Oregon State University’s chapter of Engineers without Borders is hoping to send students to Lela, Kenya, to launch a project that will provide the community with safe drinking water.
This second trip to Kenya, planned for June, will allow students from the chapter to gather information about the region’s topography and ground conditions, so they eventually can return with engineering materials to create a water access and improvement system.
James Teeter, the vice president of the OSU chapter and a chemical engineering major, said three students will travel to Lela for nearly three and a half weeks beginning in the middle of June. The estimated cost of the trip is $9,000.
Further trips will cost anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 because the engineering equipment will be transported along with three to four other students.
The work in Lela is in response to the local need, as the community applied for aid through the national Engineers without Borders organization.
Two OSU students traveled to Lela in December 2009 to perform an initial health assessment of the community and contact locals. Since then, the chapter has stayed in contact with the same man in Lela via a weekly phone call.
The communication helps to best match the student engineers’ abilities and intentions with Lela’s actual needs.
“We spend a lot of time researching and paying attention to the cultural aspect of what we do,” Teeter said. “All we do is anything that they request.”
Lela has a population of 400, and its citizens face considerable challenges. The river that supplies water often becomes muddy during the eight months of scant rainfall. Residences are widely scattered.
“In Swahili, Lela means wide open space — and it’s exactly that,” Teeter said.
There are 350 Engineers without Borders-USA projects in 45 countries around the world. The 50-member OSU chapter — which includes several environmental science, natural resource and agricultural science majors in addition to engineering majors — recently completed a five-year water project in El Salvador.
Teeter hopes the local chapter can spend six years on the Lela project and send groups of students to the community at least five times over the six-year project. On Feb. 11, the chapter will launch a fundraiser for the June trip.