(clips from the synopsis about the Frontline video documentary)
Five years ago, Amy Costello reported a story for FRONTLINE/World. It was about the challenges of getting water in Africa, and a promising new technology called the PlayPump.
After years of covering “bad news” in Africa, she was happy to report a story that seemed to offer something to cheer about. Her story showed how simple it might be for children to pump fresh water just by playing. Behind it all, a South African entrepreneur named Trevor Field.
Field had made his career in advertising, but when he heard about this new device, he formed a company and started making PlayPumps himself.
To cover maintenance costs, he proposed selling ads on the sides of the water tower. He said the PlayPump model would be a big improvement over the hand pumps that Africans have struggled with for years.
Celebrities, politicians and, most important, major donors had been hearing about the PlayPump, and, Costello was told, watching her FRONTLINE story. As Laura Bush announced $16.4 million in U.S. donor support to install PlayPumps across southern Africa, Field watched amazed from his office in South Africa.
The lion’s share of the money would come from the U.S. government, which pledged $10 million. Another $5 million came from a foundation run by Steve Case, the founder of America Online, and his wife Jean.
Jean Case told Costello that her FRONTLINE story was the first thing she showed potential funders. Facebook, Twitter, and fundraising campaigns on charitable websites would soon follow.
Field was expanding his PlayPump program in neighboring Mozambique. And PlayPumps International planned to help Field roll out the pump in 10 African nations.
Three years later, Costello returned to Mozambique. She’d heard that the PlayPump rollout had run into trouble and wanted to see what had happened.
Costello visited more PlayPump sites, the next one in a more remote part of Mozambique with fewer children around. Women tell her that spinning the merry-go-rounds is often hard work without help, and hard especially for the older women. They tell her the old hand pumps were much easier, and that no-one consulted them about the change. The PlayPump just arrived.
A report commissioned by the Mozambique government on the PlayPump that was never released, cited similar problems with the pumps that Costello was seeing – women finding it difficult to operate; pumps out of commission for up to 17 months; children not playing as expected on the merry-go-rounds, and maintenance, “a real disaster,” the report said.