Student Engineers Without Borders Project: Learning While Making a Difference in Kenya

Posted on September 25, 2011  Comments (0)

photo of workers digging a large hole dug for the bio-gas latrine, while schoolchildren look on.

Engineers Without Borders students make progress, learn lessons in Kenya

Knowing nothing about Third-World development, the original [Engineers Without Borders] EWB students accepted an assignment from the national EWB to bring clean water wells and sanitary latrines to 58 elementary schools in the poor Khwisero district, where villagers live by subsistence farming.

Each year, new MSU students take up the challenge, aiming not only to provide healthier drinking water but to relieve Kenyan children of the chore of hiking more than a mile to fetch water every day from dirty water holes, which cuts into their schooling, particularly for girls.

They finally broke ground on their first pipeline system, which has been three years in the making. It will bring piping water from a high-quality well to several villages and eventually to a health clinic and a market. Villagers have committed to digging trenches for the water pipes.

This is a great program. Students learn a great deal by taking on real world problems and implementing solutions. As I have said before, I really love to see appropriate technology solutions put in place. We can drastically improve people’s lives by helping put solutions in place that work, are cost effective and can be maintained. Improving people’s quality of life is at the core of why engineering is so wonderful.

Related: Smokeless Stove Saves LivesEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerHigh School Inventor Teams @ MIT Bring Clean Water to VillageWater and Electricity for All

One big lesson students learned this summer was how to deal with corruption. The pipeline, designed three years ago by a6n MSU engineering class, was delayed last year while waiting for a grant promised by Kenyan legislators. This summer, it appeared that some in the government were attempting to manipulate the grant to pocket about 17 percent of the funds under the guise of “taxes” and “processing fees,” said Chris Maus, 23, a civil engineering junior from Greenough.
EWB leaders with experience in student government like Joe Thiel and Matt Smith stayed up late, reading the fine print of the state procurement act by head lamp, and then told off the authorities. Local people on the water committee then were able to stand up and demand their full grant, which was “really beautiful,” McNelis said.
Moss said one exciting experience came when he tried to help the village women cook in a cooking hut. The smoke was so bad, he said, “I was struggling to breathe. I thought this is crazy. The smoke cuts years off the lifespan of women.”
So he and other students decided to make a fume hood and chimney as a gift for their host family. They found a metalworker in the market who spoke no English.
“It was hilarious,” Moss said. “I was drawing stuff in the dirt.”
It only cost $12 and it worked, collecting about 80 percent of the smoke, Moss said.
Texel Feder, 18, a liberal studies and economics student from Helena, said she came home keenly aware of how lucky the students are to have refrigerators, showers and grocery stores. And they don’t have to carry heavy water cans on their heads.

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