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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Long-walks in Kenya result in seemingly inordinate amounts of time for reflection. On one such six-kilometer walk back to the compound I thought about the relationship that I have with the Inyundos, a retired Kenyan man and British woman who have lived in Kenya for decades, which I met last summer when I was in Khwisero.

I haven’t had much in the way of extended family growing as my closest family consists of: mom, dad, my little brother, my grandpa and uncle. To make matters worse, I haven’t really found a “home” as we moved away from my parent’s hometown, Lincoln, NE, when I was six-years old. We lived in Mukilteo, WA for three years, a small ferry town on the coast of Puget Sound and then we moved to Denver, CO, and lived in a suburban hell about seven years. After spending the rest of elementary school and middle school in Denver I saw myself attending Arapahoe High School in Denver and then, (ironically enough) Montana State University, as a family friend had attended MSU and my biggest love at the time was snowboarding.

Several weeks before high-school was to start I found out we were moving to Helena, MT, which was a little different from the suburban Denver that I had gotten comfortable in. So, we get to Montana a week before High-School starts, providing no time for adjustment, but rather an exponentially increased anxiety for me, as you can only imagine any freshman feeling, but picture a city kid fitting in with what he initially perceived as being Hickville, USA. I eventually began to feel at home as I tried out for the football team (a sport I had never played before) and discovered that fly-fishing was closer than ever before.

Now as I’m walking down a relatively foreign dirt road to visit this relatively foreign couple I find myself feeling a relatively foreign sense of belonging. I’m the only white person to be seen and I don’t speak much Swahili or Luhya but the hospitality would attract any foreigner.

When I arrive at the Inyundos I’m greeted by Evans, on of the young-Kenyans they employ to run their small farm. Jill is sitting on the porch and is eager to criticize my tardiness. Jill is not so kindly referred to as “abulunga,” which means “cruel” in Luhya. Jill is harsh, which is why I like her so much. She is inescapably British, as the grey haired, 5’5” 72 year-old often prefers mincemeat over Ugali, a local Kenyan dish. Yet she has been in Kenya for over forty-years and has a masters degree in Anthropology from London University (where she met her husband Weboko); she understands the roots and current Kenyan culture better than many Kenyans and speaks fluent Swahili, but no Luhya, out of respect for the community. After explaining why the “tea party” movement in American is illogical, the differences in British and American healthcare and the merits of Montesorri education, I spend the rest of the day discussing the complexities of the work we are doing on the ground here in Khwisero.

Jill is a wealth of knowledge as she has seen innumerable aid projects come and go, including one of her own. Jill and Weboko started the Khwisero Water Development Project (KWDP) after two healthy young boys died of dysentery after drinking from one of the local springs in 1996. After protecting many springs in the area (a method that mitigates erosion and contamination) and promoting various development projects over the years, the Inyundos and their KWDP staff now just manage a small demonstration farm that includes hybrid-dairy, diverse crops as well as tree and fish farming.

What Jill and I really discuss is the need for community buy-in and ownership of a project in order to ensure its sustainability. Earlier in the trip, Hillary and I were discussing a Western example of this community buy-in that we face. If a student pays for her schooling or another works for his money, she is more likely to study harder and he will most likely have a higher value for what he earns than someone that is given the same thing. What is necessary in aid projects like ours is for a group like EWB-MSU to come in and essentially subsidize the cost of development but not to just hand something out. We want the community to own the project and know that we are working with them in order to secure a healthier future for their children.

Jill went off to make me lunch (left-overs) so Weboko and I chatted about the nature of African Polygamy, which he saw as another social epidemic. African leaders like Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, just married his fifth wife, and is telling Africans that polygamy is traditional, tribal culture and as a result, most African men have several wives yet are incapable of supporting the large family that inevitably results. Weboko is about 5’10” and has broad shoulders, very skinny legs and a white beard. He was a professor of Economics at Kenyatta University in Nairobi before he moved back home to Khwisero with Jill, who taught high-school in Nairobi.

What I find in this couple is a sense of family that I never had growing up. I had a small close family, but what I am finding with my time in Kenya is that I am almost subconsciously ending up with family members through my studies and travel in Bozeman and Khwisero, two places that are very literally worlds apart, yet home for me. George Metcalfe and Deb Wahlberg, a couple in Bozeman has taken me in, in an identical fashion, as I met them through EWB, and they have assisted in preparing me for my work in Kenya as both have extensive experience after being involved in African Aid for decades. I consider them and the Inyundos as close as I consider my family, which it apparently takes a walk down a long Kenyan dirt road to realize.

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