Karibu! Welcome!

Since 2004, EWB@ MSU's professional and student volunteers have worked with community members in Khwisero, Kenya to provide water and sanitation infrastructure at the district's 58 primary schools, making it easier for Khwisero's children to avoid waterborne disease and get an education.

In that time, the group has grown from a small club to one of MSU's premier student organizations, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund seven borehole wells, six composting latrines and a biogas latrine that serve thousands of community members.

Thank you for joining us as we continue to work hand-in-hand with local partners to make a difference in one small part of our world. As Western Kenya's limited internet access allows, we will update this blog while in-country with the successes, stories and lessons provided by our work.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

Matt Smith

With this summer’s travel coming to a close, EWB-MSU has sent over 100 students to Khwisero since the project began in 2004. While each has had a wholly unique experience throughout their travels, a universal feeling seems to arise as each student’s time in Khwisero nears an end; they feel like they left quite a bit undone.

In recognition of the variety of cultural and environmental differences between America and Kenya, EWB-MSU tries to encourage travelers to come up with a myriad of project ideas to pursue while on the ground and to plan for each to not go according to plan. One of the challenges of being dynamic and adaptive, is that we each feel like we should have accomplished more. When one project slows, we pick another up. Then, when we watch the Khwisero countryside pick up speed through the windows of a country-bus, it is too late; our trip is over.

This is my third trip to Khwisero and now, in my second month in Kenya, I’ve seen three teams of students come through and I’ve ridden that country-bus with them. I’ve seen them torn between their home and its comforts and the new home that has invariably been created for them by the community of Khwisero. Each time I return to Khwisero with a “To-Do” list. “Review the EWB-Khwisero financial logs” and “pay the hardware invoices” are easy tasks; “Restructure the Board, work with everyone to create a new constitution” and “Save the world” seem to be a bit more difficult.

As the remaining EWB-MSU member, I will be responsible for ensuring that the summer’s projects are finished and are appropriately transitioned to community ownership. We have four composting latrines that are receiving their final plastering and will be outfitted with plumbing, water catchment, moving walls and incinerators for feminine products. The MEM pipeline, after its third-year of planning, has recently laid foundations for a water tower and the first phase of trench—over a mile—has been dug thanks to community contributions. The first phase of the pipeline will serve Mundeku Primary School and the community through two additional water points. The sum of all three phases will serve five primary schools, two health clinics and a large portion of the community through roadside water kiosks.

Our last project has been several years in the making as well: a water catchment system at Ekatsombero Primary School in the Eastern stretches of the District. The catchment system has undergone several redesigns throughout the summer, but our team in the States is working with local contractors to come up with a final design that is amenable to all involved.

In addition to the material projects, I’ve been tasked with finding ways to build the capacity of our local support organization: EWB-Khwisero. We’re developing a constitution that more clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, restructuring our local Board of Directors in order to match recent political reforms and making sure the team has the tools they need by enrolling them in computer training at the polytechnic school and finding other opportunities for further training.

One month lies ahead of me and I have a list of my own. Ultimately though, I’ve addressed one of the central tasks on my list, answering a critical question: “Can I do this kind of work in the long-term, is it worth it?” When I take my turn on the inevitable bus-ride back to Nairobi, I’ll have few regrets.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Project Update: Ekatsombero Rainwater Catchment System

Above: Team member Matt Rine teaches schoolchildren American phrases.

Ryan Olff

Just a quick update on the rainwater catchment and filtration system at Ekatsombero primary school. After a month of hard work, problem solving, and minor issues with construction, I am glad to say that the rainwater catchment system is getting closer to completion. Watching the 16,000 liter tank lowered into a 15 foot deep hole in the ground was something else considering Kenyan construction and engineering techniques. The process took nearly five hours and was quite entertaining.

The last few parts and pieces were delivered yesterday by Haikal Investments, the contractor working with us on the project. The delivery included the last few PVC parts needed to finish up the plumbing from the 5000 Liter tanks into the sand filter, which will then filter the water into the 16,000 Liter holding tank. They also supplied us with PVC gutters and began to install the pump so that concrete can be poured.

It has been a challenge coming to a new place, getting used to “Kenyan time,” learning a whole new system for construction, and being thrown into a project manager position my first time here. It seems like the trip has been too short, and I can’t help feeling like I haven’t made enough progress while working here at Ekatsombero. There is still a lot to be accomplished, but over the last week of my stay, a lot of the remaining parts have been purchased and construction can resume. Currently, we’re hoping that the project can be finished by the end of August.

I wish I could have seen things finished personally, but with the inevitable minor setbacks, this being EWB’s first-ever rainwater catchment system, we’ve found ourselves forced to learn by making mistakes as we go. All I can do now is be positive and leave Matt Smith, who will be staying in Kenya into the fall, with the necessary information to complete the project on time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Field Notes: Our Kenya Board and Fellowship Program

Matt Smith

Editor's note: The following represents a portion of a piece written for kenyaconnections.com, a hub to facilitate networking between assorted EWB chapters and other development organizations working across Kenya.

It’s odd when good ideas emerge: usually at odd times in odder places. The idea for the EWB-MSU Fellows Program came up on a country-bus somewhere in between Nakuru and Kericho, Kenya. Our organization (Engineers Without Borders – Montana State University) had been working on water and sanitation projects in Khwisero District, Kenya for six years at that point and we had built a substantial network of Kenyan partners since we began. In fact, we established a Board of Directors in Khwisero in 2008 as a way to direct our projects to schools with the most critical sanitation and water needs as well as balance out project distribution across political boundaries. Our EWB-Khwisero Board is currently composed of school-teachers, government officials from the ministries of water, education and health as well as interested community members.
We found that the Board was a way that we would be able to navigate the political, familial and other cultural complexities of a region that was wholly unfamiliar to outsiders. We also had hopes that the Board would be a way to integrate more partners into active roles in our programs. In many ways, the Board has been a successful idea, though...

Finish reading here: http://kenyaconnections.com/2011/07/field-notes-ewb-kenya-board-and-fellowship-program/

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Work Continues

A quick update on our projects. Things are getting fantastically busy:

Ryan Olf has taken over for Jeff Moss and Ben Carreon working on the rainwater catchment system at Ekatsombero Primary School. Ekatsombero has been waiting since 2009 for a water project, when plans to provide the school with a well were derailed by a tragic lack of accessible groundwater. On Monday, a 16,000 liter water storage tank was lowered into the ground to provide the school with a clean water source. The water will be collected off the school’s roof, draining into two above-ground 5,000 liters tanks before passing through a sand filter for storage in the larger tank underground.

Kendall Saboda and Kala Jaquet have worked to organize a series of eyeglass clinics at the primary schools on the MEM distribution pipeline route in western Khwisero. The first eyeglass clinic was held Friday; over the course of the summer we hope to distribute nearly 1500 eyeglasses to schoolchildren and community members.

Kendall is also busy testing springs around Emwiru Primary School to research water quality. Her sampling is tedious with the timings of the daily samples going in and out of an incubator running off a car battery, thermostat, and light bulb.

Autumn Labuff has worked nonstop on the 2400 household surveys we hope to conduct at around 14 primary schools looking into varying water usage, helping us gauge the impact our work has on the broader community. She is now working on taking GPS coordinates at all the households and training the Kenyan surveyors who will conduct the surveys

Matt Rhine (aka “Pony”) has scheduled several meetings with teachers at schools throughout the Khwisero district, looking to establish a network amongst them to analyze the problems of education at Kwhisero Primary Schools.

Justin Stewart has been wonderfully documenting all these various projects with his camera, working on a photobook for our organization. He is traveling to document all our old and new projects, quite the task as we have worked at 14 schools in Khwisero including this summer’s work.

Kiera McNelis has worked at both Mushikongolo and Emwiru Primary Schools on the composting latrine construction ordering materials, collaborating with the contractor Fredrick and awesome EWB-Kenyan Fellows, Patrick, John, and Raphael. Last week, the foundation excavation for the composting latrine began at Emwiru and Mushikongolo is preparing to pour the slab of the latrine floor.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Team Five is Alive—Passing Through Nairobi

Matt Rine

We landed in Nairobi June 28(me coming in through Ethiopia, Zach Gartner through Amsterdam, and Justin Stewart, Kendall Saboda and Ryan Olff coming in after a week in Germany and Amsterdam). Navigating around the city was an exciting, if a bit scary, experience for everyone. The unspoken traffic rules took a while to catch on to; we likened it to a very intense live action game of frogger.

While waiting for Chris Maus, our Project Manager, and Kayla Jaquet to come in, we visited the city market. This was a wonderful experience during which vendors aggressively sell their wares and bartering is still a form of business s(I got a bracelet for a pen!). We spent the rest of the wonderful day wandering around the University of Nairobi and the national museum, while Joe (who graciously endured a day-long bus trip out from Khwisero to welcome us to East Africa) got to know some of the anthropology and sociology professors.

The hostel dinners were awesome, consisting of chapatti, lentil soup, rice and samosas. We breakfasted at the Nairobi Java House, which is definitely one of the nicer coffee shops I’ve been in (though its playlist is four songs long, and all four are practically identical James Taylor songs at that).

Unfortunately, Chris’s bag was misplaced during the transfer in Europe so he, Zach, and Kayla spent an extra day in Nairobi waiting for it while the rest of us struck out for Khwisero. The Easy-Coach (Kenya’s premier bus company) ride was long and hot, but the beauty of the changing Kenyan countryside as we traveled west made up for it. After a relatively stressful matatu (local bus) ride for the last leg of the journey from Kisumu, we finally arrived at Jackson’s compound—it was a great relief to be among such fine hosts.

We’ve got quite a series of tasks before us: Ryan will work on the rainwater catchment system at Ekastumbero, as well as a paper on the local construction industry. Kendal is troubleshootng the incubator we’ve used for microbial water testing, and Justin is taking the pictures for an EWB photobook. Personally, I’m researching how to quantitatively gauge the effect of humanitarian aid on education, though I’m not quite sure that’s possible.

Today I walked to Emwaniro to talk to Harriton, the school’s head-teacher, hoping to coordinate a meeting of educators from all around the area. I was lead by two great guys from Ebukwala named James and Josek, who spent a lot of time working with Thomas, Jonah, and. It was really great to talk to two people my own age. James is planning on working in wildlife management, and Josek is planning on teaching math and science (coincidently, my own career aspiration). We talked a little about the states of our own countries and our hopes for the future. As much as there may be cultural and economic gaps, it’s wonderful to find similarities here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Education in Khwisero: Making the Most of Scarce Resources

Above: EWBers and company partake in a football match at one of Khwisero's Primary Schools.

Thomas Wells

Greetings once again from Khwisero!

Since I (an education major) arrived in Kenya a few weeks ago, I have been surprised again and again by the resourcefulness of the school system and the educators present within it.

In 2003, the Kenyan government made public primary education free—since then, millions upon millions of students have shown up for primary school, many of them as old as 17 or 18.

Rather than rejecting students, schools have opened their arms wide to accept as many students as possible. The result is that every student has the opportunity to receive education in Math, Science, Religion, English and Kiswahili.

Unfortunately, the schools often do not have the resources to meet the needs of their student population. Malaha Primary School, in the Mumias district, for example, has 681 students in the school with only 13 teachers to teach them. That’s around 52 students per teacher.

As a result, most teachers must lecture rather than hold open discussions like we are more familiar with in the US. Further complicating matters, Malaha doesn’t have enough classrooms to support the student population: it has few sanitation facilities and water is a lengthy distance from the school. Needless to say, that’s a LOT of problems to be facing as a school administrator.

And while these conditions (I believe) are echoed throughout Khwisero and Kenya, many of the teachers I have met manage to educate students quite well (according to test scores, at least). Some teachers go above and beyond the call of duty, teaching groups of students on Saturdays to ensure as much retention as possible.

Head Teachers like Samson Kaka of Mwisena Primary and Harriton Mwakha of Emwaniro Primary work very hard to improve the lives and educations of their students on a daily basis. Both schools have benefited from a EWB well, and both headmasters taken full advantage of the opportunity, setting up a system of fees and maintenance for the wells so that they can continuously work. Both are always looking for ways to improve their schools through new technologies and feverish grant writing. [Editor’s note, a new block of classroom’s at Emwaniro was recently funded by OPEC]

Being such an outsider to the school system, it’s very difficult to get a good view, but from what I’ve seen, my perspective on education has been vastly changed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Adventures of the Mushikongolo Composting Latrine Committee

Kiera McNelis, Project Manager

Today [Editor’s note—June 22nd; I’m a bit behind in posting] was the first training session for the Mushikongolo Composting Latrine Committee. The committee was formed to oversee the latrine’s long-term maintenance and is composed of seven members including school-teachers, community stakeholders, and school management representatives. Along with a couple of our local partners, we took its members to visit the latrine built last summer at Elwangale Primary School in eastern Khwisero.

Our adventure opens to a slow start after we wait an hour at Mushikongolo for our matatu’s unsuccessful search for petrol in the Khwisero market. Eventually, the bus ended up rolling on down the hill to Mushikongolo to pick us up, running nearly on empty. “We are lucky,” state the Kenyans as we eventually find fuel on the roadside.

Nevertheless, I had my doubts that we’d ever get to Elwangale when I saw how little the driver put in the tank. Then, I reminded myself that it is important to have faith in the transport system in Kenya. Otherwise, I would be constantly worried about reaching the destination and never enjoying the journey. We set out towards the zenith of Kwhisero, Misango hill.

Everyone was excited for the training, especially Texel, who is developing a composting handbook for primary schools this summer. Elwangale resides on a steep hillside. To reach Elwangale, which resides on a steep hillside, we had to navigate a narrow, rocky road. Seeing my face as the matatu swayed, our fellow John joked that “now, this is Africa.” Everybody laughed.

Fortunately, the training went as planned. The committee members and the EWB team broke up into small groups to investigate the composting collection chambers, stalls, and urine diversion. Together, we discussed the differences with the composting latrine design we are implementing this summer, the upsides and downsides of Elwangale’s maintenance efforts, and overall compost process.

The theme was explaining how the latrine takes all the waste and turns it into resources that can be utilized. Over a short lunch of steaming milk chai and Blueband [margarine] sandwiches, the committee discussed the few changes they would like to their latrine and asked question on usage.

By this time, we are running about two hours behind schedule; Autumn and one of Musikongolo’s teachers especially need to hurry back to Mushikongolo to conduct a Project Wet training. So we take off—until about 500 meters from the school, when a shrilling sound from underneath the matatu informs us that the vehicle has bottomed out in a ditch. The driver tries to turn the engine, but the harsh sound repeats itself. At this point, all the men pile out to assess the situation. No luck!

After coasting the matatu back down to the school, we walk up the hill for a few kilometers to the main road. At the intersection, we share sweets, bubblegum, and mangos amongst each other from the neighboring kiosk and, having no alternative, find motorcycles taxis to pick us up.

Once we reach the Khwisero market, my cell phone rings. It is Abraham, the composting committee chair, informing me that his motorcycle was in a minor accident. The stress begins to wear on me as I struggle to face yet another challenge.

We decide to bring sodas to Abraham and Benson, another committee member who was riding with him, at the clinic. Abraham thanks me for the soda while I ask him how he is feeling. “Fine. Fine. No problems. That is life you know. This is life. It can change in a second, one can be paralyzed or even die. This is just life—I am fine.”

I smiled, “Yes, you’re right, Abraham.”

The other day, a Kenyan told me this: “We are humans. Once we solve a problem, we always find another one.” Looking back at today, I can’t help but think how true that is. We certainly had our ups and down—literally, given the hills—but the successful training and the committee’s ability to come together and solve problem after problem with a positive attitude assures me that the project is in good hands.