Mission Accomplished: Engineers Without Borders Completes Work in Choimim, Kenya

After several months of hard work, complex calculations, sweat and a few tears, the Howard Chapter of Engineers Without Borders-Howard University completed the sixth and final biosand filter just after sundown on Thursday in Choimim, Kenya. There was a huge celebration with members of the Choimim community as the water flowed out of the filter faucet.

The team installed four concrete biosand filters and piloted two plastic biosand filters. The concrete biosand filter casings were sourced and built by Kenyan-based Running Water International.  While the relatively low-cost concrete-based biosand filters is USD 45, it is out of reach for most villagers in Choimim who live on much less than a dollar a day. The plastic alternative is less than 50 percent less than the concrete filter.

Earlier in the day, during afternoon downpour Ade Akinsiku, a senior computer engineering major, along with EWB-HU faculty advisor John Tharakan, Ph.D. and community engineer Mark Kurgat completed the installation of the rainwater harvesting system at the Build Village orphanage. There was extreme satisfaction as the team heard the heavy raindrops enter the tank. This 2,600-gallon tank brings the facilities capacity to 10,000 gallons of harvested water.

Choimim, a rural community in the Rift Valley region, is comprised mostly of tea and cattle farmers, has approximately 1,000 families with an average of seven members per household. It does not have running water and very few homes have electricity. The community relies mostly on water from shallow wells and harvest water with buckets in the rainy seasons. There are two rainy seasons in Kenya (a short rainy season in November and a longer one that usually lasts from the end of March to May). However, the rainwater and water from the wells, for the most part, goes unfiltered.

How does it work?

Contaminated water is poured into the reservoir on an intermittent basis. The water slowly passes through the plastic diffuser and percolates down through the biolayer, sand and gravel. Treated water naturally flows from the outlet tube.

After three weeks, the filter can extract 99 percent of pathogens in the water. The next steps involve monthly monitoring and evaluation of the water quality.

The mission was multipronged; however, education and knowledge transfer was paramount. The team led by Bianca Bailey, a 2011 White House Champion for STEM and EWB-HU president, conducted several training sessions in the community about water purification, storage and how to prevent waterborne diseases. The team has trained four community engineers who will reinforce the best practices with other members of the community. The community engineers will also conduct monthly monitoring of the filters and provide electronic reports to EWB-HU.

The villagers expressed gratitude for work done in their community.  James Esendi, general manager of Build the Village Kenya, thanked Engineers Without Borders-Howard University. See the Video.

Snapshot Kenya: Life in the Shamba

Choimim, Kenya is a beautiful place with amazing people. These images merely provide a snapshot of the sprit and the setting. Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton


EWB-HU Host Baraza “Public Meeting,” Home Visits on Water Sanitation

Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

Typhoid and diarrheal diseases remain prevalent in Choimim and Siwo, Kenya, according to the village nursing officer Magan Cheruiyot.

Cheruiyot agrees that education is key to behavior change. He said strides have been made in abating cholera, but typhoid and stomach illnesses remain prevalent in these two farming communities in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The clinic management team uses community health workers to provide support and training in the villages serviced by the Siwo Dispensary. 

Engineers Without Borders-Howard University has also underscored clean water and proper sanitation as essential to tackling the health challenges in Choimim.

In the last week, EWB-HU has facilitated training for nearly 200 villagers. The team focused on appropriate treatment and storage of water. The villagers were asked about their current water practices including boiling and the use of chlorine tablets. The team shared best practices to ensure efficacy.

In this short clip, EWB-HU recommends that the Kosgei family secure their rainwater harvesting unit.

Today, some members of the team visited homes to observe and make recommendations about water management such as using containers with spouts versus dipping cups and hands to secure water. This common practice contaminates purified water.

EWB-HU has led a series of trainings for recipients of the biosand filters to ensure a clear understanding of its operation and maintenance. 

The clinic team member Henry Sang thanked EWB-HU for the biosand filter.

Snapshot Kenya: A Visit to the Tea Field

Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

The Howard University Chapter of Engineers Without Borders is installing biosand filters in Choimim, Kenya, a rural farming community.  In the Nandi Hills area including Choimim and nearby Siwo, there are vast tea plantations. Tea pickers get about 20 Kenyan Shilling per kilogram of leaves. Each bag is about 15-20 kilos (approximately US$5 per bag). They aim to do as many bags as possible each day. Mothers like Cherop and Cicily have to take their children to the fields.

Kenya Mission: Four Biosand Filters Installed, Two More to Go

Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

The Howard University chapter of Engineers Without Borders has successfully installed four concrete biosand filters in Choimim, Kenya.

This rural farm community does not have running water and people often gather water from wells, rainwater harvesting and the river. Waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid are prevalent, mainly because of poor purification and sanitation. EWB-HU has conducted a series of trainings with community members to improve water treatment and storage.

Another solution for water purification is the biosand filter (BSF). The BSF is an adaptation of the traditional slow sand filter, which has been used for community water treatment for almost two hundred years. The biosand filter is smaller and adapted for intermittent use, making it suitable for households. The filter container can be made of concrete or plastic and is filled with layers of specially selected and prepared sand and gravel.

The EWB-HU Team worked with Isaac Soita, co-founder of Running Water International, to install the four biosand filters. The BSFs were placed in Siwo Dispensary, the Build the Village orphanage, and two homes. During the installation process, the EWB-HU team trained the recipients on proper use and maintenance. A team of community engineers also worked alongside EWB-HU to ensure knowledge transfer and sustainability.

The preparation of the materials involved the most work. The gravel and sand must be carefully sieved, sorted by size and thoroughly washed. The backbreaking process requires several days of work in the scorching heat. The two homes were small structures made of mud. The team worked carefully to install the filters. By far, the most difficult task was transporting the 200-pound concrete filter.

The owners will pour 20 liters of water in the morning and 20 liters in the evening for  14-20 days so the filter’s contents can form. After three weeks, the filter can extract 99 percent of pathogens in the water. The next steps involve monthly monitoring and evaluation of the water quality.

Dr. Kerry-Ann Hamilton, director of strategic communications and marketing, is traveling with EWB-HU on their service mission to Kenya. The blog “Water is Life” chronicles the travels and work of the 9-member delegation from Howard University.

Bianca Bailey Describes the EWB-HU Project in Choimim, Kenya

Bianca Bailey, president of Engineers Without Borders-Howard University, discusses the work being done in Choimim, Kenya. The team is installing biosand filters. The biosand filters purify 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.

EWB-HU President Bianca Bailey installs biosand filter at Build the Village orphanage in Choimim, Kenya