By Morgan Phelps
A merry-go-round used to be good for just a smile on a child’s face. Now it can provide sustainable, free drinking water for millions of rural Africans.
In 1989, advertising executive Trevor Field discovered a merry-go-round attached to a water pump at a South African agricultural fair. Field added some complexity to the system — including advertising space on the machine for education messages and sponsorships — and created the PlayPump.
PlayPumps International, formerly known as Roundabout Outdoor, is both a US 501(c)3 organization and a South African non-government organization. It operates offices in both countries.
Although Field had an inventive idea, it did not gain momentum until there was press coverage of President Nelson Mandela at the opening of a school with a PlayPump in 1999. In the eight years since, they have already aided two million people with the installation of over 900 PlayPump systems.
The systems provide the health benefits of clean water as well a recreational outlet for children. Educational messages on the billboards spread information about HIV/AIDS, which helped it win the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2000.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan summed up the mission of PlayPumps International when he said, “We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care.”
The PlayPump has received support in South Africa and the US for its ability to spread a message and provide clean water.— the most critical factor in public health issues of all kinds. A partnership with the South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry got the project off the ground, and in 2006, the US deepened its involvement.
At the September meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, First Lady Laura Bush and the Case Foundation announced their support for PlayPumps International to bring clean water to 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2010.
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