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Mali, a West African nation of 10 million people, is on the edge of the Sahara desert. It is a very poor country; with an average GNI of $240, labor is cheap and mechanized equipment is very expensive.

One of the biggest challenges the Malian people face is water supply; some villages have to dig as deep as 120 meters (400 feet!) to hit water. These precious resources need to be carfully protected from erosion and contamination.

One technique, promoted by the U.S. Peace Corps, uses "Dutch Bricks" to reinforce the well. These bricks, made on-site from locally mixed concrete, are very solid and designed to prevent collapse.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I trained local teams to reinforce wells with Dutch Bricks. The villagers would either dig a new well or clean up an existing one. I would then lead a team of masons, and train them "on-the-job". We would cover:

  • worksite setup and safety;
  • proper concrete-mixing techniques and proportions;
  • brick molding;
  • brick curing;
  • brick laying;
  • cover slabs;
  • well hygiene and maintenance.

We tried to have teams reinforce a few wells together to solidify their knowledge, but financing was always a problem. Although the villagers were able to contribute labor, sand and gravel without laying out any cash, the cement and rebar for a 15-meter (50-ft) well could cost as much as $400--money the villagers just didn't have.

A completed Dutch Brick well, with the casing extending above ground level.
digging
The traditional well-digging tools--mattock, pickaxe, shovel, bucket, and muscles.
making bricks
The concrete needs to be well-packed into the mold to ensure the strength of the bricks.
dutch brick
A finished Dutch Brick--note the tapered edges and the hollowed front.
first row of bricks
The tapered edges allow the bricks to work like an arch, preventing their collapse into the well.