Denver, CO Donates Equipment to Improve Sanitation in its Sister City Axum, Ethiopia

After fourteen years of planning and fundraising, Denver Sister Cities International (DSCI) recently donated a septic pumping truck to their sister city Axum, Ethiopia that would safely pump out pit latrines, providing improved sanitation and greatly benefiting the health and safety of the community as a whole. 

Nearly a decade and a half ago, Denver-Axum committee members conducted a study to see what could best help the community of Axum. It was determined that, with no public septic system, Axum needed to improve its poor sanitary conditions. In the past, when the city depended on ground water sources, waterborne illnesses affected the community frequently, often because pit toilets in the city leeched out into ground water. The DSCI Axum Committee began saving money to buy a truck; Tsegaye Hailu, Denver-Axum Committee Co-Chair and Gayle Stallings, DSCI Board President, along with the Denver-Axum Committee worked on acquiring funds to purchase the truck. 

The Committee also worked with Denver Wastewater Management Division (DWMD) throughout the entire process. DSCI and DWMD had also worked together during the Denver-Nairobi-Kunming committee’s work on the Sino-African Initiative. Reza Kazemian, Director of DWMD Operations, was able to assist in getting DSCI on of its used, but well maintained, trucks for a highly-discounted price of $20,000. Once DSCI purchased the truck, the next obstacle was to send it across two continents. 

DSCI applied for the USAID Denton Program, which allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need. After a year of grant processing, DSCI’s application was approved in June 2014. With patience and perseverance, and help from the office of Congresswoman Diana DeGette, they were able to ship the truck out on October 15, 2014. Seen as a great opportunity to send other items during this rare, multi-continent shipment, the empty truck belly was filled with books, spare parts, and other miscellaneous items. 

The truck was delivered from Denver to Portsmouth, Virginia and from there to Djibouti. It’s expected to be delivered to the consignee, a local NGO called Tigrai Development Association, in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa before ultimately arriving in Axum. The truck is estimated to arrive somewhere between December 26, 2014 and January 9, 2015. Before getting the truck up and running, an operator must be appropriately trained to use it and DSCI plans to send a trainer to Axum in early 2015. Once the truck is operational, it will be available to service pit latrines at primary and secondary schools, the University of Aksum (Metropolitan State University of Denver’s sister school), hospitals and clinics, public latrines around the city, government offices, commercial establishments, and residences. 

The DSCI Axum Committee has plans for an outgoing cultural exchange in Axum in January 2015, where they will check on the progress of their donation and will also function as a collaborative tour with the Denver-Nairobi Committee. To stay up to date with the latest from the septic pumping truck’s journey to Axum and DSCI’s latest news, please visit