HAND DUG WELLS IN SENEGAL
From June of 1992 to August of 1994, WFH Secretary Steve Herbert served as a Peace Corps volunteer in this country. His official position was as an Agroforestry extension Agent, but being free to also conduct side projects of his own choosing, he dowsed well sites all over Senegal for other Peace Corps volunteers and nationals in their villages, for Non-governmental (NGOs) and non-profit organizations, and even for missionaries. His second side project was designing and building composting latrines.
During his service, one of the wells dowsed was for the village of Keur Khaly, a village which neighbored his own host village of Keur Madiaw. Obtaining funding through the Peace Corps to develop it, Steve hired five men who worked for seven months to hand dig the well. The following describes the process, illustrated by the accompanying photos.
Coincidentally, and perhaps auspiciously, the process began on New Year’s Day of 1994. A cord was tied to the stake Steve had placed in the ground. The other end of the cord was tied to another stake at a distance of one meter, and then a circle of one meter radius was scribed in the sand. A ceremony was then conducted, led by marabout Serigne Toure, who sprinkled blessed water over the site of the well as the village natives looked on. This was meant to insure that the well would be successful, and that the workers would remain safe through the whole process.
A ring of steel reinforcing bar was then constructed to form a perfect circle and laid down on the circle scribed into the ground. The digging commenced, and as the hole deepened, one man carefully trimmed the sides so that the steel ring dropped as they went. This method insured that the hole remained round in shape and stayed straight as they descended. At a depth of one and a half meters (about nine feet), the workers troweled cement onto the sides of the well. Steel rebar was placed into the cement before more cement was added on top of that until a wall thickness of ten centimeters was reached.
After a day’s wait to let the cement harden, the process was repeated over and over.
Steve’s predicted depth to the vein of water was 24 meters. At first the digging was relatively easy through sand. The digging got a bit more difficult through a layer of red clay “laterite”. But when limestone rock was encountered, the rest of the digging was done with hammer and chisel. Steve would visit the project every couple of days, arriving to hear the sound of the hammer and chisel echoing out of the well, and seeing the pile of white limestone rock outside grow higher and higher.
After months of hard labor, the workers finally neared the predicted depth. When they reached 24 meters, Steve asked the men to lower him into the well on the end of a rope to do an inspection. Standing on the bottom of the well, there was only a small puddle of water between his feet. Once raised back to the surface, with a mixture of faith and anxiety, Steve asked the men to continue. To everyone’s joy and Steve’s relief, only a couple of days and one meter later a rock was chiseled away from the side of the well and in gushed the water!