Misuuni – Construction Update

Rainwater Harvesting Improvements at Miumbuni Primary School, Machakos County, Kenya

Construction has been going very well with incredible community support at every step.  At the time of this writing, the EWB-NY Civil Team has already completed their work and the Mechanical Team is wrapping up their part.  Here, the EWB-NY collaboration with Plumbers Without Borders pays off as the piping and gutters get professional attention.  

Prior to the EWB-NY team arrival on August 4, parents cleared the site in preparation for construction. The EWB-NY Civil Team, consisting of Eric Lehan (Civil Engineer) and Kohinoor Mahi (Environmental Engineer), experienced a great deal of fanfare with much of the 800-student population showing up for a greeting ceremony – even though school is not in session for the month of August.  A barraza followed in which community leaders, speaking in Swahili, Kamba, and English, presented the objectives of the project and enlisted enthusiastic support from the Community.  One agenda item was to politely keep bystanders at a safe distance while the dirt flies.

The first order of EWB-NY business was to inspect the rainwater system installed at the Misuuni Primary School last year for any lessons learned.  Though it was working quite well, some adjustments to the first flush system were needed in addition to the roofing over the water tanks which was already identified as an objective for this implementation trip.  These are all nearly complete at the time of this writing. 

Parents and school staff work to clear the site before the EWB-NY team arrival

Construction on water tanks started in earnest on Monday, August 5 with a local crew of two skilled construction foremen and seven laborers.  Labor costs were $10 per day for the skilled foremen and $8 per day for laborers.  While we are shocked at the low wages people make in rural Kenya, this is akin to Davis-Bacon wages for them.  A local welder and cement mixer were hired as well. By Saturday, August 10, all three concrete pads were placed, providing a secure foundation for six new 10,000-liter water tanks (two tanks per pad).  The hard work put in by the crew and the entire team put us ahead of a rather ambitious construction schedule.

The Mechanical Team consisting of Teja Jonnalagadda (Mechanical Engineer) and Jeff Morgan, (Master Plumber), arrived on site Sunday, August 11 and set immediately to work updating their materials list.  With a quick trip 70 kilometers back to Nairobi, they were able to purchase nearly all the plumbing and gutters and have them on site Wednesday, August 14.

We cannot fail to mention the amazing support of the Misuuni Development Self Help Group (MDSHG), who handled endless logistical issues and hosted the EWB-NY teams.  Mr. Nixon Kioko, a Kenyan Mechanical Engineer (graduate of the University of Nairobi) and Misuuni resident, assisted the Mechanical Team greatly with his inside knowledge and technical skill.

Nixon had to travel from a job site in Kampala, Uganda some 7 hours by bus to Nairobi where he was to continue on to Misuuni by car.  Unfortunately, the public bus he was riding in broke down before reaching the Kenyan border.  This left all the passengers and Nixon stranded for several hours in rural Uganda waiting for a replacement bus which never arrived.  After a while, Nixon was able to evaluate the mechanical problem with the bus and fix it.  The bus and passengers continued on the journey to Nairobi.  Nixon received a free ticket from the bus company and several offers of marriage along the way.  We can’t loose with support like this and with the support of everyone who believed in this project.

Asante Sana

Unexpected Assistants

A bridge is being proposed, designed, and built by EWB-NY to connect four villages in Guatemala to the neighboring city. This proposed bridge is needed because the villagers do not have a safe way to cross the valley by car or motorcycle. The lack of access puts the educational, medical, and economic benefits of the closest city out of reach for most of the locals. In August of 2019, a team of 10 professionals from New York travelled to the Chimaltenango to complete the first assessment trip of the project. One of the primary goals of this assessment trip was to perform a topographical survey of the river valley surrounding the proposed bridge location. This is was a large undertaking, due to both the large area to cover and the steep terrain surrounding the site.

Surveying this location involved walking up the valley slopes alongside the river that runs through the bridge location. Despite the challenging terrain, our team managed to gather hundreds of data points in order to have an accurate three dimensional map of the area surrounding the river. Our team of professionals had many tasks, including mapping the community, measuring the stability of the bridge site soil, and performing a topographical survey of the valley. For the 3-4 team members that we were able to allocate to topographical surveying for the week, this was quite a challenge, and we needed all the help we could get. So, when we noticed that two boys from the nearby village had been following us around the site observing our surveying methods, we asked if they wanted to help. They eagerly agreed, and took the end of the tape measure to the survey points we had marked out. They completely understood our surveying method just from watching and were able to scramble up slopes with ease, even in areas that were difficult for our team members to reach. With the added help from the boys, our rate of surveying increased drastically, and we were able to collect all the necessary data ahead of schedule.

The top picture shows one of our newfound helpers, whose work was interrupted for a photo op. He was in the middle of measuring one of the many data points they helped us collect throughout our surveying of the bridge site.

Misuuni-Sometimes you need a plumber

Sometimes you need a plumber!

The Misuuni Water Project is planning to replicate its successful installation of a rainwater harvesting system at another primary school this year.  But this time, the school has nearly twice the number of students – over 800 as compared to 275 – and a water/sanitation situation equally as dire.  Improving the water and sanitation situation at these schools is one way to help keep children and their families from being ground down under a yoke of poverty and disease while they work towards better things to come. The team knew that an experienced plumber would be ideal for pulling together materials and for oversite of the piping installation.  Having recently learned of Plumbers Without Borders (PWB), the team decided to reach out and see if such plumbing expertise was available on a volunteer basis. 

Indeed it was. Carm and Domenico Di Gregorio at PWB very quickly pulled together a list of veteran plumbers with overseas experience who were available to volunteer. The skillsets were so amazing the team had quite a difficult time picking just one. But a decision had to be made and we ended up calling on Jeff Morgan. Jeff is not only an experienced plumber with overseas experience, he has social media expertise.  He recently retired as owner/manager of Morgan Miller Plumbing and is now available for the Misuuni Project. We couldn’t be happier.

Starting the last week of July this year, we will see David Montoya and Kohinoor Mahi head to Machakos County, Kenya to start the civil construction work. David is a veteran of the Misuuni construction process from last year’s implementation.  Mahi is an environmental engineer and native speaker of Swahili.  In addition to construction management, Mahi will continue the community liaison work necessary to bring the community’s integrated water resources plan together.

While the concrete foundation pads cure, the EWB-NY plumbing team will arrive on the job to begin setting up the tanks, piping, and appurtenances.  The plumbing team, consists of Jeff Morgan (see above) and Teja Jonnalagadda, a professional mechanical engineer here in New York.  The complementary skill sets of an experienced plumber and mechanical engineer are exactly what is needed to do great work.  There will be a day or two overlap of the civil and mechanical teams which is all we need.

Of course, the real glue which holds the project together is the Misuuni Development Self Help Group (MDSHG).  Their Chairman John Ndolo and their network of community workers and business contacts make the project go.  It is their project, after all. 

Asante Sana!


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Morgan Miller Plumbing:

What’s In My Backyard?

Mira Armstrong and the Community Engineering Corps (CEC) team visited Jackson Forest Community Garden this month to meet with community representatives and perform additional surveys. The team surveyed and laid out the proposed pathway to confirm design elevations and convey its dimensions to community representatives. They also dug test pits to evaluate subsurface conditions and tested some solar lighting equipment for future installation.

The team presented their work in “What’s in my backyard”, a talk describing the journey from seeking out local partners to working with a community garden, and setting a precedent for EWB chapters in New York to take on much-needed local work in the vast network of community gardens throughout the city. The session included a Q&A afterwards, where audience members from other states discussed their domestic project histories and Priscilla Harris, a representative from the Jackson Forest Community Garden, spoke on the need for EWB’s involvement.

For more information or to get involved, reach out to CEC lead Mira Armstrong by emailing her at

Misuuni Water Project- Progress to date

Remember when your mother told you to wash your hands after going to the bathroom? Public Health practitioners world-wide back your mom on this. Handwashing – especially after using the toilet – does a lot to minimize the transmission of diseases including some very serious ones like Cholera. Now picture the Misuuni Primary School with outhouse toilets, over 270 students, and one water faucet located 100 yards from the outhouses. Don’t even ask about toilet paper.

That was the situation at the Misuuni Primary School until August of 2018. Thanks to your support, there are now six water faucets fed by a rainwater harvesting system. Even better, with routine application of a few tablespoons of non-detergent bleach, the water meets potable standards for
drinking water.

It took hard work to make these improvements. But honestly, from a technical standpoint it was simple.The material and labor are all readily available in Kenya and it was not expensive – less than $40 per

As it turns out, other primary schools in the region have similar or worse situations with water and sanitation. Why not do it again? Indeed, that is precisely the plan.

The Miumbuni Primary School has over 800 students – over twice as many as the Misuuni Primary School – and an even worse sanitary situation. The economics are almost twice as favorable. Water and sanitation can be dramatically improved for less than $30 per student.

With the experience of building one successful system under their tool belts, the construction crew in Misuuni is ready to go. All we need is a modest amount of fundraising and EWB-NY will be ready to go too.

Hold on, you might say. If it is so simple, why don’t the people of the region do this for themselves? Well, the answer is not so simple. The people of the region, along with their government, are in fact doing a lot for themselves. Development has been quite rapid albeit uneven. But it is hard to explain
how severely under-funded the public primary schools are. Picture the bare building structures and limited staff. Imagine a beleaguered Parent-Teacher Association trying to raise funds from its impoverished members for everything – even the most basic water and sanitation needs.

Will we fix all the problems? No. But improving the water and sanitation situation is one way to help children and their families from being ground down under a yoke of poverty and disease while they work towards better things to come.

Won’t you join us?
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Asante Sana!

NY Professionals at the Engineers Without Borders National Conference

The 2018 Engineers Without Borders National Conference was held in San Francisco, CA from November 6-8th. It brought together over 500 professionals and students from across the United States to address the theme of ‘Engineers Unlock Potential’.

Attendance at the conference allowed chapters to build relationships with other chapters, potential mentors, regional boards and EWB-USA staff. Each can serve as an invaluable resource, for instance chapters working in the same country can exchange past experiences and local contacts to help prepare for an upcoming trip. NY Professionals’ presence at the conference helped build these connections and links with the umbrella organization, i.e. EWB-USA as well as showcase our projects in front of the EWB audience at large.

Our chapter members May ElKhattab, Patrick Brennan and Ethan Cotton presented at the conference about the implementation of a 12m x 12m x 8m maize storage facility in Rubaya, Rwanda. The presentation delved into specifics of construction management, design changes, material procurement and labor management. The members took on a retrospective approach and shared lessons learned along the way, something that the rest of the EWB community can benefit from as construction is a common link between all EWB projects whether it is a structural project like a storage facility or a water project like a distribution pipeline.

The conference agenda spanned over a myriad of topics ranging from remote implementation of projects using EWB in-country offices to developing master plans for EWB projects. To relay the breadth of topics covered, here are some session highlights from the conference:

● Using drones to conduct topographical surveys and land assessment
● Utilizing GIS tools to conduct fracture trace analysis for well location selection
● Sizing submersible pumps and solar panels for drinking water systems in remote areas
● Applying asset management principles to empower local in-country organizations for utility development
● Providing disaster response and recovery efforts in Dominica after 2017 hurricane

The full agenda for the conference can be accessed here and the presentations will be made available on Volunteer Village for anyone who wants to learn more about a specific topic.

Above all, the conference catered to the EWB spirit of changing the world for better; this resonated across the keynote address, breakout sessions and all formal plus informal discussions at the conference. The three days left members inspired and prepared with the right resources to take on the next curve ball that is thrown at them. We are already looking forward to next year’s conference with hopes that NY Professionals will have even more to share with the EWB community next year.

Cristina Charity Run

On Sept. 30th, Cristina ran the NB Bronx 10-miles Run as a fundraiser for EWB-NY raising over $2,000 from friends and family (thank you Donors!) and matching that donation with an additional personal donation of $10 per minutes ran!!  Read more

Rubaya Implementation Trip | Week VI Field Notes

The sixth and final week of implementation in Rubaya came by in no time, at least for us – the EWB members sitting here in NY. For the six travelling members, it certainly has been a whirlwind as not only did they cross several time zones, they worked and dedicated themselves for two weeks in an immensely different work environment and had to get back to their jobs in NY right after. This probably has been exhausting for them but I am positive that each one of them has gained an experience they will cherish forever.

Now, before we see the final structure from the implementation trip, it is important for all of us to get an understanding of what happened during the final week which started with erecting the three trusses as shown below.

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Rubaya Implementation Trip | Week V Field Notes

Evram and Alex started off the fifth week of implementation in Rubaya and their first week of adjusting to a new lifestyle. Getting used to Rubayan lifestyle was expected to be difficult but for team 3 it was not only about getting on board with new living standards quick, they also had to get working right away and pick up on everything that had been going on for over 4 weeks by now.


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