Chapter History

A Dream

In 2003, Ronald Omyonga, an architect living in Nairobi, Kenya, sent an email to Engineers Without Borders - USA, requesting assistance in providing clean water and latrines at the 56 primary schools located in Khwisero, Western Kenya, where he had grown up. Their initial responded that the project was too big and that they didn't work on projects of that size. Ronald continued to correspond with them, telling them that it was his dream to work at all 56 schools, but that they could start with just one or two. After several emails, he was able to convince them to accept the project, and they put it up online for any of their chapters to adopt.

A Humble Beginning

The Montana State University Chapter of Engineers Without Borders was formed in the Spring of 2004 by a small group of MSU students, most of whom were seniors and juniors in the chemical engineering department. We adopted the Khwisero, Kenya project as our first project. At that time, we decided that we would focus our work on two schools - Shirali (where Ronald had gone to school), and Munyanza (which is next to Ronald's mothers house, and did not exist when Ronald was a student). The estimated budget for the two schools was $50,000. We had no idea how we would raise that much money. At the time, we were a pretty typical student organization - no money, no support, and no skills, but a lot of talking about big goals. One faculty member that we approached about the idea of being our advisor, Otto Stein, declined the invitation, thinking to himself: "Nice kids and a great project, but it's never going to happen." We met in the SUB in the meeting rooms down the hall from the AskUs desk. Membership fluctuated between 2 and 12 dedicated members.

By the Fall of 2004, we had received one corporate donation for $1500, and had done one big fundraiser, called "Music Without Borders," which eventually cost more to put on than we raised in donations because we borrowed a cooler from McDonalds who later claimed we didn't return it and charged us $90 for it, wiping out all our profits. Many of the students who started the organization and had been it's first officers had graduated, and what was left was 7 or 8 die hard members who showed up to meetings on a fairly regular basis. For many of these members, EWB was one of several activities on campus they were involved in, and it was not always their first priority. Our faculty adviser did not attend the general meetings. We spent some of our remaining money on food at meetings in a fruitless attempt to convince more students to come.

That fall, we convinced the Chemical Engineering department at the University to pay for a van for us to travel to the EWB-USA international conference in Denver (EWB-USA didn't have regional conferences in the Fall yet). Five of the most active members went to the conference together, and we had one of the largest representations at the conference (the whole thing happened in a couple of rooms in the bottom floor of the H2MHill headquarters building, and there were less than 300 people there). Later that fall, we tried another fundraiser - a spaghetti feed at the senior citizens home - which made about $18 - or something ridiculous like that - after expenses. The student who was the Treasurer/Fundraiser at that point decided to give up being treasurer to focus completely on fundraising, and the job of Treasurer was given to a new student who had started attending meetings several weeks earlier - because no one else wanted the job. During this same period, the constitution was ratified and made official by the veteran officers of the group. It was the only formal document that we had, and was basically a list of 8 official positions and their job descriptions, along with a brief mention of $15 membership dues, which we made half-hearted attempts to collect.

Site Assessment - December 2004

Just before the winter break, we learned that one of the members, an art student who later designed our first logo (the pipes and continents logo), was going to East Africa with her parents to work on another project. We decided at the last minute to pay for the plane ticket of our Secretary at the time, so that he could go with them and visit Khwisero for our site assessment. We spent basically everything we had left in our single bank account on reimbursement for his ticket. During their brief visit to Khwisero, Tucker Stevens and Heather Mullins met Ronald for the first time, talked with some important community members, and collected basic information about the pit latrines and the water situation at Shirali and Munyanza. They collected a considerable amount of information, and recorded everything they had learned in just a few pages of typed notes and a few dozen pictures, available on page name

A Bit of Good Luck

In Jan 05, we opened up a projects account at the bank. Our Fundraising chair tried very hard to raise more money to put in it that spring, but met with little success and eventually stopped coming to the meetings. In May, we got a call from the Gilhousen Family Foundation (thanks to the hard work of our now absent fundraising chair) offering to match up to $10,000 of what we could raise in the next 6 months. By then, most of the older members had graduated, moved on, or given up, and it was summer time, so we were down to 3 to 4 of us at each meeting, trying desperately to figure out how the hell we were going to raise $10,000 by October. We had almost nothing in our bank account.

For the summer and fall of 2005, the handful of members worked very hard and achieved what most people invoved at the time thought was impossible. We called every engineering firm in the phone book as well as some of the big donors to the College of Engineering to ask for donations or opportunities for presentations, we put flyers in faculty mailboxes on campus, we sold jewelery from Ghana, and and we asked our friends, neighbors, and family members for money. We literally did everything we could think of to raise the funds. And when October 31st arrived, we had put $11,000 into our bank account.
In January of 2006, we received our matching donation from Gillhousen for $10,000, and for the first time, we had enough money to actually pay for the drilling of a well. In February of 2006, we sent two recently graduated past presidents Kim Slack and Callie Blackwood, along with Mike Kreikemier, a semi retired electrical engineer from Belgrade, to Khiwsero to drill the first well at Shirali. {add links for Kim, Callie, Mike}.

Phase I Implementation Trip - February to March 2006
During this trip, the team:
• Held many meetings with community members;
• Established additional contacts and strengthened ties with the Kenya team;
• Surveyed the surrounding area, including water testing at several springs;
• Performed a site assessment at Munyanza and collected information necessary for phase II implementation;
• And coordinated the drilling of the well and the installation of the hand pump at Shirali.
Total number of people affected by the project to date: 600+.

Building Legitimacy, Building Ambitions

With our first well in the ground, we had accomplished what very few people thought we would be able to do, and this helped give us a lot of credibility around campus, as well as encouraged us to try to do more. We made a list of all the things we thought we needed to do to become the best chapter in the national organization, with very little regard to what we thought was feasible and what wasn't, and we started doing what was necessary to check these boxes one at a time. That summer, we asked the College of Engineering to support us by giving us an office. They gave us four cubicle spaces and an old computer in a room with no windows, which we shared with three engineering grad students. Later, after the students graduated and moved out, we inherited the entire office, but for the first two years, things were pretty tight. One of the other things on that list was a film to help fundraise and spread the word about our project, so we asked the graduate students in the film department to submit proposals for a film, in exchange for a ticket to Kenya. Jaime Jelenchick signed on as our film producer, and subsequently spent hundreds of hours over the next year and a half planning, frundraising, filming, and editing what would later become our documentary The Water Carriers. We worked hard to build on the funds left over from the first trip, and just nine months after drilling the first well at Shirali, we were ready to return to Khwisero. Peter Jacobson, Callie Blackwood, Jaime Jelenchick, Chris Allen, Quinn Bloom, Andrea Orr, Shena Buxbaum, and Jon Degroot traveled to Khwisero to install our second well at Munyanza and build our first composting latrine at Shirali. This 8 member travel team constituted about 2/3 of the total active members in the organization.

Phase II Implementation Trip - December 2006 to January 2007
During this trip, the team:
• Oversaw borehole drilling and hand pump installation at Munyanza Primary School;
• Constructed a pilot composting latrine at Shirali Primary School;
• Collected health and education information from Shirali and Munyanza schools and surrounding communities;
• Implemented a hand washing education program at both schools;
• Surveyed school grounds and collected education information from seven new schools;
• Expanded our network of collaborators and contacts;
• Implemented a pen pal program between the Khwisero Division in Kenya and the Gallatin Valley in Montana, USA;
• Assessed success of our phase I work and made adjustments as necessary;
• And filmed a documentary.
Total number of people affected by the project to date: 1000+.

Building a New Kind of Organization

After returning from Khwisero, we had a lot of things to think about. The water from the well we had installed at Shirali was turning orange and people had stopped using it for drinking. The water user committee we had set up to manage and oversee maintenance was no longer meeting. Perhaps more importantly, no one in Khwisero had bothered to mention this orange water problem until we arrived several months later to work at Munyanza. Our bank account was empty, school was hard, and once again, a lot of our older, more active members had graduated or moved on (including our president), taking their knowledge and skills with them. And the scope of what we had taken on was still hard to comprehend - the number of primary schools in Khwisero had actually increased by two in the last three years, effectively leaving us with just as far to go as when we had started. We received no help from our parent organization, EWB-USA - our project was an anomaly. Most of their projects were one time implementations with a maximum lifespan of five years. At our current pace, we would be in Khwisero for another another fifty years minimum. They were completely overwhelmed with a handful of full and part time employees trying to mangage an organization that had grown to over two hundred chapters and several thousand volunteers in just a few years. When we asked them for help in paying for the film we were working on they turned us down without even considering it. It was clear that continuing on the path of the typical student organization and the typical aid organization was not enough.

Over the next year and a half, we began shifting to a new organizational structure which facilitated more members being involved, and the older members increasingly began shifting their attention from leading the organization and making all the decisions to mentoring the new members and letting them learn by steering the ship. We instituted feedback sessions after every event and regularly during each semester that allowed even the newest members to tell the leadership what they thought about the project and the organization, and how to improve it. We began focusing more on the informal structure of the organization and on volunteers as individuals rather than on titles and terms. These changes allowed us to make better use of the members and skills we did have, and allowed a new and larger group of potential members to take ownership in the project. We began seeking out other organizations both in the Gallatin Valley and elsewhere for ideas and models on which we could improve. And now that we had established a firm record of doing what everyone else seem to think was impossible, we began seeing more support from the university. Otto Stein, the faculty member who had declined our invitation to be our faculty advisor three years earlier, now asked us if he could join our team. We started an independent study survey class with the Sociology department to design a household survey in Khwisero, and a team of three students used their engineering design class to explore alternative designs for a composting latrine.

We set a goal for ourselves of returning to Khwisero and drilling 2 - 3 wells. At the time, none of us thought it was possible, but we made it our goal anyway, and we started setting things in motion to make it happen. Up to 30 members attended the Monday evening PR meetings (which later morphed into the general meeting) about what EWB was doing and 6-8 members met Thursday evenings for three hour discussing why and how. We had so many events, we needed to make Event Bookmarks to keep them straight. And after selling out the Emerson with over 800 viewers for Africana, the Water Carriers film premier, in the fall of 2007, the airing of the film on Montana PBS the next spring, and raising $30,000 at our first Clean Water for Kenya Jubilee in February 2008, three wells in one trip was no longer just a crazy idea, but a reality. The trip that we had been planning since January of 2007 was finally going to happen. By this time, the organization had increased in size to about 30 active members, and our ability to plan, design, and train for upcoming projects had increased dramatically. Ten members traveled to eastern Oregon in May to build two composting latrines as training for future trips, and that summer, 14 members traveled to Khwisero in three teams to install wells at Ikomero, Ebuhonga, and Emwaniro and to construct our second composting latrine at Shirali.

Phase III Implementation Trip - June to November 2008
During this trip, the Kenyan and Bozeman teams:
• Helped establish a 14 member board of government officials, headmasters, and community members to guide and direct the project in Khwisero;
• Oversaw the drilling of boreholes and installation of handpumps at 3 Khwisero primary schools: Emwaniro, Ikomero, and Ebuhonga;
• Assessed the condition of previous work in Khwisero (two wells and a pilot composting latrine);
• Constructed a second, pilot composting latrine at Shirali Primary School;
• Worked with teachers to improve sanitation education at the schools;
• Conducted a household survey of 150+ households around 5 primary schools to determine baseline water use habits related to the project;
• Conducted 4 pilot focus groups in Khwisero;
• Collected geophysical and water quality data in Khwisero;
• Collected pen-pal letters at the 5 primary schools to deliver to Bozeman, MT;
• Recorded interviews to be used in a radio documentary;
• And trained and further involved Khwisero community members in all aspects of the project.
Total number of people affected by the project to date: 3000+.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle wrote a Sunday feature article about the Phase III Implementation Trip (at []). Such free PR that reaches thousands of locals helped increase our support base even more.

*After the three travel teams returned from Khwisero, the two project managers, Quinn Bloom and Chris Allen stayed in Khwisero for another two and a half months to tie up loose ends, and visited over 35 other projects in Khwisero and other parts of Eastern Africa to learn more about what we could do to improve our project. Please see their pages for the lessons learned from this trip

Ronald Comes to Bozeman

By then we were beginning to see a lot more support around campus and elsewhere as a result of all our hard work. During the fall of 2008, we held our first ever Recycled Fashion Show which packed the Emerson. We also worked with the Student Activities Office and several other offices on campus to get the money together to bring Ronald from Nairobi to Bozeman for 6 weeks in the spring of 2009. While he was in Bozeman, Ronald met with hundreds of people in Bozeman and inspired almost all of them. More people than ever now knew about our project and wanted to be involved. The executive director of EWB-USA came to Bozeman to visit us, and two months later at their national conference, we were formally recognized with a "Premier Chapter Award." The survey class we started in 2007 continued into its 4th straight semester by analyzing the data we brought back from Khwisero, and worked to make improvements to the survey for use on the upcoming trip. Several teams of people began working on designs for Khwisero in their engineering design classes, including several water filters to address the orange water problems, and in particular, three teams in the Civil Engineering senior design class adopted a water distribution system in Khwisero as their project. We also raised $20,000 in the first 5 months of 2009 - it had taken us two years to raise that same amount of money when the chapter first started only five years earlier. The spring semester ended with over 40 active volunteer members, and 20 of those members were on their way to Khwisero that summer in five different teams for the Phase IV implementation.

We also began seeing a lot more support in Khwisero as we incorporated them more into the decision making and design processes. The new board we set up in Khwisero prepared an application for all of the 58 schools in Khwisero to fill out and used the returned applications to priority rank every school in terms of water and sanitation needs. The latrine construction team at Shirali made onsite improvements to their new composting latrine which significantly improved it's design - after we had left. And the board acquired an EWB office next to the Area Education Officer's office in Khwisero.

Phase IV Implementation Trip - May through August 2009
• Provided recommendations and price quotes from drill rig operators;
• Coordinated hydrogeological surveys at drill sites and obtaining drilling and water use permits;
• Provided food, lodging, escort and translation services for the travel teams;
• Provided labor for construction, focus group facilitation, and household and geophysical surveying
• Contributed some of the materials necessary for construction of the latrines, and assisting with acquisition of remaining materials through local source;
• Organized labor will be done by the Kenya team members and MSU project managers on site;
• The wells were owned by the communities using them and managed by a water user committee, which now act under the existing school management committee. Members will elected from the community serviced by each of the primary schools;
• The latrines owned by the school in which they are located;
• Oversight for maintenance of the wells will be performed by the water user committees, which will raise funds for repairs and water testing;
• Oversight for maintenance of the latrines will be performed by the school management committee at each school;
• Additionally, the schools will fill quarterly reports to the local board to ensure maintenance is performed at the necessary intervals.

• Assess condition of previous work in Khwisero (five wells and a two test composting latrines) and make improvements to these projects as necessary;
• Provide clean water at two more primary schools in the Khwisero Division;
• Construct a teachers composting latrine at the two schools which the wells will be installed;
• Construct a larger test composting latrine which will meet the needs of half the students Shirali Primary to further assess the feasibility of this technology in Khwisero;
• Construct a test biogas latrine which will meet the needs of half the students at Shirali Primary to assess the feasibility of this technology in Khwisero and showcase this technology to the community members of Khwisero;
• Work with teachers to improve sanitation education at the schools;
• Conduct follow-up household surveys to collect additional information necessary for quantification of impact, assessment of local perceptions, future project planning, etc. at the five schools from summer 2008;
• Conduct large scale household and geophysical surveys to collect additional information necessary for quantification of impact, assessment of local perceptions, future project planning, etc. at the two schools which wells will be installed summer 2009;
• Conduct feasibility assessment for a distribution pipeline connecting several primary schools;
• Develop a water quality testing method that can be used be community members;
• Hold a three week health clinic in the existing Khwisero facilities with pre-med students and professional doctors;
• And train and further involve additional Khwisero community members in all aspects of the project.

Institutionalizing Efforts on the Home-front

Add material here about the success of annual Jubilees, Fashion shows, grants, projects in MT, awards for students and faculty EWB members, Carnegie Melon status, advisory board,

Phase V Implementation Trip

The Next Generation

Which brings us to where we are today. From its earliest days, this project has been designed and driven by the volunteer members of this organization and their desire to make their dreams and the dreams of the people of Khwisero a reality. Over the past several years, hundreds of volunteers have volunteered tens of thousands of hours of their time to repeatedly shatter the highest expectations of everyone who knew about this project. To attribute the success of this organization to just a handful of those individuals or to write our past accomplishments off as unique, unrepeatable events would be a mistake. The magnitude of the goals we have set for ourselves has been in many ways the key to solving them - big goals necessitate new ways of thinking about problems which lead to new and better solutions. At every point along the way it was equally hard for us to believe that we could accomplish what we were just setting out to do, as it was for us to believe that our recently accomplished goals had been so modest. In each case, it was our expectations for ourselves that were both our biggest obstacle and our biggest strength.

What has happened up to this point is just the beginning. What happens from here on out is up to you.