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Kenyan mother feeding child

Kenya Water

University of Idaho engineering students are designing sustainable technologies to provide clean drinking water to the nomadic Maasai people of Kenya.

The challenge is immediate and deeply compelling.

"Lack of clean water is a global crisis," notes mechanical engineering professor and project adviser Don Elger. "More than two million people, mostly children and infants, die each year from drinking contaminated water."

University of Idaho students are passionate about finding innovative, sustainable solutions.

The student's "Clearwater Aid" project, which began in 2005, uses tiny moringa seeds grown in Kenya. The students designed and site-tested a simple filtration system. The process begins with stirring crushed moringa seeds into dirty water, which substantially reduces suspended sediments, then pouring the water into a simple ceramic filter to remove bacteria.

This year, a new team of students returned to Kenya to test alternative designs, and found that a slow sand filter is easier to build with local materials, easier to use, more reliable, and lower cost than the original design.

Capturing, storing and protecting rainwater from evaporation and contamination is another project goal. This year, students on the "H2Oasis" team site-tested and refined their design of a sustainable catchment and storage system that will provide water to the Maasai, and their herds, year round.

The potential impact of their technologies is not lost on the students. "This allows me to do what I do best, which is engineering, in a way that changes the world," said team member Nick Mendenhall.

Making education relevant and transformational is a University of Idaho commitment. Passion, and compassion, are vital components.

"Doing things that matter provides motivation for education," said Elger. "Fundamentally, when people are learning in order to do something significant with their lives, they're going to learn a lot better. The purpose of education is strongly enhanced by doing things that matter."