Engineers Without Borders in Kenya

UMD students volunteer for a water access project

Seven UMD students, one UMD alumna, and one Duluth-area professional engineer, completed a two-week trip to Nyansakia, Kenya in January 2023 as part of an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) project. Two of the students on the trip were Alison Olson-Enamorado, a junior majoring in industrial engineering, and Yohanis Hundessa, a senior majoring in electrical engineering. Olson-Enamorado and Hundessa explained that in rural Kenya, half the population lacks access to safe drinking water, which poses significant health and economic costs.

Yohanis Hundessa

The UMD group included Chad Donnelly, the Twin-Cities-area professional engineer and Emily Schabert, a UMD alumna and previous president of the EWB branch at UMD. They were dedicated to go on this adventure because it was delayed for three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Water Distribution Project

Before the project began, collecting water was an arduous process, often taking a person an hour or more to walk back and forth to the clean water source. Almost all of the water carried to Nyansakia is carried by women. When the project was completed, the journey was shortened to 30 minutes.

The new EWB process is simple: water is pumped from a clean underground source into a big tank on the Nyansakia school grounds, and then distribution lines send gravity-fed water to tap stands and taps closer to the villages.

Before and after the UMD group arrived, the Kenyan community dug long trenches, preparing the ground. The UMD group drilled down to the underground clean water source, building a large concrete slab for the 24,000-liter tank at the school. Then they installed over a mile of high-density polyethylene pipe leading to small concrete tap stands in four areas of the community. When the UMD group returned to the United States, they were waiting for the pump design to be approved.

Overcoming challenges require creativity, adaptability, and strong problem-solving skills. “Our team faced a number of challenges, such as difficulty rerouting the pipeline by digging a new trench,” Hundessa says. “One of the most rewarding aspects of our trip was the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the local community by improving access to clean water.”

Alison Olson-Enamorado

Reflecting on the Adventure

UMD's EWB chapter will continue to work on and oversee this project for the next two years. Having left Kenya, Hundessa and Olson-Enamorado remember the connections and relationships they had with the Nyansakia community. “Doing great things with love can make anything work,” says Hundessa.

“My parents inspired me to give back,” Olson-Enamorado says. Her father was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala when he met her mother, who was a community organizer and literacy teacher for adults. Olson-Enamorado hopes to work with the EWB branch in Guatemala, especially in communities familiar to her family.

Hundessa moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia in 2015. He has always been passionate about electrical engineering because in his rural hometown, they did not have 24-hour power. “There are lots of people in darkness, and we need to light them up,” he says.

In the cover image, a group of EWB volunteers includes Abby, Eric, Yohanis, Dominic, Cody, Julius, Chad, Peter, Allicia, and Vincent. (Alison and Emily not pictured)