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, September 2, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

Matt Smith

With this summer’s travel coming to a close, EWB-MSU has sent over 100 students to Khwisero since the project began in 2004. While each has had a wholly unique experience throughout their travels, a universal feeling seems to arise as each student’s time in Khwisero nears an end; they feel like they left quite a bit undone.

In recognition of the variety of cultural and environmental differences between America and Kenya, EWB-MSU tries to encourage travelers to come up with a myriad of project ideas to pursue while on the ground and to plan for each to not go according to plan. One of the challenges of being dynamic and adaptive, is that we each feel like we should have accomplished more. When one project slows, we pick another up. Then, when we watch the Khwisero countryside pick up speed through the windows of a country-bus, it is too late; our trip is over.

This is my third trip to Khwisero and now, in my second month in Kenya, I’ve seen three teams of students come through and I’ve ridden that country-bus with them. I’ve seen them torn between their home and its comforts and the new home that has invariably been created for them by the community of Khwisero. Each time I return to Khwisero with a “To-Do” list. “Review the EWB-Khwisero financial logs” and “pay the hardware invoices” are easy tasks; “Restructure the Board, work with everyone to create a new constitution” and “Save the world” seem to be a bit more difficult.

As the remaining EWB-MSU member, I will be responsible for ensuring that the summer’s projects are finished and are appropriately transitioned to community ownership. We have four composting latrines that are receiving their final plastering and will be outfitted with plumbing, water catchment, moving walls and incinerators for feminine products. The MEM pipeline, after its third-year of planning, has recently laid foundations for a water tower and the first phase of trench—over a mile—has been dug thanks to community contributions. The first phase of the pipeline will serve Mundeku Primary School and the community through two additional water points. The sum of all three phases will serve five primary schools, two health clinics and a large portion of the community through roadside water kiosks.

Our last project has been several years in the making as well: a water catchment system at Ekatsombero Primary School in the Eastern stretches of the District. The catchment system has undergone several redesigns throughout the summer, but our team in the States is working with local contractors to come up with a final design that is amenable to all involved.

In addition to the material projects, I’ve been tasked with finding ways to build the capacity of our local support organization: EWB-Khwisero. We’re developing a constitution that more clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, restructuring our local Board of Directors in order to match recent political reforms and making sure the team has the tools they need by enrolling them in computer training at the polytechnic school and finding other opportunities for further training.

One month lies ahead of me and I have a list of my own. Ultimately though, I’ve addressed one of the central tasks on my list, answering a critical question: “Can I do this kind of work in the long-term, is it worth it?” When I take my turn on the inevitable bus-ride back to Nairobi, I’ll have few regrets.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Project Update: Ekatsombero Rainwater Catchment System

Above: Team member Matt Rine teaches schoolchildren American phrases.

Ryan Olff

Just a quick update on the rainwater catchment and filtration system at Ekatsombero primary school. After a month of hard work, problem solving, and minor issues with construction, I am glad to say that the rainwater catchment system is getting closer to completion. Watching the 16,000 liter tank lowered into a 15 foot deep hole in the ground was something else considering Kenyan construction and engineering techniques. The process took nearly five hours and was quite entertaining.

The last few parts and pieces were delivered yesterday by Haikal Investments, the contractor working with us on the project. The delivery included the last few PVC parts needed to finish up the plumbing from the 5000 Liter tanks into the sand filter, which will then filter the water into the 16,000 Liter holding tank. They also supplied us with PVC gutters and began to install the pump so that concrete can be poured.

It has been a challenge coming to a new place, getting used to “Kenyan time,” learning a whole new system for construction, and being thrown into a project manager position my first time here. It seems like the trip has been too short, and I can’t help feeling like I haven’t made enough progress while working here at Ekatsombero. There is still a lot to be accomplished, but over the last week of my stay, a lot of the remaining parts have been purchased and construction can resume. Currently, we’re hoping that the project can be finished by the end of August.

I wish I could have seen things finished personally, but with the inevitable minor setbacks, this being EWB’s first-ever rainwater catchment system, we’ve found ourselves forced to learn by making mistakes as we go. All I can do now is be positive and leave Matt Smith, who will be staying in Kenya into the fall, with the necessary information to complete the project on time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Field Notes: Our Kenya Board and Fellowship Program

Matt Smith

Editor's note: The following represents a portion of a piece written for kenyaconnections.com, a hub to facilitate networking between assorted EWB chapters and other development organizations working across Kenya.

It’s odd when good ideas emerge: usually at odd times in odder places. The idea for the EWB-MSU Fellows Program came up on a country-bus somewhere in between Nakuru and Kericho, Kenya. Our organization (Engineers Without Borders – Montana State University) had been working on water and sanitation projects in Khwisero District, Kenya for six years at that point and we had built a substantial network of Kenyan partners since we began. In fact, we established a Board of Directors in Khwisero in 2008 as a way to direct our projects to schools with the most critical sanitation and water needs as well as balance out project distribution across political boundaries. Our EWB-Khwisero Board is currently composed of school-teachers, government officials from the ministries of water, education and health as well as interested community members.
We found that the Board was a way that we would be able to navigate the political, familial and other cultural complexities of a region that was wholly unfamiliar to outsiders. We also had hopes that the Board would be a way to integrate more partners into active roles in our programs. In many ways, the Board has been a successful idea, though...

Finish reading here: http://kenyaconnections.com/2011/07/field-notes-ewb-kenya-board-and-fellowship-program/

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Work Continues

A quick update on our projects. Things are getting fantastically busy:

Ryan Olf has taken over for Jeff Moss and Ben Carreon working on the rainwater catchment system at Ekatsombero Primary School. Ekatsombero has been waiting since 2009 for a water project, when plans to provide the school with a well were derailed by a tragic lack of accessible groundwater. On Monday, a 16,000 liter water storage tank was lowered into the ground to provide the school with a clean water source. The water will be collected off the school’s roof, draining into two above-ground 5,000 liters tanks before passing through a sand filter for storage in the larger tank underground.

Kendall Saboda and Kala Jaquet have worked to organize a series of eyeglass clinics at the primary schools on the MEM distribution pipeline route in western Khwisero. The first eyeglass clinic was held Friday; over the course of the summer we hope to distribute nearly 1500 eyeglasses to schoolchildren and community members.

Kendall is also busy testing springs around Emwiru Primary School to research water quality. Her sampling is tedious with the timings of the daily samples going in and out of an incubator running off a car battery, thermostat, and light bulb.

Autumn Labuff has worked nonstop on the 2400 household surveys we hope to conduct at around 14 primary schools looking into varying water usage, helping us gauge the impact our work has on the broader community. She is now working on taking GPS coordinates at all the households and training the Kenyan surveyors who will conduct the surveys

Matt Rhine (aka “Pony”) has scheduled several meetings with teachers at schools throughout the Khwisero district, looking to establish a network amongst them to analyze the problems of education at Kwhisero Primary Schools.

Justin Stewart has been wonderfully documenting all these various projects with his camera, working on a photobook for our organization. He is traveling to document all our old and new projects, quite the task as we have worked at 14 schools in Khwisero including this summer’s work.

Kiera McNelis has worked at both Mushikongolo and Emwiru Primary Schools on the composting latrine construction ordering materials, collaborating with the contractor Fredrick and awesome EWB-Kenyan Fellows, Patrick, John, and Raphael. Last week, the foundation excavation for the composting latrine began at Emwiru and Mushikongolo is preparing to pour the slab of the latrine floor.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Team Five is Alive—Passing Through Nairobi

Matt Rine

We landed in Nairobi June 28(me coming in through Ethiopia, Zach Gartner through Amsterdam, and Justin Stewart, Kendall Saboda and Ryan Olff coming in after a week in Germany and Amsterdam). Navigating around the city was an exciting, if a bit scary, experience for everyone. The unspoken traffic rules took a while to catch on to; we likened it to a very intense live action game of frogger.

While waiting for Chris Maus, our Project Manager, and Kayla Jaquet to come in, we visited the city market. This was a wonderful experience during which vendors aggressively sell their wares and bartering is still a form of business s(I got a bracelet for a pen!). We spent the rest of the wonderful day wandering around the University of Nairobi and the national museum, while Joe (who graciously endured a day-long bus trip out from Khwisero to welcome us to East Africa) got to know some of the anthropology and sociology professors.

The hostel dinners were awesome, consisting of chapatti, lentil soup, rice and samosas. We breakfasted at the Nairobi Java House, which is definitely one of the nicer coffee shops I’ve been in (though its playlist is four songs long, and all four are practically identical James Taylor songs at that).

Unfortunately, Chris’s bag was misplaced during the transfer in Europe so he, Zach, and Kayla spent an extra day in Nairobi waiting for it while the rest of us struck out for Khwisero. The Easy-Coach (Kenya’s premier bus company) ride was long and hot, but the beauty of the changing Kenyan countryside as we traveled west made up for it. After a relatively stressful matatu (local bus) ride for the last leg of the journey from Kisumu, we finally arrived at Jackson’s compound—it was a great relief to be among such fine hosts.

We’ve got quite a series of tasks before us: Ryan will work on the rainwater catchment system at Ekastumbero, as well as a paper on the local construction industry. Kendal is troubleshootng the incubator we’ve used for microbial water testing, and Justin is taking the pictures for an EWB photobook. Personally, I’m researching how to quantitatively gauge the effect of humanitarian aid on education, though I’m not quite sure that’s possible.

Today I walked to Emwaniro to talk to Harriton, the school’s head-teacher, hoping to coordinate a meeting of educators from all around the area. I was lead by two great guys from Ebukwala named James and Josek, who spent a lot of time working with Thomas, Jonah, and. It was really great to talk to two people my own age. James is planning on working in wildlife management, and Josek is planning on teaching math and science (coincidently, my own career aspiration). We talked a little about the states of our own countries and our hopes for the future. As much as there may be cultural and economic gaps, it’s wonderful to find similarities here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Education in Khwisero: Making the Most of Scarce Resources

Above: EWBers and company partake in a football match at one of Khwisero's Primary Schools.

Thomas Wells

Greetings once again from Khwisero!

Since I (an education major) arrived in Kenya a few weeks ago, I have been surprised again and again by the resourcefulness of the school system and the educators present within it.

In 2003, the Kenyan government made public primary education free—since then, millions upon millions of students have shown up for primary school, many of them as old as 17 or 18.

Rather than rejecting students, schools have opened their arms wide to accept as many students as possible. The result is that every student has the opportunity to receive education in Math, Science, Religion, English and Kiswahili.

Unfortunately, the schools often do not have the resources to meet the needs of their student population. Malaha Primary School, in the Mumias district, for example, has 681 students in the school with only 13 teachers to teach them. That’s around 52 students per teacher.

As a result, most teachers must lecture rather than hold open discussions like we are more familiar with in the US. Further complicating matters, Malaha doesn’t have enough classrooms to support the student population: it has few sanitation facilities and water is a lengthy distance from the school. Needless to say, that’s a LOT of problems to be facing as a school administrator.

And while these conditions (I believe) are echoed throughout Khwisero and Kenya, many of the teachers I have met manage to educate students quite well (according to test scores, at least). Some teachers go above and beyond the call of duty, teaching groups of students on Saturdays to ensure as much retention as possible.

Head Teachers like Samson Kaka of Mwisena Primary and Harriton Mwakha of Emwaniro Primary work very hard to improve the lives and educations of their students on a daily basis. Both schools have benefited from a EWB well, and both headmasters taken full advantage of the opportunity, setting up a system of fees and maintenance for the wells so that they can continuously work. Both are always looking for ways to improve their schools through new technologies and feverish grant writing. [Editor’s note, a new block of classroom’s at Emwaniro was recently funded by OPEC]

Being such an outsider to the school system, it’s very difficult to get a good view, but from what I’ve seen, my perspective on education has been vastly changed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Adventures of the Mushikongolo Composting Latrine Committee

Kiera McNelis, Project Manager

Today [Editor’s note—June 22nd; I’m a bit behind in posting] was the first training session for the Mushikongolo Composting Latrine Committee. The committee was formed to oversee the latrine’s long-term maintenance and is composed of seven members including school-teachers, community stakeholders, and school management representatives. Along with a couple of our local partners, we took its members to visit the latrine built last summer at Elwangale Primary School in eastern Khwisero.

Our adventure opens to a slow start after we wait an hour at Mushikongolo for our matatu’s unsuccessful search for petrol in the Khwisero market. Eventually, the bus ended up rolling on down the hill to Mushikongolo to pick us up, running nearly on empty. “We are lucky,” state the Kenyans as we eventually find fuel on the roadside.

Nevertheless, I had my doubts that we’d ever get to Elwangale when I saw how little the driver put in the tank. Then, I reminded myself that it is important to have faith in the transport system in Kenya. Otherwise, I would be constantly worried about reaching the destination and never enjoying the journey. We set out towards the zenith of Kwhisero, Misango hill.

Everyone was excited for the training, especially Texel, who is developing a composting handbook for primary schools this summer. Elwangale resides on a steep hillside. To reach Elwangale, which resides on a steep hillside, we had to navigate a narrow, rocky road. Seeing my face as the matatu swayed, our fellow John joked that “now, this is Africa.” Everybody laughed.

Fortunately, the training went as planned. The committee members and the EWB team broke up into small groups to investigate the composting collection chambers, stalls, and urine diversion. Together, we discussed the differences with the composting latrine design we are implementing this summer, the upsides and downsides of Elwangale’s maintenance efforts, and overall compost process.

The theme was explaining how the latrine takes all the waste and turns it into resources that can be utilized. Over a short lunch of steaming milk chai and Blueband [margarine] sandwiches, the committee discussed the few changes they would like to their latrine and asked question on usage.

By this time, we are running about two hours behind schedule; Autumn and one of Musikongolo’s teachers especially need to hurry back to Mushikongolo to conduct a Project Wet training. So we take off—until about 500 meters from the school, when a shrilling sound from underneath the matatu informs us that the vehicle has bottomed out in a ditch. The driver tries to turn the engine, but the harsh sound repeats itself. At this point, all the men pile out to assess the situation. No luck!

After coasting the matatu back down to the school, we walk up the hill for a few kilometers to the main road. At the intersection, we share sweets, bubblegum, and mangos amongst each other from the neighboring kiosk and, having no alternative, find motorcycles taxis to pick us up.

Once we reach the Khwisero market, my cell phone rings. It is Abraham, the composting committee chair, informing me that his motorcycle was in a minor accident. The stress begins to wear on me as I struggle to face yet another challenge.

We decide to bring sodas to Abraham and Benson, another committee member who was riding with him, at the clinic. Abraham thanks me for the soda while I ask him how he is feeling. “Fine. Fine. No problems. That is life you know. This is life. It can change in a second, one can be paralyzed or even die. This is just life—I am fine.”

I smiled, “Yes, you’re right, Abraham.”

The other day, a Kenyan told me this: “We are humans. Once we solve a problem, we always find another one.” Looking back at today, I can’t help but think how true that is. We certainly had our ups and down—literally, given the hills—but the successful training and the committee’s ability to come together and solve problem after problem with a positive attitude assures me that the project is in good hands.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Football at Mushikongolo

Texel Feder

The hot Kenyan sun beats down on my head and shoulders. Sweat trickles down my neck and back. Ants crawl over the tops of my bare feet. I stand at the center-line of the field, waiting for the kick-off.

A hodgepodge of wazungu and Kenyans, including EWB-ers, primary school students, university students and several translators make up the teams. Within a few minutes of starting, the sidelines are filled with school children watching us intently. All sixteen of us fix our eyes on the ball as it bounces and rolls across the uneven field at Mushikongolo Primary School. We’re surrounded by rolling green cornfields; just below us is the Yala River.

A kick, a cheer, reflexive deflection by the goalie, oooohs and aaaaahs from the sidelines. A large crowd has gathered on the other side of the schoolyard fence, as well. Mamas with their babies tied to their backs cheer us on just as loudly as the kids. A number of piki-piki (motorcycle taxi) drivers watch the game unfold, although they remain more aloof than their fellow spectators.

Sitting with the cheering crowd, Autumn attempted to take photos of the game. She was quickly smothered by riotous giggling at the magic of technology. Who knew digital cameras could be the source of so much laughter? The stream of questions, answers and giggles seemed endless.

The girls also seemed to enjoy teaching Autumn Kiluhya phrases, particularly hearing her accented pronunciations. When I took a break from playing, they surrounded me as well, asking questions, teaching me words, and touching my hair. I couldn’t think of a reply when they asked why my hair was so soft, though.

Back on the field, the EWB-ers tried their hardest to keep up with our Kenyan team members, but it became clear that we hadn’t eaten enough ugali (cornmeal mush, the local staple) to make it happen. Despite all our hard-breathing and dripping sweat, we just couldn’t keep up. After an hour-and-a-half of nonstop play, the clouds heralding the afternoon rain began to cover the sun, forcing us to return home.

I left the field with a swollen bruise on my shin (the result of a collision with Josek, a translator at Ebukwala Primary), Jonah Barta’s left knee no longer had any skin, and Kiera Mcnelis suffered a mild twisted ankle; all-in-all we felt pretty rugged.

In my post-game excitement, though, I forgot to stretch—and regretted it deeply the following morning, when I awoke to discover that I could barely move and that every muscle in my body seemed to hurt. For the rest of the day (in all honesty, for the rest of the week) every step I took was a reminder of our match. And that was just fine with me.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Frogs, Soccer and a Rainforest Visit

Team Mushikongolo


Team Mushikongolo’s exciting stay in Khwisero is coming to an end. Our team, composed of Autumn LaBuff, Texel Feder, Kiera McNelis, and John Rios, is constructing a girl’s composting latrine at Mushikongolo Primary School. After three weeks of meetings, daily walks to and from our EWB-Kenya office in the Khwisero Market, and endless cups of delicious Kenyan tea, the excavation of the latrine finally began Monday.

Over the course of the two past three weeks, we have had several visitors come to our mud compound near the Yala River. A frog, whom Texel named Jim, surprised us one evening. After much laughter, and a few too many shrieks, Autumn finally caught him in a large ziploc and released Jim back into the wild.

The neighboring children come over play soccer in the compound’s yard with the soccer ball we brought from Our Kid to Khwisero. Points were scored by the ball being kicked through the goal of our legs. Needless to say, we lost the game.

John Rios a recent graduate from Sociology at MSU is traveling to Kwhisero for his second time conducting household surveys. Autumn Labuff is a sociology student staying in Khwisero for two months, here working with John Rios on surveys and Project WET educational follow-up.

Texel Feder, a liberal studies and sustainable foods and bio-energy systems student is here as the vice-president of EWB, making sure s--- happens. Bam.

Last but not least, our ever-positive and musical genius, Kiera McNelis is the glue. She holds this fort together. Go Camp Counselor Kiera!

Two weekends ago, all our teams in Khwisero traveled to KEEP in the Kakamega Rainforest. Saturday evening, John valiantly conducted a delightful meal of pesto pasta and green beans. Early Sunday morning, we made pancakes with mangoes and honey for breakfast (skillfully using a Dorman’s coffee can lid to flip the flapjacks). Our guts were thankful for a break from ugali and skumawiki (indigenous green vegetables; think spinach with sketchier origins).

That morning, we got to go on a guided tour through the forest, seeing black and white monkeys with long, bushy white tails and marveling at the sheer grandeur of the trees. Vibrant butterflies followed in our wake; mushrooms and half-eaten guava fruit blanketed the forest floor.

Ebukwala welcomed all of the teams the following night – Karibu – where Jonah, Thomas, Joe and Dolan are currently staying. We made dinner on the wood stove, indulging in some tunes, jokes, and good conversation. In all, it was decidedly a relaxed and comfortable weekend.

As we write this blog back in Khwisero, raindrops play powerful percussive beats on the tin roof. It’s reaching crescendo as we cozy up with our books and journals in the hut before supper.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Exciting Times at Ebukwala

Thomas Wells

Hello from Ebukwala!

Hanging out in Kenya has been an awesome experience for me thus far, in spite of my pasty white skin having been fried by the extra-strength Kenyan sun and my newly developed fear of giant beetles (apparently,I can scream at glass shattering frequencies).

So, Kenya is great, and we’re making great progress developing a composting latrine here at Ebukwala Primary School. We met with the teachers and school management board of the school on Monday and then took them on a tour of a past composting latrine on Tuesday. Everyone seems very positive (perhaps because they’re getting something), but we have also faced some tough questions about the maintenance of the latrine itself.

The idea of composting human waste is a very new one, both here and in the US, and selling people on that idea is no easy task. It seems that the community will take ownership of the project, as they all seemed interested, and the meeting with the parents today was PACKED. We plan to break ground on the project next week, so it is very exciting.

In other news, we’ve been hanging around with our Kenyan translators, Stella, James, Joseck, and Winnie. They’re a bunch of great people who we relate to very well (it’s nice to hang out with other 20 somethings, especially since all the people we work with at schools are older than us). James in particular started right off asking me questions about biblical allusion and The Merchant of Venice, which I read several years ago and was not expecting to field questions about outside of the classroom. I hope I represented my education well. [Editor's Note: Thomas is an English major.]


That’s all I really have for now, I need to go fall into a food coma after stuffing myself with chapatti.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Chimney for Nellie

Jeff Moss, EWB-MSU President

There are five of us, crouched in the dirt on the side of a dusty road in rural Kenya. The sun sits perfectly overhead, baking the rusty red dirt we’re drawing in. A few clouds hang overhead, but none venture close enough to block the sun's rays.

We’re in the middle of a row of shops patched together from corrugated tin roofs and hand cut wood, working with our John, one of our Fellows and the owner of a metal shop, to design a chimney for our host families’ cooking hut. Chad, Jonah and I (Jeff) are scratching in the dirt with sticks, trying to communicate our design with a man who speaks no English. Without John's help, there’s no way we could get this figured out. Even with him, I’m not sure if we’re all on the same page.

We’re hoping to fabricate a chimney to ventilate Nellie’s cooking hut so that she can cook each day without inhaling a great deal of smoke. All the cooking here, and in many other parts of the world, is done with fires, which cloud the cooking huts with a thick haze of smoke. Nellie and millions of other women breathe this smoke for hours each day, which leads to many respiratory problems. We’ve been helping with the cooking a bit, but we must step outside often to give out lungs some fresh air.

As a gift for hosting us, we’ve decided to build a chimney for the cooking area, which we hope will ventilate the cook hut and provide Nellie with cleaner air to breathe. It’s not as easy as a trip to Home Depot, but I think we’ve managed to communicate the design pretty well. We’re waiting now, doing some journaling and other work in our office in Khwisero market, and we’ll see in a few hours what the final product looks like.

Tomorrow or the next day, we’ll install the system and find out how well it works. All this will cost us around 25 US Dollars and a day’s worth of work, and we hope it will make a small but noticeable difference in the lives of the family that has been so gracious to us over the last two weeks.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Carrying Water

Dolan Personke

Yesterday, I carried water. On my head.

Yesterday, about an hour or so before dinner, five of us headed down to the spring to get water with Jaquelline, a friend Nellie, our host mother. It was about a three-quarter of a mile walk downhill from the compound. About half-way down the trail, I realized I'd forgotten my camera, and ran back up to the hut where all of us guys were sleeping in to grab it. I dug my Canon out of my luggage, and headed back down the hill, not entirely sure where I was going.

As I ran down the trail to the spring, I realized that this was the first time in the four days I had that I had been completely alone in Kenya. It was a pretty exciting thought—I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Well shoot, if I can walk down this path with my camera all by myself, I could dang near do anything on my own!’

When I got down to the spring most of our barrels had been filled with water already. I took a couple shots of a few young local guys, (who were quite excited to see themselves on the camera screen) and then we started hauling the water back uphill. I started taking some photos of the other EWB-ers with the water on their heads, and started to think that I was in the clear on carrying water until, a mere 100 yards into the journey back up the hill, Jaquilline ordered me to give her the camera and take one of the jugs of water. It was clear I had no choice.

I started up the hill at a pretty solid clip. Partially because I wanted to show that I wasn’t a whimpy Mzungu (Swahili for a white person), but also because I wanted to spend as little time possible with the water jug on my head.

It’s one thing to hurry up a hill, it’s another thing entirely to hurry up a hill with a five-gallon barrel of water on your head, sloshing weight back and forth across you skull, dripping alarming amounts of water onto your shirt. I spent the first third of the hike thinking, “this is tough, but I can totally handle it.” The next third felt more an endurance test, as I had to constantly reassure myself: ‘Alright Dolan, you can do this. You’ve got to keep charging, buddy.’ By the last third of the journey I was pretty sure my head was going to fall off, my spine was going to collapse and my face was going to be pulled into the dirt by the weight of the barrel as I spilled water everywhere.

But I made it, and strode triumpantly into the Jackson’s compound. All of the kids started clapping and yelling, ‘Mzungu! Mzungu!’ I could not help but smile with pride. I walked confidently to the cooking hut and finally, finally, FINALLY was able to take the water off of my head.

I had made it.

I felt such a sense of relief and accomplishment. I wanted to throw my arms up to the sky like Rocky after climbing the steps to the Philidelphia Art Museum. Then I realized that this is what Kenyan women, young Kenyan girls do every day. Even now I’m a little unsure if I want to attempt that carry again, but this is their daily reality. It was a pretty sobering reminder about why we're involved here in Khwisero.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sunsets over Khwisero

Joe Thiel, Project Manager

It’s been a week of first experiences for all of team one.

Jonah, Jeff, John, and the most recent arrival, Chad, hauled water for the first time yesterday (their necks are still recovering). Jonah and Jeff played their first game of football with the children of Mushicongolo Primary School, and lost rather miserably. I also gave my first “keynote speech” at a barrazza, the Swahili term for a large community meeting, and we all failed to finish our first “big ugali”, much to the amusement of our hostess, Nellie.

More importantly, I think that we’ve all grown to love Khwisero, its people and their easygoing lifestyle.

Yesterday we met with the parents of Emwiru Primary School, where we hope to construct a composting latrine, and I saw firsthand why what we are trying to do is so important. Emwiru is a school of 367 students (although enrollment can sometimes surge to over 400). After meeting with the school’s management committee and discussing the proposed project, they took us to tour the facilities the composting latrine would help to replace, 8 stalls serving 180 boys.

In the words of John, one of our Kenyan volunteers, the latrines were “pathetic.” One structure was near to collapsing, while the other had a healthy infestation of maggots. Both were pit latrines, dug to a depth of nearly 40 feet risking fecal contamination of nearby groundwater sources. We hope that, by partnering with the community, sharing resources and information, we can bring latrines that can provide at least the start of an answer to these issues with latrines that last longer, protect groundwater sources and provide an additional benefit in the form of compost.

Today, we met with Mushikongolo Primary, another of the four schools at which we plan to implement composting latrines this summer. We found a similar situation, latrines that were in disrepair due largely to a simple lack of resources, but we also found a great example of Khwisero’s defining trait: relentless optimism. These are communities that have seen many promises and faced many disappointments, but still remain unbelievable welcoming to students like us that, to them, must seem all too similar to all of the aid groups that have come before. Amidst poverty that, to most of us, seems unimaginable, they exhibit a hopefulness that defies their perceived situation.

Meeting with the parents of these schools, listening to their children recite English poems, visiting with teachers and getting my butt kicked at soccer have taught me this: Khwisero is an amazing place with amazing people and unlimited potential.

As I sit here in a hut, sharing stories with Johnson and his eldest son, watching the sun set over this place and its beautiful, complex people, I can’t help but feel once again that we have much more to learn than we have to teach in Khwisero.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Team Member Intro - Jonah

Jonah Barta

I'm new to Khwisero and am finding the experience not only humbling but also inspiring and highly educational. We're staying at the home of Jackson Nashitsakha (our local coordinator) for the time being, and the experience is quite pleasant.

The food is tasty and the kids are soooo funny! Jackson’s kids have gotten used to us after all these years, so they're willing to play. We put my pair of black T-Pain aviator glasses on one of Jackson’s sons today -- the kid walked around the compound puckering his lips and flashing peace signs.

We stick out like a sore thumb walking down the road, our skin practically glowing in contrast to the red earth. Other kids in the area point and yell Muzungo! (white person).

I cooked Chapati (fry bread) with Nelly, Jackson's wife, and some other women yesterday -- quite an experience! The hardest part is rolling the dough into a perfect circle, something I was very bad at. I was getting better, but then Joe spilt the flour (party foul!) so we had to use oil instead. I think Nelly should get a chimney in her cooking hut. It was so smoky that my eyes burned by the end of the cooking session. However, I am more concerned about her lungs. That smoke is rough!

On a more serious note, our projects are making significant progress. The MEM committee responsible for helping manage the distribution pipeline project seems effective and is ready to get things started. However, we seem to have a delay in the transfer of the 1 million Kenya shillings (KSH; $11,600) pledged by the Kenyan Government to support the project. The Kenyans all have faith it will come; our team will believe it when it is in our account. We are also worried about the additional 1.5 million KSH that were promised by the district's Member of Parliament last year. It sounds like we must re-apply for this money in July when the new financial year begins.

Fortunately, though, the group of Fellows we have working with us seem great! We are talking with John, welder who lives near the Khwisero market, right now about politics. I am excited to work with him Rafael, and Patrick. We are also getting to know the fundi (skilled worker) named Fredrick who Jackson has recommended to build our first composting latrine for the summer. Unfortunately, the rough quote for the latrine has come in high (750,000 KSH/$8,700 when we were hoping for 400,000KSH/$4,600). Right now we're waiting for a new quote while he re-evaluates some miscommunications about the design.

That's all for now -- I'm missing out with a good conversation with our fellows.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Returning to Khwisero

Joe Thiel, Project Manager

It’s good to be almost back.

Our first travel team for the summer has officially touched ground in Nairobi, and the experience has left us excitedly looking forward to Khwisero.

Don’t get me wrong… Nairobi is a lovely place. Although not exactly therapeutic, this cataclysm of a city does carry a certain charm (I especially recommend the city market, the perfect place for remedial lessons in bartering). No, Nairobi is not the problem. Rather, I think we’re all chomping at the bit to start the work that for which we have spent the last year preparing.

Those preparations, I think, are going to pay off, as we are entering this summer better prepared for an increasingly ambitious array of projects than we have at any point in the past. We hope to construct four more composting latrines, conduct wide-ranging sociology research into Khwisero’s people, culture and daily life, develop a better understanding of past development efforts, research future development plans, run eye glass clinics and much, much more.

Most importantly, it appears that we might be able to finally, finally, finally begin construction of our first distribution pipeline, three years in the making, which will provide clean water to five schools, two health clinics and a market.

None of this, however, would be possible without the incredible dedication of a whole host of EWBers. I’d like to highlight just a couple, my teammates on this particular adventure. Return traveler John Rios, our group's token vegetarian, will head up the summer’s sociology research, including a new collaboration we’ve started with Project WET, a Bozeman based non-profit that creates education materials related to water use. Jonah Barta, the baby of the group, is also planning to use his time on the ground to research Khwisero culture. Jeff Moss, our chapter president, hopes to apply his education in bio-resources engineering as we construct composting latrines this summer. Rounding out the team is me, Joe Thiel, a chemical engineering student serving as one of our three project managers this summer.

Over the coming months, we are tasked with empowering communities, providing them with those resources that allow them to achieve their own needs. It’s not an easy thing to do; indeed, it’s a complex challenge that we’ve each put in countless hours trying to better understand. However, I think if we focus on how these communities change us, it simplifies a great deal.

Khwisero is composed of interwoven communities that contain many deeply beautiful people. Getting to know them, working with them, sharing our mutual interest in each other’s lives and culture is in itself a great time and an exercise that creates trust and friendship. In the end, that is our goal: to share with the people of Khwisero both our skills and our friendship so that we can both become better.