Montana State University

Students raise $30,000 in one night for clean water in Kenya

March 14, 2008 -- MSU News Service

Drinking water is hauled by hand, sometimes several miles, in southwest Kenya. The student chapter of Engineers Without Borders at Montana State University is trying to change that by drilling wells in schoolyards. (Photo by Callie Blackwood.)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
A group of Montana State University students doing humanitarian work in Kenya surprised themselves recently by raising $30,000 in one evening.

Engineers Without Borders at MSU held its first annual "Clean Water for Kenya Jubilee" on Friday, Feb. 29, at the Emerson Cultural Center. The event featured silent and live auctions as well as a cash call, where attendees made public donations of support in an auction-like format.

Approximately 250 people paid $30 each to attend the event which featured beverages,
hors d'oeuvres and live music.

"Only a year ago we were earning about $400 a month from fundraisers like bake sales," said Katy Hansen, EWB president and a sophomore in industrial engineering. "Every time we made $100 it seemed like the largest donation we'd earned. The support we saw at the jubilee was stunning; I really can't even comprehend it. It's difficult to express how grateful we are to the community."

The donations from the event and other monies the group has raised will allow it to send 10 to 15 students to Kenya this summer and drill three fresh-water drinking wells for schools in the Khwisero District of rural, southwestern Kenya. The district has been largely untouched by the recent violence that has wracked the country.

"What this really means is 1,000 to 2,000 schoolchildren will have clean water by September," Hansen said.

The student group has been working since 2003 to bring fresh drinking water and sanitary latrines to schools in the Khwisero District.

Simple hand-pump drinking wells in schoolyards can profoundly improve life for students in the region. Most drinking water in the Khwisero District is collected from shallow surface springs or streams and consumed untreated. As a result, diarrhea is the third leading cause of death in Kenya, according to the World Health Organization.

Additionally, water collection falls disproportionately to girls who miss hours of class daily walking to and from water sources, either balancing water containers on their heads or lugging them in their arms.

Clean drinking water, easily accessible to schools, can have an enormous cumulative effect on improving the quality of life in the region, Hansen said.

EWB at MSU has been tasked by the national Engineers Without Borders organization to drill wells for 57 schools in Kenya, a project the students estimate will take $1 million and 10 years. To date, they have completed two wells.

The MSU students spent five months planning and preparing for the jubilee. After the first of the year, the group - which only numbers 40 - was meeting three times a week to pull things together.

"We are all still on this incredible high at having pulled off something so daunting," Hansen said. "You have to realize we're a group of 18 to 25 year olds that have never done anything like this before."

Seven students played key roles in organizing and hosting the event: Chris Allen, Kate Morrissey, Annie Hansen, Jeffrey Larsen, Aubrie Eisenhart, Katie Baldwin and Carmel Johnston. The group ranges from freshman to graduate students; majoring in disciplines ranging from engineering, to history, to land resources.

"It's one of my favorite things about EWB," Hansen said. "It empowers students to really help in a way that's necessary. We see how our education at MSU is taking us somewhere; we realize we have the power to take this initiative, which will directly change the lives of these people in Kenya."

Contact: Katy Hansen, EWB president, (406) 599-3451or e-mail at