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.

A farmer in Choimim, Kenya, tills the soil at dawn. (Kerry-Ann Hamilton/HOWARD UNIVERSITY)

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.

Howard volunteers remove impurities from the sand. ( Kerry-Ann Hamilton/HOWARD UNIVERSITY)

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.

The early plans were focused on expanding the orphanage. However, after a series of conversations, surveys and a focus group with the community, water was deemed the greatest need.

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.

Howard volunteers sieve sand for the biosand filter. (Kerry-Ann Hamilton/HOWARD UNIVERSITY)

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.