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Trinity woman to help provide clean water to Kenya province

Special to The Daily

Good, safe, plentiful drinking water. The odds are good that this natural resource is within easy walking distance of anyone at any given moment in our society.

It’s a substance that many take for granted numerous times each day.

That is not the case for people in Migori, Kenya. Less than half of the town’s 46,000 residents have a steady supply of potable water.

A group of engineering students from The University of Alabama in Huntsville, including Trinity resident Laura Barkett, will travel to the Nyanza Province of Kenya later this summer to provide relief to the parched natives of Migori.

Long-term drought conditions have created severe problems for many Kenyans, particularly in rural areas. The lack of sanitary water is creating poor health conditions among the nation’s residents, which have a life expectancy of 46 years.

Most of the water supplies must be carried in buckets for up to five miles and then boiled before it can be used.

Barkett, a graduate of West Morgan High School, is president of the university’s Engineers Without Borders chapter.

The group will dig a well and construct a water distribution center in Migori to provide a sustainable source of clean water. The system is expected to serve an orphanage that houses 150 children, and a hospital that serves more than 1,000 patients a month.

“Currently, these facilities have limited access to water,” said Barkett, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering. “Waterborne illnesses are a tremendous problem in this region of Kenya. As this hospital is the only medical facility in the area, and patients walk as far as 20 miles to receive treatment, it’s vital that a clean source of water be present there.

“The orphanage, which is one of the few refuges for a generation of children left homeless by the ravages of HIV, is likewise in need of a safe water source.”

Barkett said the UAH group has enlisted the experience of a local well designer to provide guidance as well as a professional engineer with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expertise suited to this problem.

Members of the group also received a demonstration of a well-digging device by Qore Corp. of Huntsville and South Brothers Drilling of Muscle Shoals on the UAH campus in May.

Barkett said the water system the UAH students will be constructing in Kenya will be sustainable by the local residents.

“The people of Migori should be able to operate, maintain and repair the system with resources that are affordable and locally available,” she said.

At the same time, they will teach the residents how the wells are built so they can build additional wells after the students return to class this fall.

That is part of the concept behind Engineers Without Borders, she said.

“One slogan of EWB is ‘low-tech, high-impact,’ ” she said. “This means that our system should be as simple and benefit as many people as possible.”

The UAH students have been meeting weekly to research, design and work logistics.

UAH students do the engineering design, but they are receiving coaching and oversight by professional engineers and the university’s faculty.

“This is a chance for students to get real world engineering experience and work one-on-one with veteran engineers from numerous Huntsville companies,” Barkett said.

Barkett said it will cost $20,000 to make the trip and build the wells — money the group hopes local companies and individuals will provide through gifts to the UAH chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization that funds, designs and builds engineering projects in the developing world.

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