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.

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.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

Kiera and all-Thanks for the great posts. I can hear the screech of the gears and feel the bumps of the matatu, touch, smell and taste the sweet mangos and feel the appreciation of the grateful Kenyans for all you are doing to improve lives in that lush and beautiful corner of the world.
Thinking of you all in Montana-Jackie R.