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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It has been quite a while since our last blog post and a lot has being
happening here in Khwisero. I am Kalen Ramey, one of the project
here this summer and I have really been enjoying being back
in Khwisero. It has also been really awesome to see all of the new
travelers getting to know the area, and to see each of the teams doing
amazing work. My team is stationed near Mundeku primary school as we
continue to work on the distribution line project.

This project is proving to be very complex mainly for economic and
social reasons. After so much work on the technical aspects of the
project in Bozeman this last semester it has been quite the switch to
come here and really look at the social side of the project. Every
day I feel like we uncover a new complexity. Our work thus far has
been on trying to improve community involvement and strengthen the MEM
committee. The MEM committee was created over the winter trip to
manage the project and is composed of members from each of the
sublocations: MUlwanda, Emutsasa and Mundeku.

These past two weeks we have been working our way around the community
attending barazas (community meetings) at each of the schools along
the route. Today we attended a baraza at Ebuyonga primary school. We
toured the school and got to meet each class, at which time the
students grilled us with questions about the US. Then we got the
chance to see the students perform the dances that they have done in
regional competitions, the dances were amazing. Watching them dance
was definitely my favorite part of the day. Then we had a chance to
speak with parents to convey to them information about the project. I
was especially nervous today because it was my first time speaking at
a baraza, but everything went smoothly and I was assured that the
speech was perfect.

This past week we also met with a couple potential contractors and
have been looking at the bids that were submitted for the project.
Hopefully the MEM committee will be able to meet with the contractors
again this week and then make a selection, so that Justin (our
professional engineer team member) will be able to assist with the
contractor selection and help finalize the designs before leaving Khwisero.

Unfortunately we have been unable to pin down the Member of Parliament
and get the CDF money that was promised for the project. At the
barazas we have been telling the community that our ability to
continue going forward with the project depends on two things:
community preparedness, and the arrival of CDF money.

There is definitely much work do be done still this summer, and at
times I am skeptical about how everything is going to be able to come
together. A project with as many complexities as the distribution
line I want to be sure that everything is set up so that the project
can last for years to come. That said, being around the students and
getting to meet them it is impossible not to want to pour everything
we can into this project.

There's lots of work to do still, but we're feeling pretty optimistic
and having an awesome time here in Khwisero. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 18, 2010

H2O for Hope: Helping Hands in Helena

It’s not often that a pair of middle school girls decide to raise money for a non-profit. Far more rare is a pair that decides to raise $15,000, but that is exactly what Amanda Morrison and Eleanor Wintersteen have decided to do.

I know. Impressive.

After seeing an EWB presentation last year these two Helena Middle School students contacted EWB out of the blue and told us they wanted to raise enough money for a well. These two obviously have incredible determination, but what is more incredible is what they have accomplished since then, establishing H2O for Hope, an organization whose goals reach far beyond a single well in Khwisero. This group hopes to not only participate in our project, but also to convince other schools to aid EWB chapters and projects for years to come. Already another H2O for Hope group is forming at Helena High School, and together they will leverage community support in Helena for an organization based in Bozeman to bring clean water and sanitation to the people of Kenya. I’m pretty excited.

But, this group won’t accomplish their goals alone, so if you get a chance check out their blog at http://h2ogoals.blogspot.com/ or their facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/H2O-for-Hope/116598515050014?ref=ts. You can also contact them at h2oforhope@gmail.com.

It should be noted that this isn’t the only incredible group of people helping EWB-MSU around the state. Schools in Bozeman, Helena and Missoula have worked with us to hold fundraisers, work on projects and do pen-pal letters, and we are always glad to receive support from anyone young, old or in between. If you would like to get involved please e-mail us at ewbmsu@gmail.com.

Asante sana,


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Education Day in Khwisero

On our team's first full day in Khwisero, we found ourselves
at the largest gathering I've seen there. Over 500 people, ranging
from government officials to teachers to schoolchildren in
multi-colored uniforms gathered on the fields of the Khwisero Primary
to celebrate what I was told was "Education Day."

As near as I could tell, the event was intended to recognize the
district's best students, teachers and schools, based on scores on the
national exams administered to graduating primary school students
(eigth-graders, by our rubric).

I should probably mention that Kenya's national exams make the SAT
look like child's play. Everyone seems to take them extraodinarily
seriously. Results, along with students' names, are posted in public,
and the scholarships awarded to high-achieving students are often the
only way they can afford to continue their education.

The event's secondary purpose, it seemed, was to give all manner of
local politicians a chance to speak. It's probably fair to say that
public officials give far more interesting speeches in Kenya than in
the US. One middle-aged woman in particular spent a good half an hour
ranting about female students being forced to drop out due to
pregnancy (sometimes caused by their male teachers).

Being educated makes you more beautiful, she said, which I thought
summed things up rather nicely.

It also nicely underscores how important education is to the people of
Khwisero, and the reason we were asked to bring our project there in
the first place. When it comes down to it, knowledge is the only thing
that can carry the child of a struggling subsistence farmer out of
poverty, the force that propels Africa's long, often-halting struggle
towards development, and the most effective way I've heard of to
empower women to take control of their lives.

And that, in essence, is why a bunch of college students from Montana
are here in Africa. Beyond and despite the cultural novelties,
day-to-day discomforts and new friends, we can only hope that, when we
return to America, it will be at least a bit easier for Khwisero's
children to obtain that education.