EWB-HU Installs First Biosand Filter in Kenya

Today, Engineers Without Borders-Howard University installed the first of six biosand filters in Choimim, Kenya. Biosand filters purify dirty water and make it safe to drink. They are very useful both in rural and urban areas and often are adopted in areas that lack safe piped water.

The team began work early after a hearty Kenyan breakfast complete with chai (black tea with milk) and mandazi (comparable to a French beignes).First, the team prepared the materials including the sieving of gravel and sand to remove grass and other contaminants.The team rinsed the gravel about six or seven times to ensure it was clean. With the materials ready, the tough task was getting the 200-pound concrete biosand filter in place at the orphanage.  The trip was 1000 ft. across rain-saturated grass, a muddy ditch and up two sets of shaky wooden steps. The filter made it safely. Faculty advisor John Tharakan and Running Water International co-founder Isaac Soita took turns helping EWB-HU member Ade carrying the filter.

Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

Each filter contains six items:

1. The concrete outer shell, built using approximately half a sack of cement mixed with two sacks of gravel and a sack and a half of sand

2.  A length of PVC pipe, ~ 2.25’ in length and 0.5” in diameter

3.  A diffuser plate full of small holes, made from metal or pottery

4.  A 21” layer of clean, washed, medium-grade sand

5.  A 2” layer of small gravel

6.  A 2” layer of small stones or large gravel

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.

Team Lead Aleah Holt, explains the process this way:

When you pour the dirty water in the top of the filter, the biolayer (The first 2-4” of the sand surface) consumes the bacteria…simply put, the good bacteria eats the bad bacteria. After the dirty water passes through the biolayer, the sand (the deepest layer) captures all the particles. After the water filters through the sand, any remaining particles or bacteria can be captured in gravel because it is dark and no oxygen is present. After leaving the gravel layer, the clean water exits through the outlet pipe and is safe for consumption. 

The most time consuming part of the process is the preparation of the materials. However, the installation takes less than 1 hour.

The experiment with the plastic filters will begin on Monday morning. On Sunday night, the team stayed up late calculating, measuring and re-sketching. The community will arrive at 10 a.m. to observe the installation of the second biosand filter. The goal is to produce an even cheaper version of the concrete biosand filters. The local cost is $4500 Kenyan Shillings (USD 45). Because most people in Choimim make less than one US dollar a day, a biosand filter is too costly for a single family. Build the Village Director James Esendi is currently exploring how families can pool their resources to purchase additional filters, maybe 4 or 5 families sharing a filter. The team will install a filter at the Siwo clinic and in three homes over the next two days.

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.


Snapshot Kenya # 1

Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

Kenyan-Style Hardware Shopping

The Engineers Without Borders-Howard University team spent Friday night refining sketches and finalizing the materials list for the biosand and first flush filters. James, our host, told us to plan for a minimum of four hours for shopping and an hour to travel each way. It seemed like a lot of time, but not so. We traveled about 53 kilometers to Eldoret, the closest major town, to get supplies for the filters.

We visited Eagle Hardware… Unlike Lowes or Home Depot where you browse the aisles, at Eagle the orders for goods are placed over the counter. The staff retrieves the items and brings them to the customer. Faculty advisor John Tharakan, Ph.D. and Brian Stephenson, PE, the team’s professional mentor, provided students with hands-on engineering lessons as they worked to secure the appropriate materials. We are thankful to Eagle Hardware director Rupen Patel and his team for their patience and assistance.

Photographs by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

Here are some of the items the team purchased:

Hose bib
Air release pipe
First flush tank
PVC outlet pipe
Diffuser plates
Elbows (90 degree)
Plastic biosand filters

The team has become pros at securing items to the top of our matatu (minivan) with rope. The pipes and supplies made it back to Choimim safely. Let the building begin!

Karibu Kenya, Karibu Choimim

Photographs by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

Karibu! Welcome!

The Howard chapter of Engineers Without Borders arrived in Nandi Hills on Friday after a four-hour journey from Nakuru. The roads were winding and bumpy, but considerably better than in past years. We had breathtaking views of the Rift Valley and drove by tea plantations on both sides of the road.

When we arrived James Esendi, director of Build the Village, greeted us outside as our 9-seater matatu (minivan) pulled up to the BTV campus. He had open arms as he greeted advisor John Tharakan and some other familiar faces including EWB-HU President Bianca Bailey and Team Lead Aleah Holt. Members of the BTV staff gave a double hug to the entire team. Karibu! The luggage was off loaded from the roof of our matatu and we settled in the dorm-style accommodations. There are two large rooms, one for boys and the other for girls complete with bunk beds.

It was not long before chai time. Chai or Kenyan tea is a staple of every home. It is made of steamed milk and Kenyan tealeaves. Careful, it can be very hot.

The team spent the afternoon reviewing plans with James. Without question, face-to-face is preferred over conference calls. The team and the BTV staff assessed how we could achieve the greatest impact for the community. Four biosand filters were earmarked for members of the community. One will now go to the clinic and three in homes. We also learned that chief approved the local dispensary as a location for the filter.  Two purification filters will be added to the BTV campus including one at the orphanage.

The chief is the decision maker for the community and all activities are vetted through him. James reminded us that a good idea is only realized if it has the chief’s blessing. With the chief’s green light, the team will proceed.

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. However, there is a high need for clean water because of the frequent cases of diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. The team has learned that many members of the community are not fully aware of what makes them sick and how to properly purify their water. For example, some warm versus boil their water. EWB-HU will visit homes in  Choimim to observe their water practices and to educate children and adults about appropriate water treatment. They will also lead a training session in the church hall on Sunday.

To address the cost issue, EWB-HU will build two plastic biosand filters as pilots. They are a cheaper alternative to the concrete-based filter.

Saturday will be spent shopping for materials. We will travel to Eldoret, a township about an hour away from Choimim to a hardware store…it is no Home Depot or Lowes so these young engineers and their advisors are prepared to improvise.

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.

EWB-HU, Running Water International Partner to Provide Biosand Filters

Engineers Without Borders-Howard University (EWB-HU) is partnering with Running Water International to provide biosand filters for members of Choimim village, a rural community in Nandi Hills, Kenya.

On Thursday afternoon, the team visited the RWI campus to learn about the manufacturing process. The co-founder Isaac Soita walked EWB-HU through the design, material sourcing, production and maintenance of the concrete filter. The team created a plastic prototype at Howard and determined its efficacy as a low-cost and reliable filtration system.

RWI was inspired by a U.S. Agency for International Development project. The biosand filters are made from locally acquired appropriate technologies including quarry-sourced sand and gravel, plastic diffusers and pipes.  After significant trial and error during RWI’s infancy, the filters are now structurally sound and remove about 99 percent of bacteria including E.Coli and coliform. After four years, Running Water International has installed 430 filters across Kenya.

 “I am aware of the global challenges facing developing countries and I sought to create a way for the community to access clean and safe water at an affordable price using simple open sourced technologies with the goal of reducing waterborne diseases…this is what actually pushed me to start Running Water International,” Soita said.

The team will install four concrete biosand filters and will experiment with two plastic sand filters. EWB-HU hopes to pioneer a cheaper and equally efficient plastic filter to reduce production and transportation costs while improving water quality. The concrete based filters cost USD 45. The community will pay a nominal fee to encourage ownership and ensure sustainability.

EWB-HU to Expand Rainwater Harvesting System, Install Water Filters in Kenya

Photograph of Sample Rainwater Harvesting System

Sample Concrete Biosand Filter

The Howard chapter of Engineers Without Borders will build a rainwater harvesting unit and install six biosand filters in Nandi Hills, Kenya, which will increase both water quantity and quality.

The new tank will provide an additional 2,600 gallons of water for an orphanage in Choimim village. It is home to nearly two dozen children.

This rural community in the Rift Valley region, 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. Currently, the orphanage has three 2,600-gallon tanks. The additional tank installed by EWB-HU will expand their capacity to more than 10,000 gallons.

The team will add a first flush filtration system to remove any impurities (including dirt, pollen etc)before the rainwater enters the tank.

The team will also install six biosand filters, which will be used to purify water gathered from the river and wells in the community. Water testing conducted during the December 2010 assessment revealed high levels of bacteria including E coli and coliform (fecal deposits) in the river water the community shares with the cattle. The orphanage will have two biosand filters installed.

In addition, EWB-HU will add biosand filters in four homes. The team has identified and will train these community engineers to maintain the filters and use them effectively. Each filter is about 45USD (3,645 Kenyan Shilling). This could make a big difference in the quality of water and reduce the number of preventable waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and diarrhea.

The team will partner also with Running Water International to locally secure the materials.

Follow the EWB-HU mission in Kenya.

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.

Meet the EWB-HU Kenya Implementation Team

Aleah Holt
Team Lead
Junior, Chemical Engineering Major
Somerset, NJ

Bianca Bailey
President  EWB-HU (2010-2012)
May 2012 Graduate
B.S. Chemical Engineering
Dallas, Texas

Jacinda Small
Sophomore, Chemical Engineering Major
Detroit, Michigan

Adegboyega  Akinsiku
Junior, Computer Engineering  Major
Cheltenham, Md.

Alexanderia Poole (’12)
B.S. Mechanical Engineering
Durham, NC 

Krystal Okehie
Senior, Chemical Engineering
Ownings Mills, Md.

John Tharakan, Ph.D.
EWB-HU Faculty Advisor  
Professor, Chemical Engineering

Brian Stephenson, P.E.
EWB-HU Professional Mentor
Adjunct Professor, Civil Engineering

Kerry-Ann Hamilton Ph.D.
EWB-HU  Documentarian
Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing

Engineers Without Borders-HU Departs for Service Mission to Kenya

EWB-HU pose for a photo outside Washington Dulles Airport before departing for Kenya on May 15, 2012. Photo by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

Today,  the Howard Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-HU) left Washington on a 8,500-mile journey to Kenya with stops in Brussels, Belgium and Bujumbura, Burundi. The group of bright, service-driven and globally competent engineering students is ready to work. The mission is the result of several semesters of planning.  The team will improve the quality and quantity of water in Choimim, Kenya, a rural community 200 miles from the capital, Nairobi.

In 2009, EWB-HU entered a partnership with Build the Village (BTV), a local NGO based in Choimim. BTV houses a school and an orphanage. The main BTV building also transforms as a cafeteria for students, community center for barazas (village meetings), a movie theatre and church on Sunday.

The early EWB-HU and BTV plans were focused on expanding the orphanage. However, conversations and needs assessments with the community showed that water was the greatest need. The initial assessment in March 2009, was followed by a second assessment trip in December 2010 to collect additional data including measurements, water testing, mapping as well as determining the appropriate materials.

Every day since then Team Lead Aleah Holt, a junior chemical engineering major, has been on a mission to harness more water for BTV and provide a filtration solution to improve water quality. After dozens of meetings, conference calls to Kenya and scores of emails, the team is thrilled that implementation is within reach. John Tharakan, Ph.D., a professor of Chemical Engineering, is EWB-HU’s advisor. Brian Stephenson, P.E., adjunct professor in the School of Engineering, is the group’s professional mentor.

Keep following the group’s progress over the next two weeks. It promises to be exciting. Share the link with others, leave comments or like our posts.

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.

Engineers Without Borders-HU Prepares for Kenya Mission

Members of the Howard Chapter of Engineers Without Borders map out implementation trip to Choimim, Kenya. Photography by Kerry-Ann Hamilton

WASHINGTON – For most people in the United States clean running water is basic, but for a small village in rural Kenya, this necessity is anything but basic. Guided by the principle that “Water is Life,” the Howard Chapter of Engineers Without Borders will return to Kenya next week to implement a series of water enhancement projects.

Their mission is to establish rainwater harvesting and biosand treatment systems for villages in Nandi Hills, a tea farming community approximately 200 miles from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. EWB-HU is partnering with Running Water International and Build the Village, two local NGOs. This project falls under the national EWB mission to support community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders.

The multi-year effort is driven by powerful group of young Howard engineers led by EWB-HU President Bianca Bailey and team lead Aleah Holt.

“For our EWB-HU students, this trip brings together the commitment, dedication and perseverance that the evolving team of students and advisors have shown over the past three years,”said said EWB-HU advisor John Tharakan, Ph.D., professor of Chemical Engineering. “ I cannot help but feel proud of these students, who will be demonstrating through their hard work, Howard University’s commitment to global service. We are looking forward to a successful and rewarding visit.”

The 9-member delegation will return, May 15-27, to implement their solution, installing biosand filters throughout the community. These filters will allow the community access to clean water. EWB-HU will also introduce first flush systems on water tanks used for rainwater harvesting. In addition to the value of these new filtration systems, students will train community engineers.