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 22, 2009

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.


No comments: