Lee Blaney is an assistant professor in UMBC’s Department of Chemical, Biochemical & Environmental Engineering
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
Contact the author, Lee Blaney, at email@example.com.