Sunday, February 9, 2020

Implementation Phase 3 - Part II

Supa? How are you? Were the friendly greetings in Maasai and English we kept hearing from the milling throng of Imurtot Primary School students as the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) DE Chapter team labored to install the rainwater catchment system.  The students were all so excited to see what we were doing and to have a little contact with the strangers from the USA.   It was the student’s enthusiasm and the little-but-meaningful connections we all made with all the people of the community that made the experience so rewarding.

Our small team of volunteers had only a few days in January 2020 to implement Phase 3 - Part II of the rainwater catchment system at the Imurtot School, giving the students an additional 30,000-liter of potable water.  The impact the overall program has had on the community has been profound with improved student health and safety over the 3-year program.  When the first team arrived, 30 students were too ill to attend school each month.  Now there are only 10 cases per month.  In the past, students had to roam far to collect and carrying water to school every morning, even risking beatings by guards at the Tanzania border.  Now there is clean water available on site at the school.   

We were traveling in a group of four - Kim, Kathleen, TJ and myself – from Delaware to JFK to the Nairobi airport.  Tad, who had flown-out earlier to procure materials, and the Water Is Life Kenya (WILK) team of Joyce (the founder), Sadera and Musyoki all joined us at the NBO airport.  Then an exhilarating 4-hr drive thru Kenya to Loitokitok, a city near the Tanzanian border.  For TJ and I, this is the first time we have been to Africa, and our knowledge was limited to National Geographic and Discovery channel programs, but nothing could have prepared us for the natural beauty of Kenya.  From the highway we saw giraffes and zebras roaming free, the landscape was so uniquely different than anything I’ve ever seen.  I could barely believe that I was truly in Africa!  

When we arrived at the Poa Guest House, the two more members of WILK joined us, Larasha and Moses, making us a team of 10.  Our first dinner consisted of ‘mbuzi’ (goat meat), corn, potato, vegetables, and plenty of Tusker beer.  It was devoured after our long journey, and for those of you wary of eating goat … you don’t know what you are missing!  Delicious.

After a comfortable night under our mosquito nettings, we took off to the Imurtot Primary School, which should be about an hour drive from Loitokitok.  However, because of the rainy season we had other plans. During previous trip, Sadera’s superb driving skills were put to the test as he tried to negotiate the slippery, washed-out roads, which soon became impassible.  This time we were forced to take the long route that crosses into Tanzania.  

Not a problem, since we all got our Tanzanian transit visas in advance … or so we thought.  Apparently just having the visa is insufficient … you had to have proof of yellow fever shot and have no fever.  But believing we had it all sorted-out, we continued with our border entry … only to discover that the “other guy” got it all wrong, and we needed to buy different visas.  Haha.  Our diplomatic negotiation skills were continually put to the test as we deciphered the ever-changing regulations of border crossings, depending on which border official was in charge.  In the end, a multiple-entry one-year visa seemed to satisfy all the officials.   When travelling in Africa, it helps to bring extra money and a Zen outlook.

On our first day of work (Sunday) we found the previously installed water tanks overflowing from months of rain. True testimony that the design works!  After safety orientation, we began work by clearing the dirt and leveling the ground.  We had 58-ft of gutter on Building D classrooms to install this week, but the rainy season has made the ground unstable, so we were extra careful in securing the footings for the stepladder.  Enoch, the resident school carpenter, worked closely with us. We were able to make significant progress of fabricating the gutter, installing the mounting brackets and installing the first leg of the gutter. Being Sunday, there were no classes in session, and the work went smoothly without any interruptions.  For lunch, we had another round of ‘mbuzi’ … good thing I liked it, because we had ‘mbuzi’ almost every day!  (but the variety of occasionally having ‘ngombe’ (beef) with rice and vegetables instead was a welcomed change).  

  The next morning we had spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro as we drove to the school, and then a more spectacular view of the school principle, head of the PTA, village leader, and students all gathered to thank us for our efforts and to convey their gratitude. We all received lovely pendants, but TJ was made an honorary Maasai and given a beautiful Maasai cloth!  It seems that TJ was their favorite, making us all a little jealous.  

After the ceremony, we worked hard and installed the second leg of the gutter and begin assembling the catchment system. Tuesday and Wednesday, we installed the tank fittings, the wall anchoring and completed the first flush system.  Don’t call OSHA, but Kathleen courageously fit herself into the small tank opening to secure the tank taps from the inside in a very hot and humid tank while the rest of team members could only offer our encouragement from the outside.  Thanks Kathleen for taking one for the team …. I sure didn’t want to go inside that tank!    On Thursday, our last work day, Kathleen finished up installing the new chlorine port on all tanks using the new bulkhead system, while the rest of us finished installing the manifolds, mounting boards, assembling discharge port and building the tap enclosures.  A lock was the last piece of hardware we installed, signalling the end of the mission!  
To celebrate, we donated lunch for the whole school.  It looked humble to us, just rice and beans, but the students were so happy they didn’t have to walk home for lunch (or go hungry) that day.  It was so gratifying to see the students laughing and enjoying the fresh clean water to drink and to wash their plates with.   Overall it has been a great experience.  I’m proud to say that in only a week, we were able to improve the quality of life of ~500 students.
Now that the work was done, and a bit early too, we had the next two days to enjoy ourselves at Amboseli National Park.  It was spectacular!   We visited the Maasai village, went to Lemomo lookout, and saw wild elephants, zebras, and giraffes extremely up-close and personal … it was better than I ever imagined.  We even saw a cheetah sitting on a tree!  A real live wild cheetah!  Amazing!  That night we stayed at the lodge inside the park and were treated to a Maasai delicacy and health tonic … goat and bitter tree bark soup … known for its ability to ‘purify’.  I guess it worked …. our intestines were getting  ‘cleansed’ that night. Haha.  But no harm, its all part of the adventure.

We spend our last day in Kitengala with a spectacular barbeque dinner, spend time at Joyce’s workshop, toured the Karen Blixen “Out of Africa” museum, and visited the giraffe center.  We were all exhausted as we embarked on a 15-hr flight home, but thrilled to have been able to experience Africa. ‘Kwaheri’ (goodbye) Kenya! And ‘asante’ (thank you) for the experience and hospitality!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Implementation Part 3!

Our implementation trip in Kenya began with a very long flight. On Saturday, August 24th, after many hours of traveling, we touched down in Nairobi. As a first-time travel team member, I had no idea what to expect. We spent most of our first day in Kenya driving to the small town of Loitokitok. It was my first day seeing wild giraffes, and our first time eating mbuzi – the Swahili word for goat.

Our typical mbuzi meal for lunch and dinner.

During the drive, we found out that the country wide census was occurring. This meant no restaurants or stores were open and school was delayed for a week. We wanted to meet the students at Imurtot Primary School, where our tanks would be installed. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get to see the students while we were working. While eating dinner at our hotel, Poa Guest House, the census workers came to count us. Although we weren’t Kenyan, we had to write down our information – a unique experience for our first day.

Our vehicle for the week.     

The next morning, we woke up promptly at 3am to a crowing rooster. This would end up being a daily occurrence. Tired, but eager to get started, I watched the sunrise then met the team for breakfast.

The view from our hotel, Poa Guest House.

We started our longggg, bumpy ride to Imurtot Primary School to start construction. Along the way we had incredible views of Kilimanjaro and were greeting by dozens of children running up to our truck to wave at us.  

A church on the way to Imurtot Primary School.

I wasn’t sure what to expect while constructing the rainwater catchment system. How hard can it be to connect 3 tanks and some gutters? Within a few hours, it was apparent that this would be one of the hardest projects I had ever done. With limited construction experience, mostly coming from assembling Ikea furniture, I had to be a fast learner. I found that there were 5 rules for EWB Construction:

1. Usalama Kwanza – “Safety First”
  2. There’s always time for tea breaks

Our last tea break of the trip.

3. Nothing goes right the first time
4. Hakuna Matata
5. We can fix it with local engineering!

Dave hard at work on our tap enclosure

Construction was difficult, but rewarding. With locally sourced construction materials, there were many challenges and opportunities for problem solving. With the school being situated on a hill, we also had three 5,000L tanks to keep a close eye on. When Kim, Dave, and I were having a discussion, Dave looked up and proclaimed “Oh no!” and ran after a tank that had started rolling down the hill. Anything can happen.

The team moving the tanks into place.

Although I was not the most experienced travel team member, I was the smallest. This meant I had the honor of climbing inside the tanks to clean them and seal the plumbing. The first 2 tanks were a bit dusty, but nothing too bad. When I got to the 3rd tank, I looked inside and thought it looked really clean. I climbed right in. When I turned around, I found a family of at least 100 spiders living inside the tank.  I had to spring into action, killing and cleaning up all the spiders in the tank while the rest of the team watched and took videos. It would probably be a recurring nightmare for most, but luckily, I made it out alive.

Cleaning the inside of the tanks

One of the hardest projects of my life turned into one of the most fulfilling when parents from the school came by to say what a great impact our systems have had on their families. We worked efficiently and finished our phase of the project and maintenance on some of the other systems! Completing an additional 15,000L of rainwater capacity for the school at the end of the trip was so rewarding. All of our hard work will contribute to better access to clean water for over 500 students at the Primary School!

The team celebrating a successful implementation!

Now that the hard work was complete, it was time to do some exploring. We headed off to Amboseli National Park for a game drive on Friday. There were more animals than I could have ever imagined. From giraffes to elephants to flamingos and zebras, it was the most amazing experience.

Amboseli National Park

That evening we had another unique adventure climbing up Lemomo Hill at sunset. The ranger, Patrick, told us of the lack of funding for nature conservation and how difficult it is for the few rangers to cover so much ground to ensure there are no poachers.

Our hike up Lemomo at sunset.

That night we had an authentic goat roast before heading to bed at Kimana Camp. The next day was long and packed with incredible experiences. We started the day with an early morning game drive and saw some lions enjoying a meal. From there, we had the opportunity to attend a Maasai wedding. The songs, colors, and laughter filled the air as we watched the bride get picked up from her village to be driven to the ceremony at her future husband’s village.

Maasai wedding procession

We couldn’t stay for long as we were off to Mamasane’s house for lunch. Our chapter sponsors her daughter’s school fees, and there were many thank yous and songs after a delicious lunch. Finally, it was back to Kitengala where we were met with a tremendous downpour and some of the most delicious mbuzi we had on the entire trip. Hopefully the rains came to Imurtot to fill up our tanks!

Our last day involved some sight-seeing and more delicious food in Nairobi before we got on the plane for the long ride home. Huge thank you to Water is Life Kenya, EWB, and everyone who supported our successful implementation. On to our next phase of the project!

View of Nairobi

Sunday, March 31, 2019

2nd Implementation Trip (Part II)

I was a member of the first implementation team, so I was pretty excited ahead of my second trip. I was excited to see the impact that the work we had done last year had made.  I was excited to see our friends from Water is Life, Kenya: Joyce, Joseph and Sadera. We had a pleasant journey to Kenya, taking a direct flight, and made our way to Loitokitok with the rest of the team.

When we arrived at the school, the first thing I had to do was to go look at the tanks we had installed last year. It had rained the day before our arrival, and the tanks were almost all full! We found some leaks, some first flush systems not being used, but it was good feeling to see water being collected.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the team that had gone ahead of us had been unable to complete Phase II, but their work gave us a head start in our week-long project. We worked for 5 days, getting more efficient as we went.
The big difference between this implementation and the first one was that due to the height of the roof, we had to use scaffolding for the gutter attachment. Most of our mornings started with the assembly of the scaffolding before we broke off and accomplished various tasks. Each day, at lunch time, we were able to witness the school children using the water from the first system to wash their plates, and  for drinking.
Most significantly, I noticed that the kids were not carrying containers of water to school, like they did before. The school kitchen had a water supply, and taking that burden off the kids was very gratifying.
By the end of day 5 of work, we had not only completed Phase II but we had repaired some leaks in Phase I, treated the water in all the tanks and were talked with the kids and staff about proper maintenance of the systems  and conservation of water.  We were also able to get some feedback from the kids on the impact these water harvesting systems were having on their daily lives, and it only reaffirmed my desire to do this work and continue to return.
The school gave us an emotional send-off once more, and we were on our way, feeling good about what we had accomplished and excited to take a couple of days to relax and do some sightseeing.

For a change, we went to Tsavo East National( Park for our safari this time, instead of Amboseli. We enjoyed our overnight stay in the park, (which we learned was twice the size of Delaware! ) and got to see some amazing wildlife. We also got to spend a day sightseeing in Nairobi, going to the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum.

This trip was as memorable as the first one, with a lot of work, and a lot of accomplishment. Working outdoors, in the beautiful countryside with the amazing Mt Kilimanjaro in the background never gets old, and I was rewarded for our work last year by getting to see the difference we’ve made at the school.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2nd implementation trip (Phase II part 1)

I first became involved with EWB-Delaware chapter at the post trip meeting after the 1st implementation trip (February 2018). Eight months later, with much hard work from everyone, the travel team embarked on our 2nd implementation trip in Oct 2018! 

Despite our experiences and knowledge from the previous trip, we still encountered many challenges.
On the project side, parts still didn't all fit, some parts were missing for the scaffolding, and city electricity supply was unreliable; additionally, narrow margin on the roof made it difficult to fit drills into the back of gutter.                                                    

Nature wasn't on our side either - the uneven ground was hindering scaffolding usage, and rainy weather prevented any work being done on some of the days. One day when the muddy road condition became impossible due to the sandy layer underneath, after much slippery and sliding in the van, we turned around and take an expedition through Tanzania road after bargaining with border control, then walked the last 3 miles to the school in white and thickening fog with dire visibility.

We were lucky to have help from the school watchman Enoch, as well as Sadera from WILK, but was still unable to fully complete the project. Nonetheless, despite the engineering and weather challenges, we laid a solid foundation for the phase II project to be successfully completed in January 2019.

Outside of work, daily life was a very enriching cultural experience. It was exhilarating and humbling waking up to Kilimanjaro every morning, and it quickly became a group activity to wake up and gather on the rooftop for sunrise.

The guest house we stayed in had latches on the outside, and I actually managed to locked Kim in by accident for an entire night until she discovered it in the morning - fortunately it was a safe night. Bursts of electricity outage in the guest house and restaurants were common; hot water supply wasn’t reliable in Loitokitok, and electricity still blinked and sizzled on the shower head.

The roads were very bumpy and dusty, and it usually took 45min on a good day just to drive 18 kilometers to get to the school. Sadera quipped the bumpy rides "Kenyan Massage". One day we sadly witnessed a serious motorcycle accident, leaving a pool of blood on the ground. Safety first, always!

The most profound of it all was seeing the lives of the students. During the day, they gathered around us with utmost curiosity and energy, forming a blue sea of school uniforms.  In the evening as we leave, we see the same students, no longer in their uniforms, but scattered near and far in the field, herding their family animals. What a different life!

On the last working day we couldn't do any work due to the rain, so we left the school and saw some animals driving through the Safari park in Amboseli National Park. Some Maasai ladies successfully sold beads to us at the park, but we also visited Joyce's bead workshop before flying out.  
We gave much in our trip, changing lives in the village and the school. Meanwhile our lives have been touched and changed as well, as we gain new understanding of life, inequality, and our connection with the world.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Our First Implementation!

About 3 months ago, four of our members (Kim, John, Ranjit, and myself) ventured off to Kenya for our very first implementation trip at the Imurtot Primary School. After many months of hard work, we were excited to finally make our designs a reality and help provide water to the school community. Thankfully Tad and the Water Is Life - Kenya team (Joyce, Sadera, Musyoki, and Larasha) had already picked up the materials required so we were able to hit the ground running once we arrived. 

Our team decided to choose the two smallest buildings to install our system on first to help us prove our concept. The first two buildings, the Library and Kitchen, are shown below just an hour into our work.
Library - Before
Kitchen - Before
At first the project was moving slowly because we were all trying to get our bearings and figure out how to construct everything correctly since we had minimal spare parts and could not afford to make mistakes. We soon learned of the difference in quality of materials as we broke several drill bits the first day and realized that the PVC pipe didn't quite fit into some of the fittings. We put Sadera's fire making skills to the test and had him build us a fire so that we could boil water. We used the boiling water to make the PVC pipe soft and malleable so that we could get it to slide into the fittings. 

Tad (left), Joyce (center-left), Andrew (center-right), and Sadera (right), work to boil water for the PVC pipe
The days were flying by and the team was worried about getting the projects completed in time. Fortunately, some good omens, in the form of rain and a rainbow, gave us confidence that we would get the project done. 
Women collecting water from a stream flowing from the previous day's rain

Rainbow at Imurtot Primary School
After the third day, we finally had a good handle on the work and were moving along! Kim and Larasha presented the project to the community and it was well received!
Larasha (left), the Chairman (center), and Kim (right) present the EWB project to the community
We were hot, tired, and sweaty, but the idea of providing the kids water kept us motivated.

Students lower the Kenyan flag at the end of the day
We had the gutters up on all of the buildings, had the tanks in place, and had most of the PVC pipe in place and just one day left to get both system ready for use - this was turning into a nail biter!

Andrew makes modifications to the gutters so that the water is captured
John (left), Ranjit (center), and Andrew (right) work to install modifications on the Library's gutters
We had one full day left to tie everything together and educate the teachers on the system, and with seconds left, we successfully completed the project and trained the school teachers.
Kitchen - After

Library - After

Teachers learning about the rain catchment system
Tad. John, Andrew, and Ranjit explain the system to two teachers

EWB Implementation Team and WILK (Sadera, Tad, Andrew, Kim, Ranjit, John, and Joyce) 
After a week of hard work, we were all proud to have represented our chapter doing a project so meaningful to the community. Just days after we all arrived safely back home, Joyce informed us that it had begun raining at Imurtot and the tanks were beginning to fill with water. In only a few weeks, Joyce informed us that all six tanks were actually full! We were able to store approximately 19,000 liters of water in just a few weeks, truly amazing. What's even better? We've since received photos of the students using our system to fill their cups.

Its photos like these that make all of us realize how important and meaningful our efforts are and help drive us forward to continue our design and fundraising efforts. We are hoping to make it back in October of 2018 to build on our momentum and provide an even larger source of water for these kids!

-Andrew Prosser

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hakuna Matata

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since we returned from Kenya! This past year has flown by! It was only last spring when Joyce, director of Water is Life Kenya, met our Chapter for the first time. We were officially approved to take on the Kenya Rainwater Catchment Project at Imurtot Primary School in July. By October, we were on our way to Imurtot for our first assessment trip. The travel team members included me, Ashley, Kathleen, and Tad. Upon arrival in Nairobi we met Joyce, Sadera, and “the beast” (the Land Rover we would spend the next week traveling around in).

Kim, Ashley, Kathleen, Joyce, and Sadera with "the beast"

The following day we traveled to Loitokitok, the town nearest to Imurtot Primary School. When we reached the school we were eagerly greeted by over 500 students! 

Joyce greeting some of the students

After we were introduced, a group of students performed a song that they had prepared for us. The song included verses such as “We need water in our lives.. Please our visitors we need water.”

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At that point, we really felt the weight of the task ahead of us. The school currently does not have a water supply. They tried drilling a well in 2015, but never reached water. The geology of the region makes it a risky location for drilling. The students have to walk to a water source every morning and carry their water to school.

After class resumed, we had a meeting with a group of community members, parents, and teachers. The Project Partnership Agreement (which outlines the roles/responsibilities of Imurtot, EWB, and Water is Life Kenya) was translated and read aloud. After all the questions were answered, all parties agreed upon the requirements, and the Project Partnership Agreement was signed!
Signing the Project Partnership Agreement

EWB, Water is Life Kenya, and Imurtot

The next two days were spent measuring school buildings and taking photographs. The science teacher assisted Tad with installing a rain gauge at the school, so that the students can assist in collecting local precipitation data. We visited hardware stores to determine material availability and cost. We also stopped to assess existing water projects in the area, and took note of what worked well and what could be improved upon.

Rain Gauge

Our departure from Kenya was bittersweet. We were glad to have had such a successful trip, but were sorry to say goodbye to all of our new friends.

The assessment trip is over, but this is just the beginning! Now that we’ve seen firsthand the need for water at Imurtot Primary School, we are even more motivated to return and implement the project.We hope to send another team later this year.

- Kim Teoli