Fall, 2007

In the fall of 2007, the University of Wisonsin-Madison Engineers without Borders chapter began a project with the community of Orongo, Kenya.  Orongo is a rural farming community about 10 minutes outside of Kisumu (the third largest city in Kenya) and off the shores of Lake Victoria.  When the group began, the broad goal was to improve the water quality in Orongo.  The group has since explored many areas for improvement including agriculture, agroforestry, sustainable energy, and water quality, and has since narrowed its focus to two projects: household water filtration, and irrigation. 

Since the very beginning, our group has been researching biosand filters as a solution to the household water quality in Orongo because they are comparatively inexpensive, easy to operate, and easy to maintain.  The group dedicated several trips to assessment and small implementation of different filters before meeting Amos Omundi Oyoo.  Amos had been to a Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) workshop in Kisumu. The CAWST biosand filter design that Amos learned about at the workshop was the same one our group had been researching. Amos shared our enthusiasm for clean water and biosand water filters and the project eventually grew into a small business opportunity.  We were awarded the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship and used this funding to help start a biosand filter business in the community for Amos and his two business partners.  The business concept worked with our philosophy of sustainable projects because it transferred our outside knowledge and resources into the community so that the filters can continue to be distributed even after we leave.  After a year of operating, the business has sold about 15 filters.  While there is little engineering work left to be done with this project, we are still working out issues with proper use/care of the filters, and ensuring the whole community has access to this new technology.

Our second major undertaking in Orongo is an irrigation project meant to pump water from Lake Victoria to the farms so that the farmers can continue to grow during the dry season that is experienced each year.  This is especially important because most of the people in Orongo are subsistence farmers, meaning they barely farm enough food for their family to eat.  The goal is that with an extra growing season farmers may be able to produce a greater amount/variety of crops and increase their income by selling extra crops at nearby markets.  Thus far in the project we have worked to establish an organizational committee, called the Nyamthoi Orongo Program (NOP) as well as determine the area for a pilot irrigation project. The farmers to be included in the pilot project were selected in January 2010 and then work on that scheme truly began. For the pilot scheme, the group has received funding from the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship and an Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowmen Grant.  During the August 2011 trip, the group faced some substantial cultural and communication barriers that stalled the project, but solving these problems will continue to be a major focus and the group is still hopeful that the project can be implemented in January 2012.

Since both of these projects will only require 2-3 more trips to Orongo we are in the process of wrapping up work in Orongo.  We hope you will join our group to finish up strong in Orongo and work on finding new programs to work with! For more information please contact project managers Drew Birrenkott ( or Claire Davis (