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.