy and didn’t know how to do it.  We had to pledge them ourselves using a friend’s credit card. And we still received donations even after the campaign period. The overall total donated funds were $14,954. We had three group donations and four donors donated twice.

We had a total of 191 individual donors. Five percent of the donors were relatives, 37% were friends and 58% of the donors were those we didn’t personally know.  Donors came from the Philippines, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Hong Kong, USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Luxembourg and Latin America.

So It Shall be Done

 After raising enough funds, it was time to implement the project.  We had to do it as smoothly and as responsibly as we could with all our hands on deck. We owed it to our donors and everyone who helped us.

The drilling started on May 10, still the dry season in the Philippines, which is the best time to drill for groundwater.  Our target was 80-100 feet to access the main aquifer.  The first weeks of drilling were challenging.   At some point, they had to drill another hole and start all over again. At that second hole, we hit water at about 40 feet deep.  Then at about 60 feet deep, the drillers’ 5-foot drill bit totally broke and was left at the bottom of the hole.  We just decided to drill another hole just adjacent to the other one because it was impossible to recover the drill bit.  And then the monsoon rains came, so the drilling was stalled further.

After three weeks of non-stop rains, the drilling continued.  When we reached about 83 feet, the drillers hit a solid bed rock.  We then decided not to go further.

Simultaneous with the drilling was the construction of two ferrocement tanks with a 5,000-liter capacity each near the drill site.  The shape of the tanks was based on traditional Filipino earthen jars called the banga.  We used the Banga Pinoy design and construction manual for wire-reinforced ferrocement jars by the Catholic Relief Services.  We got the help of two skilled laborers from the community.

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In July, we went to Manila to pick up the solar submersible pump unit, the panels and all the accessories.  After some considerations, we decided to get Lorentz unit, our original choice, because we had a problem with the supplier of the other brand that we considered.

In August, after we prepped the fields and planted rice, we started constructing the panel stand and installed the panels and the controller with technical assistance from RDC-Kaduami, a non-government organization covering Northern Luzon advocating for sustainable agriculture.  They have the expertise and experience in installing solar technology.

In August 16, when everything was ready including the panels, the electrical connections, the tanks, and the pipe line, we installed the submersible pump, lowered it down the pipe line and turned on the controller.  We got so anxious when we first heard the quiet hum of the pump and felt the slight vibration of the pipe line.  And just after a few seconds we saw the first burst of water coming out the pipe.  Everybody suddenly was shouting, cheering, jumping and clapping.  We got so emotional. This moment was definitely the highlight of the quest, seeing water springing from under the ground.

After that, we sealed the opening of the pipe line, installed the distribution line from the pump to the tanks and from the tanks to the fields and built the small bamboo pump house.

We have Water

We now use the water mainly for domestic, livestock and garden use. For drinking we filter it with active carbon. We rarely use it to irrigate the fields because we still want to maximize the water from the small creek and the rain, which we still have every now and then.  We don’t want to just rely on the groundwater because it’s not a sustainable practice.  Aquifers can dry up if overused.

Now we just have to observe the supply of water for at least one year cycle especially during the dry months.  It will be tried and tested these coming months because we’re now experiencing the El Niño phenomenon, which is predicted to be one of the longest and worst.

Endless Possibilities

After three long years of planning, researching, consulting; after three long years of waiting, pondering, manually fetching water from the well; after three long years of our quest for water, we finally have that precious water from below the earth using the power of the sun.  And now the possibilities for us in our small farm are endless.  And for that, we’ll forever be grateful to all of you for being part of this worthwhile quest.#

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