southern africa: troubled water

FEATURED LESSON PLAN: Learning From a Troubled Foreign Aid Project



In this lesson, the class will analyze lessons learned from a troubled foreign aid project and develop advice for other aid organizations about how to prevent a similar situation in the future. The featured aid project is the rapid rollout of the PlayPump device that pumps fresh water when children play on a merry-go-round. For more background information on how the PlayPump works and a timeline of what happened with the PlayPump’s rollout, please see this lesson’s Related Resources.


Subject Area:

Social Studies, Geography, Global Studies, World History


Grade Level:

Grades 6-12



    The student will:
  • List problems that occurred in various communities when PlayPumps were implemented
  • Outline what lessons were learned from the rapid rollout of PlayPumps
  • Develop a piece of advice they would give to other organizations with aid projects about how to prevent situations like this from happening in the future


Estimated Time Needed:

One 50-minute class period


Materials Needed:

  • Internet access and equipment to show the class an online video clip and to conduct research
  • The FRONTLINE/World film Southern Africa: Troubled Water (length: 23:41)




  • Present the following multiple-choice question to the class: In the year 2000, about how many Africans could not get safe drinking water?
      a) Half b) 300 million c) More than the entire population of the United States (source: The World Bank []) Explain to students that all of the answers are correct, and that the water many Africans have actually causes sicknesses, including malaria and dengue fever.
    • Tell the class that a South African social entrepreneur named Trevor Field wanted to do something about this important issue, so he worked to have devices called PlayPumps installed at rural schools. Then show the class Southern Africa: Troubled Water (length 23:41) and ask students to take notes on what problems came up when the installation of PlayPumps was ramped up too quickly.
    • Discuss why so many people put their support behind the PlayPumps device. How would students summarize what went wrong? Under what circumstances would the PlayPump be an effective way to meet water needs?
    • Have student pairs read an interview with journalist Amy Costello, who reported on the PlayPumps. Ask the pairs to list what lessons were learned from the rapid PlayPump rollout and what one piece of advice they would give to other organizations with aid projects about how to prevent something like this from happening in the future.
    • If time permits, ask student pairs to share with the rest of the class what advice they would give.



    This teacher’s guide was written by Cari Ladd.


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