Hand Pumps Archives - WaterStep

From Nicaragua: Waiting for water

by Lauren Hack

 From a recent project in Nicaragua, where WaterStep works with Water Ambassadors of Canada and Puentes de Esperanza. 

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Anacielo approached the well where our team was working with some uncertainty. Here was a sight she didn’t see every day: The hand pump that she used to get water for all of her cooking, washing, and drinking was dismantled with its tank in the air, spouting water.

While uncertain, she seemed determined. “Are you using that water?” she asked. We told her we were pumping water to measure the flow, but that she could certainly have the water if she’d like. Her face brightened and she motioned to up the hill where her husband stood.

“Get the buckets!”


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Within minutes Anacielo was filling a 50-gallon barrel her husband had carried from their house. She worked patiently as she poured bucket after bucket into the barrel. She assured me that she would only use this water, which was murky from sediment kicked up by the pump, for cleaning floors. This was more water than she’d seen in a while, and she wanted to take advantage of the momentary wealth.

Water was precious in Las Cañas. Here, everyone depended on one of several wells for all of their water needs. This particular well had produced less water in recent months. Now, a person might pump for an hour or so before the water stopped flowing, leaving the well dry until the next day.

(Dropping an electric submersible pump down a well is a little unusual for a well repair project. We were interested to see how much water there was in the well, based on the community’s information that water flow had been low, stopping after an hour or two of pumping. The logical explanation was that either the water table was lowering, or debris was clogging the screen at the bottom of the borehole, preventing water from passing through. If it was the latter, we hoped the submersible pump might unclog some of it.)


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As the water ran clearer, word of the flowing pump spread.

Another woman showed up with a few 5-gallon buckets. Then another got line.


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Family members showed up with buckets. A small crowd gathered in the courtyard of the town kindergarten. People filled their buckets, took them home, then came back to get in line again.


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While we were waiting, Anacielo spoke to me of the continued presence of our local partners Puentes de Esperanza in Las Cañas. This well had originally been converted to a closed India Mark II hand pump system from an open rope pump system three years ago. Before that Puentes had set up medical clinics and helped with the construction of the church. She spoke of the impact it had in Las Cañas and how their continued support meant hope for her and her community.

After everyone had filled their buckets to satisfaction, the team finished repairing the well. Water was flowing steadily, as it had been for several hours. People from Las Cañas gathered around the well for a photo and took turns at the newly-repaired well.


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Broken Hand Pumps Hinder Access to Water in Developing World

In much of the developing world, hand pumps are not scarce. Hand pumps can be found every few miles in some areas. These hand pumps were designed to reach down a well and carry fresh water up to the person with strength to pump the water up. When functioning correctly, hand pumps are a valuable safe water tool.

Hand pump repair in Kenya

However, in some areas it is estimated that 70% of these hand pumps are broken, according to WaterStep Hand Pump Repair Volunteer Rick Jenner. Because of this, many people must walk miles every day, often passing previously functioning hand pumps to reach safe water sources. Access to water is already an issue to many of these people, and a broken hand pump only adds to the daily burden of reaching a water source.

WaterStep developed a hand pump repair program after spending time in these areas and recognizing the need for skills to repair these pumps. Jenner was among those who worked to develop the training program. “I thought instead of building new pumps, why not just repair the old ones at a cheaper cost?” he said.

Not only is the solution more practical, but it is vastly more cost efficient. While drilling a new well for a hand pump can cost $17,000, repairing a broken hand pump can cost as little as $20. With the skills, knowledge and tools required, any ordinary person can improve access to water for an entire community.

Hundreds have been trained at WaterStep’s indoor training facility, one of only two in the world. Those skills are then carried to locals in areas of need. Hand pump repair training provides essential skills and knowledge that can propel sustainable change and improved drinking water for decades. With individuals trained in hand pump repair, access to water becomes mush more reliable.

Hand pump repair in Kenya

Steve Sikkema recently led a team in Nicaragua to repair broken hand pumps with our partner Water Ambassadors Canada. Sikkema leas training at the WaterStep headquarters, as well. He said, “Training is as realistic and hands-on as we can make it.”

WaterStep is taking this month to tell our stories of hand pump repair. With this simple, effective solution to safe water in the developing world, more people are taking ownership of their own access to safe water.

Stay tuned this month to learn more about the technology of hand pump repair, the stories, photos, and videos that inspire us, and how you can get involved. Follow @WaterStep on Twitter and @waterstepintl on Instagram to keep an eye on #handpumprepair, and be sure to follow us on Pinterest and ‘Like’ our Facebook page.

Check out our Hand Pump Repair Page for more!


Hand Pump Repair in Kenya



Want to learn how to repair hand pumps and provide safe water to communities that need it? Learn more about well repair training that teaches students to repair and troubleshoot the most common hand pumps in the world.


Hand pump repair is vital to the mission of WaterStep. With a functioning hand pump, a community can quickly and easily access water sources. Hand pumps are easily broken in developing countries and can be left for years without being fixed because people simply do not know how to fix them. WaterStep provides a better option. Through our hand pump repair training program, people learn to easily repair broken hand pumps and provide access to water sources that is desperately needed by many communities.


Last Friday, a team of six Louisville Metro Police officers left for Kenya to repair broken hand pumps, a mission that will provide a water source to many people who may have walked miles daily to reach safe water. The team of police officers has been preparing for months now. Their training in August prepared them for any obstacles they may encounter on their eight day trip.


Kenya parliament member Wesley Korir and WaterStep Medical Director Dr. Bill Smock are leading the trip as part of a multi-year safe water initiative in Korir’s hometown in the region north of Nairobi. “The one thing that has defeated people is water,” Korir explained. Without access to safe water, people become trapped in sickness and poverty.


The lasting effect of training will provide Kenyans a micro-business opportunity. Korir plans to empower locals to be trained as hand pump repairmen, who can earn a living while creating a sustainable supply of safe water for their communities. “A healthy nation becomes a working nation,” Korir said. We empower them with the tools to be able to do it themselves. When it breaks, you don’t just wait for another person to fix it. You fix it yourself.”


Read the article in the Louisville Courier Journal about the hand pump repair project with local police officers in Kenya.


Want to learn how to provide safe water and vital health education to people in developing countries around the world? Learn more about training classes in water treatment, health education, and well repair.

Building a Training Platform

WaterStep’s hand pump repair training team started building a training platform that will simulate a hand pump in the real world, this week.


Rick Jenner, who leads the hand pump repair trainings, said that the platform will simulate the situations students will encounter in areas where pumps have been broken. “The pump would be on the ground, and the water below ground, like a well. We pull it up onto the platform to simulate the ground,” Jenner said.

WaterStep has been holding hand pump repair training classes for five years, led by Jenner, along with his Assistant Trainers, Lynn Smith and Steve Sikkema.

Before WaterStep moved locations from Arlington Avenue to Myrtle  Street, the training team used a platform that was built in the warehouse, but with trainings approaching at WaterStep’s new facility, a new platform had to be built.

The next hand pump repair training will be June 9-11, led by Sikkema. “We are trying to build this one as close to the old platform as possible,” Sikkema said. Sikkema took the training, himself, two and a half years ago. Since then, he has helped lead multiple trainings and traveled to Haiti and Nicaragua to do hand pump repair with WaterStep.


Jenner has worked in many places over the last year as well, including Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Haiti multiple times.

He initially began hand pump repair training after learning that 70% of hand pumps in the world were broken. “As an airplane mechanic, I know how to fix things. So when I learned this, I thought instead of building new pumps, why not just repair the old ones at a cheaper cost?”

Trainings with WaterStep are now a three day process that includes realistic, hands-on training. Training begins with a power point teaching the background of water, and hand pumps. After getting to take apart and reassemble a pump several times, the instructors will break the pump, and the next day, the students must figure out how to fix it.

“We’ll act like chiefs, or villagers and the students have to ask us questions to figure out what the problem is,” Sikkema said. “But we never tell them. They have to be able to figure it out on their own.”

Sikkema said in his training, he took apart and reassembled a hand pump three times. “It gets frustrating, but that is what you will realistically be encountering,” he said. “We make trainings as realistic as possible.” This helps students better understand hand pump repair so they can apply their knowledge in the field.

“We want to train trainers,” Jenner said, and he has already begun to by training both Smith and Sikkema, as well as people who actually live in the countries where hand pump repair is needed. “I want to have a lot of people who are trained to do what I do. We need to multiply.” He said.

With the new training platform, future students will be able to continue to learn how to repair broken hand pumps in an effective, and impactful way.

The platform will be completed by the next training on June 9th.

To find out how you can get involved with Hand Pump Repair Training, or to register for one, check out our Hand Pump Repair Training page.


Heritage Engineering Logo

Hand Pump Sounds, Their History and Moving Our School

Each morning in the desert bush of Burkino Faso, I lay under the fading stars of morning light awoken by the sounds of women and children pumping the only hand pump in the area, filling buckets with water and carrying them home on their heads. That was in 1983.

Yet, even today most women travel over 6 miles to gather water for their families.

WaterStep moved out of our former building on Arlington Ave. 6 months ago. But, when you teach hand pump repair on a stout platform made of steel posts, i-beams, and 12 ft lumber legs housing large hand pumps from around the world it’s no easy task to move.

The WaterStep platform in process of dis-assembly

The WaterStep platform in process of dis-assembly

Last Tuesday, thanks to Kiel Thomson Construction and his team, the platform has been torn out in order for it to be redesigned, reassembled and enhanced at 625 Myrtle. Two weeks ago we hosted our final hand pump training event at this old site. Our new space begs for exponential leaps in possibility and we are up for the challenge as we transplant the hand pump repair school.

Participants training on Hand Pump Repair at the Arlington location

Participants in hand pump repair class at the Arlington water school

Back to Burkino Faso . . . That hand pump, just a few yards from my cot, was called an India Mark II. Perhaps the most popular hand pump in the world. One day, it didn’t work and needed repair. I didn’t understand how inconvenient this was for the morning ladies because I got my water from the compound mess hall. Today, it’s all I think about.

My granddaughter just turned seven. She would have been at water hauling age a long time ago. In 1983, I knew nothing about the India Mark II pump nor the opportunity costs hauling water has on a young girls life. I do now. We teach how to repair these robust pumps, and I’ve included their history below.

Over one million hand pumps are in need of repair in Africa alone. One pump company reports that over 20,000 hand pumps on operational wells break each year and are forgotten. But, the pumps can be repaired, often times for just a few dollars. Having the tools and knowledge to repair them makes these simple hand pumps a very sustainable investment for a community.

Hand pump repair skills being shared in country

Hand pump repair taught in country

At WaterStep, we teach hand pump repair so people can take the tools and the knowledge into places like the desert bush of Burkino Faso. Today in Burkino Faso my lady friends don’t have to wait for someone to come fix their pump. Their community has the training and the equipment to do it themselves. It saves time and saves lives.

Learn a little more.
Read the brief history,How Three Handpumps Revolutionised Rural Water Supplies
Share this with a friend and find someone that wants to help make a difference.
Learn more about hand pump repair with WaterStep and sign up for training.

The stars will be fading soon.
I hear voices in the distance.
Here’s to the ladies coming for water.