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, August 13, 2010

Holding Back

At a baraza the other day, our team delivered a difficult message: "We came to Khwisero hoping to start construction on a water distribution pipeline," we told the assembled community, "but that's not going to be possible."

We went on to name our reasons: The contractor's bid for the project came in higher than we'd expected. Funding promised by Khwisero's Member of Parliament, Evans Akula, has yet to materialize. The social engineering work necessary to help the community develop the project's management structure has proved more challenging than we'd hoped.

Our American students and Kenyan partners have spent the past month-and-a-half working through those issues, making slow but precious progress. Nonetheless, with only two weeks left in our stay here, we've come to the painful decision that things simply aren't going to work out this summer, and have begun the more-painful process of explaining that decision to the community.

The disappointment at that meeting was tangible--dead silence, as the audience slumped in their seats. The conversation, earlier, where we broke the news to the locals who've poured heart and soul into advancing the project was one of the most difficult of my life. There's an incredible amount of hope in this community, and so many inspirational people who've sacrificed their time and energy to help make the project possible. Explaining that they'll, at best, have to wait another year to see construction begin is quite nearly heartbreaking.

Our team is disappointed as well, but thoroughly convinced that holding back is the best choice for the community. Khwisero's landscape is littered with the remnants of failed water projects, and we're all haunted by the fear that EWB's pipeline could join them. In due time, the project's pieces may well come together, but we realize that forcing them in place so we can rush forward will simply invite disaster through management failure or shoddy workmanship.

Instead, we'll wait, and hope that we can return next summer with a different message.

Eric Dietrich

1 comment:

Tracy Ellig said...

To Eric and all the EWB team,
Your decision shows wisdom and restraint. The failure of so many humanitarian aid projects is due to their sponsors not wanting to disappoint anyone in the short term. You are taking a different path, thinking long term, trying to create something enduring. Hang in there. -- T Ellig