We sheltered from the rain as we discussed the problem. Our trial project building rainwater harvesting jars was not quite going to plan. We had arrived in the middle of the training session to find the masons building a wall, not the rainwater harvesting jar. They had been told to stop working until the project manager arrived to assess the progress being made, and unwilling to stand around doing nothing, they were helping out by adding to a neighbour’s house.
The design of the jars or tanks is very simple. With a base of concrete, the shape of the jar is constructed using hessian sacks pinned together to form a circular mould, and filled with material to hold the shape whilst concrete and wire is applied around the mould. Once dry the hessian sacks can be removed and reused again to make another mould.
However, the problem was the materials inside the mould. The masons had used soil to fill it up, but with rocks and wet mud, the resulting mould was misshapen and difficult to manoeuvre. They needed to find something more malleable, easily available and cheap. Perhaps sand could be used. But, no, that was too expensive and would have to be transported up the mountain from the town of Léogâne. What about sawdust instead? But no-one knew of any local carpenter’s workshops nearby.
I listened to their debate and looked up at the banana tree that was sheltering me from the rain.
I leaned back into the conversation and asked if they had thought about using banana leaves. A cheap, easily available resource, dried banana leaves could be packed down and fill the mould, providing a malleable but sturdy shape. They looked at me dubiously and after some consideration, dismissed the idea.
So I mentioned it to the Project Manager, which was clearly a better idea as within minutes they had agreed that it was of course the best solution, and set about identifying places where we could pick up some banana leaves.
We went back today to see the progress they had made. We found them applying the concrete to a well shaped mould filled with banana leaves.
Who knew banana leaves had so many multiple uses?