A chat with Jan Peuten, Mechanic of Distribution at Waterleidingmaatschappij Limburg (WML)

World Water Academy newsletter item: A chat with Jan Peuten, Mechanic of Distribution at Waterleidingmaatschappij Limburg (WML)

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You work at Limburg Waterworks Company (Waterleidingmaatschappij Limburg, WML). Can you tell us what you do there?

"I am mechanic of Distribution and have over twenty-eight years of experience in my profession. My job consists of carrying out the day to day proceedings in the department of quality and organisation. When I have to explain my work to a client, I often tell them that I come ‘whenever there is too much or too little water'. I still have my ambitions, that's for sure. At the moment, there are few career opportunities within WML. That's too bad, because I definitely want to stay in the water business. I find it an interesting field of work."

What do you mean when you say ‘non-revenue water'?

"Sounds good, doesn't it? It's about minimising water loss. About 60% of the water produced in Africa does not reach the consumer. This has several causes. Leaks, for example, in the (main) junctions. I am responsible for lowering the percentage of water that is lost."

How did you end up with WML?

"After my secondary education and the vocational technical school I ended up in the field of installation. There was a vacancy in Venlo and I followed classes on Gas Water and Lead there. Later, this was taken over by WML, and I found myself working there. I have also taken several courses at World Water Academy (Wateropleidingen), like the course on the basics of drinking water distribution.
When I was working for WML I was seconded to Brabant Water (Hydroscope) for two years. In that time I was responsible for legionella prevention."

WML is part of Vitens Evides International (VEI). This organisation has set up projects worldwide to increase the effectiveness of local water authorities and businesses. You have regularly worked for them in Malawi, Zambia and Ethiopia. What exactly did you do in your time with them?

"In Malawi I was part of a large, four year project. Each time I had to fly all the way to and from Malawi. I educated mechanics there. We had to start at the basics, because we found out the foundations they were building on were not up to standards. Over there, managers like to keep knowledge to themselves. They do not want to share what they know. ‘Knowledge is power', I guess.
As soon as we covered the basics, we went up a level. Back in Malawi, we tested this level and the procedures. Thus, we kept on raising the level each time."

Which experiences of working abroad have stayed with you the most? Is it very different from The Netherlands and Europe?

"One thing that really surprised me was the number of female mechanics. In Malawi the distribution was at least 50/50. You don't see that in The Netherlands. There, this is typically a man's job. The women in Africa definitely hold their own. Also, I found these women to be very structured."

You are part of developing the course ‘Water distribution and control for first level response operators' for the Centre of Expertise in South Africa (a project working with the World Water Academy and Vitens Evides International). Can you tell us a little more about this?

"The department heads in South Africa want their people to be educated and certificated and came to us for help. It is a great assignment where I am acting as substantive expert. I am co-contributor to the course material, while World Water Academy is designing the course itself. This has proven to be a good cooperation.
What I've noticed so far is that managers overestimate their workers' level of knowledge. This is surprising, because there is hardly any guidance for the employees. The mechanics in South Africa have finished high school and only have basic math skills. Managers did not seem to be aware of this.

When we presented the project to the South Africans, they welcomed us with open arms. The company was crying out for our help, and the people were very eager to learn. There is no better way to start off a project.

We have advised the managers not to overestimate their workers' abilities. Start with the basics and make sure they are in order. Going from there, you can take the learning to new levels."

Developing this course was the first time you worked with the international branch of Wateropleidingen, the World Water Academy. How did it go?

"I consider this a very successful collaboration. I learned a lot from this project. For example on the topic of teaching. I have never studied to be an educator, but teaching and transferring knowledge is certainly a skill. In this project I was able to really experience which of my lessons work and which don't. I have been able to bring a lot of structure into the way I teach. I personally really like structure and logical order, and I was under the impression that I was able to implement that in my lessons already. Now, I have found out there was a lot more to learn. That makes me glad, because I like teaching a lot."

Are there any other projects you would like to set up?

"Not a specific project, but transferring knowledge makes me very happy. I hope to be doing it for a long time. In English, if possible. Another language, like French, for example, is more difficult for me. An English project abroad? That would be amazing.

People have asked me plenty of times if I'd want to live in Africa. But no, I am quite happy to just travel there and then come back. Although, maybe Cape Town... I love it there, it's such a beautiful place. So who knows, if the opportunity arises? Maybe I'll change my mind."

Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?

"Being able to share my knowledge, that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. And building a relationship with my students. It doesn't need to be too grandiose. Say, I teach a class of forty students, and I can take half of them to the next level. Just that makes me so happy. In those cases I add real value, real knowhow, to these students. That feels good.

This weekend, I will be travelling to Ethiopia to educate mechanics there. I am already very much looking forward to it."

Jan Peuten in Kaapstad_1
Jan Peuten in Kaapstad 2