After returning from a 10-day trip to Kenya, the UCSB chapter of Engineers Without Borders has dedicated itself to improving living conditions in a small East African village.

The group of 15 UCSB students from various academic backgrounds embarked on an initial assessment mission to the Luanda village near Lake Victoria in Kenya this summer in order to evaluate the needs of the small village. The group will return next year to begin the actual aid work.

EWB project leader Radoslaw Bialczak said the group’s primary focus was providing the villagers with a new water-filtration system, since waterborne diseases rank as the region’s most pressing concern.

“Malaria and cholera are some of the biggest problems there – not to mention they have the highest HIV infection rates in eastern Africa,” Bialczak, a UCSB graduate student, said. “Those problems may not seem to be related, but when these people have HIV, their immune systems are weakened, so many of these water born diseases can be lethal.”

Luanda is a community of approximately 3,000 people who survive predominately off of subsistence farming and fishing on Lake Victoria. Contamination of their central water source and constant sanitary issues keep the majority of the community in relatively poor health, Bialczak said.

According to Bialczak, the group identified several affordable solutions to address the issue of water purity, the most probable being a slow sand filtration system, which uses an active bio-layer to cleanse polluted water.

“The lake is basically their only source of water, and just looking at it is horrible,” said Bialczak. “To give you an idea, the water they drink looks worse than our lagoon water.”

Since the community cannot afford alternatives such well drilling, Bialczak said it is imperative that EWB work with the inhabitants to implement the filtration system, as well as educate the villagers on ways to independently improve sanitation.

“The main goal of the assessment trip was just to establish working relationships with the community, so that we can stay in contact until our next trip and help them improve their situation even when we are back at UCSB,” Bialczak said.

Miguel Zepeda, an EWB member and second-year mechanical engineering major, said the striking backdrop stood in sharp contrast to the local living conditions in Kenya.

“The first thing that hit me was just the beauty of the landscape: It was just amazing,” Zepeda said. “It was so beautiful, but at the same time, you look at how the people are just living in huts. It’s crazy; they really just have to live their lives day to day.”

Zepeda said the local people instantly welcomed the EWB group.

“They are very hospitable people,” Zepeda said. “The kids love outside visitors. They just wanted to shake our hands and walk around with us. It was a really great experience.”