Modernizing Plumbing in the Third World

The upcoming Community Plumbing Challenge will be bringing some much-needed plumbing upgrades to a school in Indonesia

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A few new toilets and hand-washing stations. Upgraded water supply and wastewater systems. It all may sound like pretty run-of-the-mill plumbing work, except for the fact that it’s being targeted at two school buildings in a small Indonesian village, where basic sanitation is at a premium.

“We take so many things for granted,” says Randy Lorge, a Wisconsin-based technical school plumbing instructor and one of two coaches who will be leading a team of plumbers and apprentices in the Community Plumbing Challenge next month.

Now in its third year, the Community Plumbing Challenge is a program organized by the World Plumbing Council and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials that brings together plumbers and engineers from around the world to work on projects in regions that still struggle with basic sanitation and safe drinking water access. In 2015, the destination was Nashik, India. In 2016, the destination was Diepsloot, South Africa. This year, Lorge and others will travel to Cicau Village in the Indonesian province of West Java. Over the course of a week, the team will renovate and expand the bathroom facilities for two school buildings, as well as all the related water supply and wastewater infrastructure. And in a new component to this year’s challenge, deemed the “legacy” part of the program, the team will also train local Indonesian plumbers. In fact, a small portion of the planned work won’t be completed during the construction week of Nov. 9-15, instead being intentionally left for locals to finish on their own next year.

“It will almost be like a mini apprenticeship for the young people in Indonesia trying to learn the plumbing trade,” Lorge says. “Of course, they don’t have the stringent requirements for becoming a plumber like there are in the U.S., and their codes are still being developed. They’ll be there to shadow us and learn as much as they can. At the last two spots, we just went in and tried to fix the problem. This time we’ll be doing a lot more training along the way.”

The expanded training component is an example of how the Community Plumbing Challenge continues to evolve year to year. Also new this year was a separation of the design and construction weeks. The challenge’s first two years saw the entire process — project engineering and execution — occur all at once. For the Indonesia project, a design team went to the site for four days in late July and early August to work with local officials and develop the full project specs. That way there will be nothing impeding the team’s progress for the upcoming construction week.

“Every year the group has learned a little bit more about how to make this the most efficient it can be on the ground,” Lorge says. “I don’t want to say that we were tripping over each other the last two years, but when you’re trying to design something and build it at the same time, it can be a little bit cumbersome. We just want to make it flow as smoothly as possible and get the most work accomplished that we can in the time that we’re there.”

The first phase of this year's Community Plumbing Challenge occurred from July 31 to Aug. 3, as a team of engineers and architects traveled to Indonesia to design the project that the construction team will be building next month.

The benefit of the Community Plumbing Challenge for the Indonesian school and the local plumbers is clear, but Lorge says it’s also a great learning experience for the young plumbing apprentices he and his fellow coach will be leading. For the projects in India and South Africa, Lorge had recruited out of Fox Valley Technical College in Wisconsin, where he teaches. This year, to expand the program’s reach, the U.S.’s plumbing representation is coming from California. The other coach is based in Australia, which will account for many of the other construction team members.

“I think what it does for the young people who get into it, is give them a different view than what they’re used to,” Lorge says. “We have our methods and just assume that everything is going to go together, and all the tools and materials we need will be right there at the snap of a finger. But you go into a situation like this, and you find yourself falling back onto MacGyver-like skills sometimes. You have to be much more creative, and you find that the training you’ve received through organized programs is so good that you’re able to find solutions even though you might occasionally run into a wall.”

Be sure to visit during the week of Nov. 9-15. Lorge will be writing regular blogs about the work he and the other Community Plumbing Challenge team members are doing in Indonesia.


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