Montana State University

MSU student hopes to coordinate development work in Africa with website

August 2, 2011 -- By Tracy Ellig, MSU News Service


MSU student Matt Smith meets with the Mulwanda Emutsatsa Mundeku community in western Kenya where the student-led chapter of Engineers Without Borders at MSU is working to bring clean drinking water and sanitation. Photo by MSU student Justin Stewart.    High-Res Available

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A Montana State University student is blogging about his travels through east Africa this summer in an effort to launch a website coordinating non-profit work in the region.

Matt Smith, of Helena, is hoping www.kenyaconnections.com will be an easy-to-use site where non-profit groups can share information and resources about their work and that the site will serve as a model for coordinating other development projects around the globe.

Smith is a member of Engineers Without Borders at MSU, which has been working on bringing clean drinking water and sanitation to schools in western Kenya since 2003. To date, the student-led group has drilled seven drinking water wells, helping more than 3,500 students, teachers and community members. It has a goal of bringing clean water to 58 schools. This summer, 23 students are in Kenya continuing the work. They are blogging at: http://ewbmsu.blogspot.com/.

The idea of a coordinating website for work in Kenya has been around for a number of years, but one hadn't materialized until Smith and Nick Reid, a member of EWB San Francisco, collaborated to make it a reality. EWB at MSU, and Reid's professional engineer chapter in San Francisco are both working on development project in Kenya. The San Francisco chapter is working to bring clean drinking water to Arombe, a small community inland from Lake Victoria.

"There are roughly 30 EWB chapters working in Kenya," Smith said. "This site is a way for them and similar non-governmental organizations to connect and share information, ideas and resources."

The site is designed so users can contribute information easily. It has also been designed for easy access in Kenya, where limited Internet bandwith can make elaborate sites difficult to open.

"Groups will get out of it what they put into it," Smith said. "It's not a top-down format. Everyone has the ability to add to the site."

To help promote the site, Smith is visiting dozens of development projects in eastern Africa and blogging about what he sees. He left for Africa in early July and will travel by bus, train, motorcycle taxi and walking. Smith will graduate at the end of August with a double major in business and philosophy.

To date, he's met with EWB chapters working in Africa from the University of Massachusetts and the University of California - Santa Barbara. He has also been coordinating projects with EWB-University of Madison and EWB-Arizona State University. The EWB-ASU chapter is hoping to rebuild a washed out British-era dam.

With fellow MSU student Joe Thiel, Smith met with the chair of the University of Nairobi's engineering department to discuss having Kenyan experts listed on the website who are willing to advise EWB chapters. They also met with several University of Nairobi engineering students interested in volunteering on projects.

Smith has also visited the Umande Trust in Nairobi, which is working to bring clean water and sanitation to the the Kibera slum -- one of the world's largest -- outside of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Later, he plans to visit a project run by the Bozeman-based Uganda Orphans Fund, and areas where Project WET, a Bozeman-based water education organization, has had materials distributed by USAID.

Postings from Smith's travels can be read at www.kenyaconnections.com or http://ewbmsu.blogspot.com/.

Contact: Matt Smith, matthew.j.smith3@gmail.com