Clean water changes lives – A story from around the world

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This guest post is from Bruce Nieman, platform manager – Michigan gas, Major Enterprise Projects, DTE Energy

I’ve been traveling to communities around the world as a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since 2009. It’s been easy to develop a passion for the work we do to help fulfill a basic human need – access to water.  One of the first projects I worked on was bringing safe drinking water to a mountain village in Honduras, and then to a village that lived within the crater of an extinct volcano in Nicaragua. Eventually, I moved from engineering and project management with a team of other engineers, to mentoring EWB Student Chapters to help them tackle projects in Kenya.

About a month and a half ago, through the work of the University of Toledo EWB Student Chapter, I became aware of the Irkaswaa Village and its draught. Situated in Kenya, just a mile from the Tanzania border, and on the slide slope of Mt. Kilimanjaro, this village is inhabited by Maasai tribal people.  By culture, the job of collecting water is the responsibility of the females in the village.  The women and girls walk more than seven miles to find water.  Once they find water, it is barely drinkable and is akin to drinking water that you might find in a puddle along a dirt road.

Fortunately, the University of Toledo EWB Chapter, in partnership with a group called My Chosen Vessels (MCV), founded by Jessica Censotti, have a plan to build a well that will provide water to the nearly 350 families that live in this community. Unfortunately, the implementation of this water distribution system will not be complete until next year.  In the meantime, one in 10 children under the age of five are dying of diseases directly related to the lack of water or the quality of the water that they are drinking.

Adding to this tragedy is that when school age girls are sent to collect water, they are not attending school. They not only miss out on an education that is vital to improving their future life opportunities, they fall prey to cruel statistic – they are 50% to 60% more likely to be victims of female genital mutilation.

In March, just two weeks after learning about the Irkaswaa Village, I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya and met with Jessica of MCV to discuss this situation. Within a day we had a plan – for just $1,700, we would install a tank at the school in Irkaswaa and have it filled with water for the community to use until the EWB Chapter completed the installation of the new water well.

With the help of PayPal and my American Express card, we were able to order the tank and have it delivered later that week – the day after World Water Day – to the village of Irkaswaa. The school children were ecstatic, dumping the dirty water from their bottles and filling them with clean water from the tank. Word of the water quickly spread through the village, and the headmaster of the school began reaching out to the families whose girls were traveling to collect water.  Change was happening right before our eyes.

Over the next few months we’ll be working to raise the $200 per week needed, about $5,000 total, to fill the tank with clean water three times a month. This will keep the girls in school and the water-related diseases at bay until the well is installed in January.  MCV set up a donation site specifically to fill the tank with water for the people of Irkaswaa Village.

This work is definitely my passion, but I’m extremely grateful for the support that allows me to do it. Thank you to the EWB University of Toledo Chapter for taking the Engineers Without Borders vision of “A world in which every community has the capacity to sustainably meet their basic human needs,” and working towards a permanent solution to the water needs of the Irkaswaa community.  And to American Express and PayPal for allowing funding to happen from the middle of the Kenyan Savanah.  And to DTE Energy for allowing me to bring a global context to our aspiration of being “a force for growth and prosperity in the communities where we live and serve.”

And thanks to my friend Jessica Censotti of MCV, for making it all happen – the arrangements, the trust that funds would be there, and for having the heart to take an idea and make a real difference in the lives of others.