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, 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.