UMBC Engineering Students Foster Development of Clean Water in Kenya

Lee Blaney is an assistant professor in UMBC’s Department of Chemical, Biochemical & Environmental Engineering

Lee BlaneyThis past January, a UMBC Engineers Without Borders team left the blustery winds of Baltimore and travelled for two days by plane, van and motorbike to Isongo, Kenya, a community of 500 people in need of a clean water source.

Our team consisted of two undergraduates, Dalton Hughes (chemical engineering) and Chris Mullen (mechanical engineering); our professional engineering mentor, Duane Wilding, from Maryland Environmental Services; and me. Our host and guide was Fr. Chris Shiko, director of our non-profit partner Simiyu House Kenya, which serves orphaned street children in nearby Kakamega.

Chris Mullen, Duane Wilding, and Dalton Hughes conduct water quality testing in Isongo.

Chris Mullen, Duane Wilding, and Dalton Hughes conduct water quality testing in Isongo.

Through this assessment trip we sought to (1) establish relationships with community leaders; (2) conduct water quality testing of the current water source; (3) map the community using a handheld GPS and meet residents; (4) establish a relationship with Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology; and (5) collect pricing information for building materials.

One of our first interactions with community leaders came after a church service led by Fr. Chris, when we enjoyed a meal together, sharing our backgrounds and dreaming about the potential of our partnership.  That meeting lasted almost four hours and we left energized to begin our work.

Dr. Blaney and Dalton Hughes with Evelyn Ayuma and her family.

Dr. Blaney and Dalton Hughes with Evelyn Ayuma and her family.

The next day we visited the water source to determine the chemical and bacteriological quality of the water. Testing revealed elevated levels of nutrients, presumably from fertilizers, and high counts of microorganisms like Escherichia coli, total coliforms and Enterobacteria, suggesting that the water is not safe for consumption. Additionally, our discussions with Isongo residents revealed a need for improved sanitation infrastructure and access to hygiene information, goals we’ve since folded into the project.

Villagers wash their laundry downstream from the water source.

Villagers wash their laundry downstream from the water source.

Isongo resident Idi Kisikuka and his latrine.

Toward the end of the trip, we visited Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) in Kakamega to discuss ideas for ongoing collaboration. The result: MMUST students will act as an on-the-ground team, continuing to collect data for the project between EWB-UMBC visits.

UMBC students Dalton Hughes and Chris Mullen with MMUST students.

UMBC students Dalton Hughes and Chris Mullen with MMUST students.

Discussions with community leaders have yielded two possible solutions to the water safety problem, which we are exploring further as we gear up for an implementation trip in January 2014. We welcome interested readers to donate to the project online or to visit the EWB-UMBC website for updates. Asante sana (thank you very much)!

Chris Mullen, Dr. Blaney, and some Isongo children deem the assessment trip a success.

Chris Mullen, Dr. Blaney, and some Isongo children deem the assessment trip a success.

Contact the author, Lee Blaney, at blaney@umbc.edu

Comments

  1. Earl D. Wrenn says:

    This story peaked my interests to raise the possibility of colboration with the United States Military who already has mobile watar filtration systems and waste sanitation systems. Have considered commuicating with leaders in decision making capacity from the United States Defense Department or the Secretary of State for assistance with logistics in locating equipment which may be available for donation or reduced cost?

  2. Joseph Yates says:

    Dalton Hughes is the man!!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Engineering). This presentation explores water quality issues affecting a small village in Kenya visited by the students and their faculty mentor on a recent Engineers Without Borders trip, and proposes a method for removing contaminants from [...]

  2. […] 1. UMBC Engineering Students Foster Development of Clean Water in Kenya […]

  3. […] Engineering). This presentation explores water quality issues affecting a small village in Kenya visited by the students and their faculty mentor on a recent Engineers Without Borders trip, and proposes a method for removing contaminants that […]

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