Reflections for World Water Week: Field experiences at APHIAplus schools in Western Kenya

Mar 20, 2013


Jenna Forsyth
PATH graduate student intern

The Ebubala Primary School health teacher describes how to use the SE200 to students and parents.

While I waited to board my plane en route to Kenya in September 2012, I was reading the newspaper, hoping for good news about the teacher strikes in Kenyan schools. Instead, I found myself comparing the similarities between the strikes in Kenya to those occurring in Chicago at the same time. Teachers in both Kenya and Chicago were protesting similar plights: insufficient budgets, too few teachers to meet the needs of a large student body, and inadequate pay. But there was one big difference: In addition to budget struggles, the majority of Kenyan schools also lack access to safe water, a basic human need. Without safe water, it is difficult to live let alone learn.

Students from Ebulala Primary School fetch water
from a nearby borehole for drinking, cooking, and washing.

By the time the teacher strikes ended, I was already in Kakamega, Kenya, ready to pilot a water treatment and education program in three primary schools. The program aimed to improve drinking water quality and improve education about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), since these improvements are more powerful together than they are alone. To treat water, the schools used the Smart Electrochlorinator 200 (SE200). The SE200, co-developed by Cascade Designs, Inc., and PATH, generates chlorine on-demand from salt, water, and a battery.

In Kenya, I worked closely with some talented and dedicated people: Alfred Ochola and Rael Odengo from PATH, Paul Ogutu from World Vision and others within the AIDS, Population, Health Integrated Assistance plus western Kenya (APHIAplus) program, a five-year USAID-funded program being implemented by PATH. I learned about the importance of government involvement from my Kenyan team. They introduced me to the district officers from the ministry of public health and sanitation and ministry of education who became my field companions and were the glue that made the project stick after I left.

Every morning before heading to the field with the district public health officer or the district education officer, I would check in with Ochola at his office. One morning, Ochola asked me, "Jenna, what do you think, are things going as planned?" I paused for a minute then stated, "Well not really according to plan..." Ochola's face contorted in response before I could add, "but things are going much better than I could have ever planned." And a big smile spread over his face.

We achieved our intended goals, measuring improvements in drinking water quality and students' knowledge. There were other improvements too, like changes in attitude, which are not so easily measured but are equally meaningful. Several students, inspired by the program, declared their intent to study hard in school to become scientists, engineers and doctors because they saw the importance of keeping water clean and keeping people healthy.


PATH and Cascade Designs, Inc. began working together to address community water needs in Kenya in 2008, developing their first prototype electrochlorination technology called the Smart Electrochlorinator 20 (SE20) funded by the Laird Norton Family Foundation. With funding from the Lemelson Foundation, PATH and Cascade Designs, Inc. developed the next generation technology called the SE200.  In 2012, Jenna Forsyth assisted PATH as a graduate student intern to pilot use of the SE200 in three schools in Kenya through an award from the Reed Elsevier Environmental Challenge and programmatic funding from USAID's APHIAplus Western Kenya project. The pilot included training on the technology and interactive WASH educational materials. Building on this successful pilot, PATH is expanding to more schools in 2013 with additional support from the Laird Norton Family Foundation and APHIAplus Western Kenya. 

Experience the challenge and rewards of Jenna's work with PATH in Kenya through an insightful video by Reed Elsevier

Photos: Jenna Forsyth