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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Photo Update: Eric

Eric, the fearless leader/project manager-extraordinaire, hard at work:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Management and Mutatus: Joe

A mutatu ride can be a harrowing experience.

The team caught a Mutatu (passenger van) to Kisumu this morning. In the US, 12 passenger vans aren't exactly comfortable, but Kenyans have made the long, uncomfortable car trip an art. Mutatu drivers must have some engineering training to so efficiently cram such a mass of humanity into such a small space. As for comfort...let's just say the guys hanging out the door had it made.

Still, you can't complain when you take the time to look out the window. Kenya is gorgeous. Looking out over Lake Victoria, watching banana trees zip by, and seeing locals go about ther daily lives is the experience of a lifetime.

Today we are in Kisumu to price out materials for the pipeline we are constructing in Khwisero. Tomorrow we have our first meeting with the local Distribution Pipeline Committee, a group of leaders in the are of the pipeline that will be vital to the success of our project.Talking with Jackson (our incredibly talented, incredibly smart Kenyan Team coordinator) we affirmed to ourselves how much work we have left to do. By the end of this trip we need this committee to be able to organize community support and create a managment structure for the most complicated project EWB has ever attempted. We want the community to take ownership of the project, and we had hoped that they would demonstrate their support by trenching for the pipeline before we return next summer. According to Jackson, that might be optimistic.

One issue with foriegn development is that the Kenyans know we want to do the project. They expect, from past experience, that foriegn aid is free, with few strings attached, and though we might talk tough, in the end we will complete the project regardless of whether the community has contributed. Our goal is to guide the community to truly care about the pipeline. We want a system that will be maintained and is capable of operating for years to come, so we have to put in the time on the social end of this complicated endeavor to make sure it lasts.

In tomorrows meeting we are going to try to guide our Kenyan counterparts to create a committee that can get the community excited, and we are going to ask them to come up with some way that the community can prove to us before next summer that they are ready to build and maintain the pipeline. It might be trenching, it might be another sort of community contribution, but we are sure it is necessary for this project to succed long term.

If I've learned anything so far this trip, I've found that it is easy to underestimate Kenyans. There is so much talent here, there is so much hope, and with a sliver of luck, conditions in Khwisero are going to keep improving at a faster and faster pace. Personally, I think its an incredible thing to be a part of, and I can't wait for tomorrow.

Before writing this I always regretted not getting the macbook pro as it had the backlit keyboard feature that would be ideal for Kenyan nights, a kerosene lantern though is quite a bit cheaper and works equally as well. After a few slow days in Khwisero due to holidays, weddings and rain I was finally able to get more than a few kilometers away. I went to visit an acquaintance from last trip named Jill Inyundo. Jill is an odd sort, who we first met while I was walking down the dirt road from Emwaniro Primary, one of the schools that had received a borehole. After being in rural Western Kenya for two weeks you become pretty accustomed to being gawked at as you’re the only white person that some people have seen before, and if they have seen a white person that person was rarely seen walking. As I was nearing my turn off I notice a grey-haired seventy-year-old white British woman driving a small SUV my way. This was Jill. We were forewarned of her before we left, but none of us had met her. She invited us to her house, lectured us for hours on everything from international aid to local politics to religion. We learned a lot and I kept stopping back to visit her and her Kenyan husband, Weboko, who sports trousers nearly up to his armpits and a salt & pepper beard. The couple had met as students at London University and then married and moved to Nairobi where Boko was an economist and Jill was an English teacher. They had two boys, with whom I have been corresponding via email over the past months. They both live in the UK and are deeply involved with African aid projects directed out of Britain. I met one of them, Boko, the youngest, his wife Sarah and his two children, Abbey and Moses, for the first time. Sarah is Ethiopian and moved to the UK, I believe, at a young age and attended Birmingham University where she met Boko. Abbey, age four, was cruising around the house in a pink tutu and Moses, at 14 months, was toddling and drooling about. Boko and I were able to chat for several hours about the nature of foreign aid, local issues, and some of the projects that we have planned, one of which is a fellowship program. We are looking to get more young Kenyans involved with our project as we recognize that, despite our lack of fiscal resources, we have vast technical and social networking resources that would be incredibly valuable to any youth who is willing to work as hard as our current Project Coordinator Jackson. During our listening sessions last summer Jackson and I were faced with questions about the discouraging community issue of unemployment and it’s subsequent effects on the youth of the area who turned to crime or drugs without anything better to do. We promoted the idea of apprenticeships as something of an immaterial value that could be given to the youth when finances were scarce, essentially providing an advantage to leverage in ascertaining that rare “good job,” while at the same time catalyzing local involvement. Boko, a marketing executive had some helpful recommendations and we plan to have a process in place by our departure. A rather busy day, I’m sun burnt for the first time in a long-time and am going to finish my tea then retire under a bed-net. Qwahara Mano.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Wet Christmas: Eric

We woke up this morning, Christmas Eve, to a thunderstorm and pouring rain (see the poor quality photos). At one point, someone joked that we've ended up with a wet christmas instead of a white one.

Since Maurice assured us yesterday that December is a dry season in Khwisero, it came as a bit of a surprise (when we teased him about his prediction this afternoon, he explained that one of the local tribes is able to control the rain).

In any case, it sounds like the change in weather is an early Christmas present for the local farmers, who've been hard hit by a drought for the past several months.

It was less fortunate for us, since it coated the local roads in two inches of mud. Jackson had set up a meeting with our local management board this morning, but the roads' condition forced us to push it back a couple hours to give all the board members a chance to navigate them.
The meeting itself, however, turned out to be more than worth the wait. I was absolutely amazed at how willing the board members were to sacrifice several hours of their Christmas Eve to discuss our project's status and our plans for the next several weeks.

I'd like to elaborate a bit more, but I'm once again in the process of nodding off at the keyboard--the Kenyan tea Nellie (Jackson's wife) served with dinner tends to put me to sleep, I think. Either that or it was the ugali (a cornmeal-mash dish that's the staple dish here).

Regardless--Feliz Navidad,


Team Member Check-In: Hilary

As we’ve officially arrived in Khwisero, I feel as though it’s probably time for me to check in. My three other teammates have already written a blurb, so I decided, true to “Kenyan time,” it is probably my turn. I am Hilary Fabich, originally from Livingston, MT and I currently reside in Bozeman. I am working on my degree in Chemical Engineering. As much as I love Bozeman winters, I chose to spend my Christmas in Khwisero to help prepare for the EWB summer 2010 implementation trip.

After our four days of travel, we have officially arrived in Khwisero. I am sitting with the team at our hut on Jackson’s compound, which is complete with mud walls, a grass roof, multiple chickens, and several cows.

This morning, at 5:30AM, we went down to the lobby of our hotel, the Buruburu Wab Hotel, to meet the bus. It arrived at 6:30. Maurice (part of the EWB-Kenya team) and his two year old son accompanied us on the journey to Khwisero. I sat next to him and he kept explaining that our bus was the nicest in Nairobi. It was definitely far more comfortable than the other options, by which I mean almost everyone had a seat, some of the seats reclined (some wouldn’t stay upright), the bus sounded as though it was missing a muffler, and every time we hit a speed bump the bus swayed as though there was not much keeping it upright. After eight hours we stopped in Luanda and boarded a Matatu (see picture). There were 14 seats, and our group of five (not including Maurice’s son as he spend the whole time in Maurice’s lap) filled the last of the designated seats. We remained stationary as five more people boarded the Matatu. It was a bit crowded but oddly comfortable. We drove for about 30 minutes before stopping to pick up another group of four and the chicken they had just bought at the market. This totaled to 23 people and one chicken (which Matt was lucky enough to hold). Two men were standing half way out the door of the van as we drove along the streets of Khwisero. After another 30 minutes, the van stopped and the EWB group climbed out and walked the short distance to Jackson and Nelli’s (members of the EWB-Kenya team) compound. They were very welcoming. We were served biscuits and juice while we discussed the state of our project with Jackson. We headed back to our hut to unpack and settle in. Around 8:30 we were called for a delicious dinner where we were served beef, chicken, ugali, chipati, cabbage, and finally some delicious Kenyan tea!

After dinner we all took a turn using the new latrine, washed with the warm water Nelli graciously supplied, and the four of us are now sitting around a table with a kerosene lantern planning for tomorrow. It is 10:30PM so we’re going to succumb to the darkness and head off to our beds!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Team Member Check in: Joe Thiel

Greetings Everyone! Habari! Night is falling here in Nairobi. I’m sitting in the hotel, looking out over one of Africa’s largest cities, listening to music from the street as I contemplate the month ahead. It’s incredible; it hasn’t quite sunk in. At 5:30 tomorrow we catch a bus to Khwisero and our work truly begins. I can’t tell you how exciting that is. Over the past year I’ve learned so much about the district and our work there. I’ve ran fundraisers, attended meetings, given presentations and met some of the most talented people I know while working for our project in Khwisero, but to actually see it, to interact with the community first hand, to experience all of these things we have talked about is going to be incredible. I can’t wait.The best thing about our project, I think, is the connections we make both in Kenya and in Bozeman. Dozens (dozens!) of people helped me and the team to prepare for this trip. We had survey training, concrete training and social training. EWB members from Otto Stein, our advisor, to brand new freshmen spent hundreds of hours in meetings for this trip. Because of the incredible work of everyone in Bozeman I’m confident we can do great things in Khwisero this trip. It’s humbling really. I’m a sophomore in Chemical Engineering and Liberal Studies. I’m a young, poor college student, and I’m part of an organization made up of mainly young, poor college students, yet together we’ve been able to do some amazing things. With the Khwisero community we have brought clean water to thousands of children, a simple act which creates ripple effects throughout the entire community, creating a catalyst that can advance the whole society.This planned distribution pipeline will be EWB-MSU’s greatest challenge thus far. It carries with it incredible social challenges and greater technical complexities than we have faced in the past. EWB always says that we learn far more from our mistakes than our successes, and there will likely be many learning opportunities on this trip, yet the quality of the team I am traveling with, the incredible support we have received from the Bozeman community, and the hard work of every member of EWB-MSU is a testament to the power of people working together towards a worthy goal. I am honored to be on this trip, and I am confident of its success.


Eric: Landing in Nairobi

As I write this, we're recovering from meeting our trip's first unexpected challenge: navigating the international air travel system after the winter storm Matt mentioned below threw a wrench in our itinerary. As a result, we've arrived at Nairobi a day later than we'd originally planned, after spending a night in Chicago, 20 hours in London, and more time than I'd like to count in assorted airports and aircraft.

Needless to say, we're thoroughly exhausted at this point--I don't think any of us got more than 15 cumulative hours of sleep between leaving Billings and landing this morning. This afternoon, I sat down on my hotel room bed to do a bit of reading and woke up four hours later, only to discover everyone else on the team had done the same thing.

After taking a cab from the airport this morning, we met with Maurice, one of our Kenyan team members. He'll be accompanying us to Khwisero tomorrow, and somehow managed to arrange bus tickets for us even after we had to drop our original reservations due to our delay (much of Nairobi's workforce consists of people who've come to the city to find jobs so they can send money back to their families in rural areas, so finding transportation to the countryside as everyone travels home for the holidays is difficult).

At Maurice's suggestion, we're staying at the Wab hotel, part of the Buruburu shopping center on the outskirts of Nairobi. It's an interesting neighborhood, to say the least. As I'm writing this about 8:30 in the evening, we're being serenaded by something that sounds like a combination of karaoke night at the local bar and car alarms, though it may very well be someone blasting the latest Kenyan pop hit.

Fortunately, I'm exhausted enough this evening I don't think it's going to bother me. Actually, I'm starting to nod off as I write this, so I should probably quit before I get even more incoherent than I already am.

Mulembe (I'm pretty sure that's "peace" in Luhya),


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Matt: Over the Atlantic

Well, first blog on the “road” and its origin is mid-Atlantic, written on a London bound Mac-Book. Our debacle began the morning of Saturday the 19th at 3AM when we arrived at Billings Intl. Airport, only to find that Billings was more functional as an international hub (it’s not) than our intended hubs of New York LaGuardia and Kennedy.

When we arrived at the airport, we discovered that the entire Eastern seaboard had been shutdown due to a blizzard that the NY Times designated as one of the Top 10 storms that Washington DC and the like have ever experienced. Nonetheless, in a remarkable display of diligence, two United Agents worked with us for an incredible four hours to reroute our journey in order to put us into Nairobi in a reasonable time frame (within 3 days of leaving Montana).

We caught a flight to Denver, then Chicago, to find that our London flight that evening was overbooked, so, along with thousands of other stranded travelers, we searched for a hotel, found one and were asleep by midnight.

Now, twelve hours later, we are cruising at 640mph, 33,016 ft. over the Atlantic nearing Greenland while a five year old in front of me is irrationally disturbed over having to sit in his seat rather than dance in his seat. We will arrive in London at 11:30PM GMT and will leave for Nairobi at 7:00PM GMT the next day. In the downtime, we have found a hotel that is literally on top of London’s Charing Cross tube station, two blocks from Trafalgar Square and a block from the River Themes. We’ll have the better part of a day to play tourist before we’re off to warmer equatorial climates.


Matt: Our Project's Background

While I have the time, I’d like to expand a bit on the project in Khwisero from the two points of view that I can: philosophical and business oriented. Kenya is home to a myriad of international aid projects, and I apply that term conservatively, as Nairobi’s Kibera Slum, Africa’s largest, arguably has better access (geographically as Kibera is incredibly dense and financially due to subsidization) to foreign and domestically provided services like medical care, piped water, food, job-training, etc; than most other parts of Africa.

All across Kenya, thousands of well-intentioned groups, from all over the world, have tried to assist Kenyans out of a perpetual cycle of relative and absolute poverty, and have failed. Alternatively, many have been successful, and the single commonality shared between successful initiatives has been long-term sustainability through Kenyan ownership and autonomy. In recognition of this end goal, EWB at MSU has been delicately yet deliberately searching for the means to reach this goal.

In 2003, a soft-spoken Kenyan architect, now a virtual Bozeman celebrity, named Ronald Omyonga wrote to the national Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA) headquarters describing the need for improvement in the rural division of the Western Province of Kenya, named Khwisero, which he called home.

Ronald wrote because the primary plight of Khwisero was one of perpetual poverty; where the economy is largely agrarian in nature and is defined by a non-existent margin of growth where families are subsisting on their small plots of land (usually .5-4 acres) with little opportunity for growth. Western Province, where Khwisero is located, has the highest incidence of poverty in the country where 65-78+ percent of the population falls below the rural poverty line and HIV/AIDS is found at twice the national average where approximately 15.4 percent of the population is HIV positive.

Ronald wanted EWB to bring clean water and sanitation to the 58 primary schools of Khwisero; he recognized that long-term change comes from the youth, and by putting clean water access directly at the schools, students, almost always female ones, wouldn’t have to miss an inordinate amount of class time every day as they fetched water, thus avoiding the risk of unfairly putting them behind their male counterparts.

The existing water sources are sparsely located springs that are nearly all contaminated by human and animal waste; where contamination can lead to missed school, long periods of declined health and death in many cases for young children and the elderly in the area. By assisting the students and community members of Khwisero meet basic needs, in theory, they would be able to begin to fulfill other necessities for progression, including an enhanced education.

We initially identified the local schools as being not only the point of contact for our project efforts to very literally meet the ground, but we recognized these schools as being the hubs of the local community, where everyone, in some way was connected to the schools. Utilizing existing infrastructure and tapping into the school’s management capacity, which is one the most advanced in the community, we learned that these schools held enormous potential for long-term sustainability.

Each school that houses a well has been tasked with forming a management committee, comprised of school officials, teachers and community members, in order to assist in planning, implementation and operation of EWB initiated projects, which now depart from solely deep water wells, to include composting and bio-gas latrines, that provide an alternative to traditional pit latrines which contaminate local ground water and only last a few years in a single point, while concurrently providing value added bi-products including compost and methane cooking gas, respectively.

In addition to these income-generating aspects of the latrines, each school has set-up (admittedly with varying degrees of success) a maintenance fund where a small, non-exclusionary fee is charged for water, which is placed in a maintenance account in order to enable the schools to fund regular maintenance, emergency repair, and expansion of the existing projects. As an example, Ikomero, a primary school that houses a borehole installed in 2008, recently built a painted security fence around the well and pump by tapping into their maintenance fund, with significant resources to spare.

This trip is focused on two goals, as stated in below posts: to assess both the technical feasibility of a water distribution pipeline that could provide up to four schools and two health dispensaries with water as well as the management capacity of the schools and our Kenyan Board of EWB in planning, implementing and operating this pipeline project in order to ensure long-term sustainability. We recognize this trip as being a crucial one, in that we are at a point where significant progress can be made in the functions and autonomy of our Kenyan Board, school committees and local partners. This project will be the largest undertaken by EWB-MSU, and probably for nearly any student led group in Kenya or anywhere else for that matter, as project phases are likely set to continue through 2012 and will require extensive community support through management, private land-owners, government officials and volunteer community members.

So as our team continues at a rate of 640mph over the Atlantic, now nearing Ireland, our tasks are laid out before us, textually in a 3-page excel document, conceptually in a magnitude that is daunting to any group, but we have made a commitment to the people of Khwisero, which is being increasingly reciprocated by extraordinary business owners, teachers and farmers from all over the community, in a way that hints at the longevity that we all, Kenyan and American, seek.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Team Member Check-In: Eric, Project Manager

Hello! Karibu! My name is Eric Dietrich (Or jina langu ni Eric Dietrich, to use the full extent of my rather limited Swahili). I’m a sophomore in MSU’s Civil Engineering program, originally from Portland, Ore., and the trip’s project manager.

To provide a bit of background about myself, I’ve been involved in EWB since last fall and spent a month in Khwisero as part of Team 1 this past summer. In other parts of my life, I’m a member of the campus’s swing-dancing club, involved with the University Honors Program and serve as the news editor for The Exponent, MSU’s student newspaper.

As you may have gathered from our other posts, the purpose of this trip is twofold: to collect the technical data we’ll need to create a final design for the water distribution pipeline next spring, and to also lay the social groundwork for the community’s involvement in both construction next summer and the system’s long-term operation and maintenance.

Neither of those tasks will be easy. We’ll spend the next month working in a foreign culture where things as simple as holding a conversation or catching a bus become challenging. Our to-do list ranges from meeting with government officials to surveying the proposed route to facilitating community listening sessions. And, furthermore, we’ll be operating on what our past travel teams like to call “Kenya time,” where everything we set out to do in Khwisero takes twice as long as planned.

Regardless, I have every confidence our team of four will rise to the occasion. My three team members are easily among the most talented students on campus, and the combination of skills I have the pleasure of traveling to Africa alongside is nothing short of amazing.

That isn’t too say we won’t have our rough moments, of course; much of what we’re setting out to do is to learn from our inevitable mistakes. Over the course of our project’s history, the most important lesson we’ve learned is to approach our task with a sense of humility, and we plan to continue that tradition.

Before I sign off, I should take the time to recognize the extraordinary effort that my fellow EWB members have put into making this trip possible. This fall alone, our 50-odd members have quite literally put thousands of hours into our project—as we’ve prepared to travel, our peers have supported us almost every way imaginable, from simply attending planning meetings to sacrificing a Friday evening to fundraise by running a coat check and valet parking for an event at the SUB.

Without that dedication, we wouldn’t be headed to Kenya this Christmas. And, without similar dedication over the past five years, our student-run organization wouldn’t be in a position where we could even consider attempting a project as complex as the distribution pipeline will be.

So, my heartfelt thanks to those fellow EWBers who are reading this from back home, and those of you in the greater Bozeman community who have supported us with your donations and wisdom. You make this possible.

And, to those of you who aren’t (yet) involved in our effort—my thanks for taking the time to follow it. We’ll do our best to make it worth seeing through to the end.

Asante sana,

Team Member Check-In: Matt

Hello Everyone,

My name is Matt Smith, I am a Helena High School graduate and am in my fourth year at MSU with majors in Business Management and Philosophy. As many people point out right away, "That's an interesting mix! What do you do with EWB?" Well, I traveled last summer with EWB in order to research the socio-economic and political systems in Khwisero, Kenya and search for basic poverty alleviation interventions that could be associated with our existing water and sanitation projects. I have been an active student at MSU for the past several years and have been fortunate enough to work with local, state and federal policy as well as organizations ranging from student clubs, to large public and small private entities.

This trip we are going to focus on the social mechanisms in order to ensure project sustainability by working to build the capacity of our Kenyan Board of Directors and conglomerated Pipeline Management Committee. Additionally, we will connect and empower local landowners, of which the pipeline will directly affect, with the local politicians and government officials. We will engage these stake-holding entities by holding small-training sessions, development meetings and large listening sessions to engage community members and all other involved parties.

Hope you follow our progress, as we have heard rumors that Khwisero just got dial-up internet access (it takes a while for gossip to get over the Atlantic), if not, we'll be posting from an internet-cafe in Kisumu , off the coast of Lake Victoria.

Thank you for your support and interest,