I am so excited to have Mount Holyoke join our five-year project to promote clean water solutions, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship for women in the West Lake District surrounding Kenya’s Lake Victoria. This collaboration provides a compelling model for carrying out our mission of using liberal learning for purposeful engagement in the world, and I am grateful to Newman’s Own for providing us with the funding. The Kenya Project is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional service learning project that utilizes vertical research teams of undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty from Brown University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of Hartford, and the University of Rhode Island, in partnership with the Africa Center for Engineering Social Solutions (ACESS) and local residents. The goal is to identify and implement simple engineering solutions in response to the urgent needs for clean water and sustainable food sources by some of our global community’s poorest citizens. While the entry point for the project has been water, the project has expanded to include appropriate technologies for amaranth production and harvesting, Tilapia farming, health and safety promotion through visual media, resource development and promoting human rights by empowering women.
The faculty involved in the project use data the team and community members have gathered through participatory action planning to construct assignments intended to provide real-world solutions to the challenges faced by those we are seeking to serve. The reality testing of the students’ projects in the field is invaluable. Engineering and economics students can participate in international problem solving while having their designs tested in the global marketplace. Villagers can assess the designs created by art students to communicate nonverbal messages on kanga cloths, the traditional wear of Kenyan women. Student-designed surveys can be modified in the field based on the evolving concerns of those being interviewed. In this way, we have learning at its best. At the same time, the public-private partnership created among the colleges and universities, NGOs, and the private sector is equally valuable in helping us to realize how institutional structures and cultures shape approaches to research and teaching.
This year, besides me, our team includes Mount Holyoke students Hilda Barasa and Yiting Wang; University of Hartford students Ellen Skoczenski and Emily Linn, who will be working on women’s empowerment, photography and design student Kasia Gawkoska, and engineering students Massod Dalil, Mark Turner and Mohammed Islam; URI graduate students Jessica Damicis and Joseph Lynch from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences; and Hampshire student Spencer Kuchle, who has been on the project for three year looking at human rights for women and the influence hip-hop culture on the division of labor. Brown professors Chris Bull and Barret Hazelton have been working with graduate student Sharon Langevin throughout the summer in collaboration with students and researchers from Maseno University. Dean of the College of Engineering, Technology and Architecture, Louis Manzione at the University of Hartford and Marcia Hughes from the University’s Center for Social Research will both be supervising students. My husband, John, an entomologist and photographer will be working on the construction of fish farms and chronicling our trip. I am co-leading the team with CEO of ACESS, Clarice Odhiambo. MHC student Najama Ramakrishna, and her father, along with MHC alumna, Stephanie Shanler ‘91, have issued an invitation for us to join them for Kenyan tea.
Every faculty, student and staff member involved in this project, whether or not they have traveled with us, has contributed by creating a more just world. They are, even if unwittingly, taking up ethicist Peter Singer’s enjoinder to save a life through small sacrifices and contributions of intellectual resources.
The focus this year will be on establishing a microbusiness for clay pot production to be used to purify water. Students have designed a mold and press for the pots and worked to create architectural plans to construct an efficient kiln to keep production costs to a minimum.
It is an extraordinary time to be going to Kenya. The country’s Constitution was approved last week, and President Kibaki has declared a national holiday to celebrate this historic event. Our team is scheduled to meet with the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, to congratulate him for this accomplishment. He has been a strong supporter of the ACESS team’s efforts.
We are about to lift off for our 12 and a half hour flight to Dubai and five hour flight to Nairobi. Internet access is intermittent under the best of circumstances, but I will keep you posted on our trip as often as I can.
Due to intermittent internet access, responses may be delayed.