Building wells, relationships
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 01:03
In Justin Smith’s trailer for “Kel Wer,” a Kenyan boy talks about the importance of water to him and his community.
“Water, water, I like you, you make us happy and cheerful,” the boy said.
This child, along with the rest of the community members, now has improved access to a clean and sustainable water supply.
The Oregon State University Engineers Without Borders chapter has recently received a premiere project award for successful implementation of a drilled water well and rainwater catchment system in Lela, Kenya. Justin Smith, OSU’s multimedia manager, traveled with the group to chronicle their work.
Out of 350 projects, EWB-OSU received one of three rare project awards. This award recognized the chapter’s excellence in meeting the mission of EWB-USA. The project award also attracted donors for the OSU chapter.
“The fact that we were able to win a premiere project award with few numbers says a lot,” said Zachary Dunn, the 2012-13 Kenya project coordinator. “Beyond the reports and work, I think we have super dedicated members who are committed to not just EWB-USA, but also poverty alleviation and international development in general.”
Dunn also said EWB-OSU received perfect scores on all their trip reports.
For every trip, the chapter was required to write pre-trip and post-trip reports. EWB-USA has a grading system, which grades reports on a one to three scale. OSU’s chapter consistently received a “three” for every submitted report. EWB-OSU’s reports have served as an example for other chapters and were also published online.
Lela is a community of approximately 2,000 people who lacked access to a clean water supply. Previously, women and children spent countless hours fetching water, which may have been contaminated and filled with disease-causing pathogens.
The issue led the community to form a Women’s Water Committee, which submitted an application to the national office for help.
EWB-OSU first adopted the project back in 2009 after reviewing the application. Before any work could be completed, the chapter had to make several visits to Lela for health and technical assessments. A water source assessment was completed to determine how the chapter was going to help the Lela community meet their needs for clean water.
In July 2012, a small group of active chapter members and a professional mentor endured a four-day flight to arrive at their destination in Lela. On this first implementation trip, the group was able to drill a well and build a rainwater catchment system.
On previous trips, the chapter made connections with local non-governmental organizations that drilled wells in Kenya. EWB-OSU hired these local organizations as its contractors to drill the well.
With the installment of an Afridev hand pump on the well, an individual can pump about 20 liters of water per minute.
The chapter has also connected with the chairman of the Lela Primary School to agree on a site for the rainwater catchment system, which was built at the school.
The total capacity of the rainwater catchment system is 40,000 liters. Four 10,000-liter water storage tanks were constructed at the school.
Rainwater is captured on the roof of the school and goes through a gutter and a first flush system, which filters out contaminants, and then flows into the tanks. The tanks supply the drinking water for the 450 students at the school.
All work was done with local labor and materials, easing sustainability for Lela community members.
Dunn said adjusting to the Kenyan way of life posed as a challenge for many EWB-OSU members.
“There’s always that adjustment,” Dunn said. “But it also makes the trip more interesting because we’re partnering with a community that doesn’t have access to basic human needs.”
Health improvements in the Lela community members have not yet been confirmed. The chapter has to complete a final monitoring in 2014 to report any significant improvements in community health.
The Kenya project effort, “Kel Wer,” can be viewed in IMAX at 6 p.m. on April 9 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry located in Portland.
Katherine Choi, news reporter