Members of the Howard University chapter of Engineers Without Borders traveled to Choimim, Kenya, with two Howard professors to enhance water quality and quantity. Here, Kerry-Ann Hamilton, director of strategic communications and marketing at Howard, chronicles their travels.
Choimim, located 200 miles from Nairobi, is covered with lush tea fields and red clay soil. Most villagers are subsistence farmers, and others raise cattle, mainly cows. In nearby Nandi Hills, scores of migrant tea workers live together in modest homes built close to the factories.
The women and young girls of Choimim village, a close-knit community in Nandi Hills, walk an average of three miles to gather water, and some traverse up and down a 62-foot hill to get water from the river. Some spend three to four hours daily fetching water for their homes. Because of poor water and sanitation, the villagers also suffer from a number of preventable waterborne illnesses such as cholera, diarrhea and typhoid.
The Howard Chapter of Engineers Without Borders is here for two weeks, working to improve water quality for this rural community.
The nine-member team is building a rainwater-harvesting unit and filtration system as well as installing six biosand filters. The new tank will provide an additional 2,600 gallons of water for an orphanage in Choimim village that is home to nearly two dozen children, many of whom were abandoned in the tea fields, or abused.
The “first flush” filters will trap the initial rush of rainwater, which is filled with impurities that were resting on the roof (e.g. dust and pollen). The biosand filters purify the dirty water and make it safe to drink. They are very useful in rural and urban areas and are often adopted in areas that lack safe piped water.
In 2009, Howard’s Engineers Without Borders chapter entered into a partnership with Build the Village, a Kenyan-based NGO led by James Esendi. The project in Choimim village was selected from a database of proposals submitted to the international chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Build the Village houses a school and an orphanage. The main building also transforms into a cafeteria for students, a community center for barazas (village meetings) and church on Sunday.
During the two assessment trips in 2009 and 2010, the team gathered measurements, conducted water-testing and mapping. Water quality evaluations revealed high levels of bacteria including E. coli and fecal deposits in the river water that the community shares with the cattle.
The team researched several methods for increasing water quantity, including additional wells and water pumps, but decided on a rainwater-harvesting tank outfitted with a filtration system that removes impurities before the rainwater enters the enclosed reservoir. The team will also install six biosand filters in the community, including one each at an orphanage, the village clinic, the church and in three homes.
The Howard engineers are training a team of community engineers to maintain the concrete biosand filters and use them effectively.
Faculty adviser John Tharakan guides the students along with mentors Ken Ludwa, a water resources engineer, and Brian Stephenson, an adjunct engineering faculty and civil engineer. The team’s water solutions for Choimim became a three-year laboratory. The core lessons included the use of appropriate technology, sustainability, applied engineering, problem solving and global competence.