Earth Day Special: Solving Global Problems with Local Solutions – Matone de Chiwit

The world suffers from a plethora of natural and man-made disasters. From destructive floods to violent conflicts, society is faced with complex global challenges that can only be solved through collaboration. Politicians and the media often focus on short-term collaboration for discreet goals, such as electing a specific politician or encouraging donations to a specific relief effort. But I believe we must consider the long-term implications of our actions, not only within the context of our immediate environment, but also for the larger global community.

In my home country of Kenya, 17 million (43%) people do not have access to clean drinking water. 70% of this population lives within a rural context. It takes a child an average of 3 hours to fetch one liter of water, which is filled with pathogens and other disease-spreading microorganisms. Not only does the lack of access to clean drinking water lead to many health problems, but it also reduces the population’s productivity and efficacy. Ideally, the time a child spends fetching water could be dedicated to receiving an education and carrying out more productive tasks in a day.

I was particularly inspired to tackle this problem due to the larger impact it would have on the quality of life for my fellow Kenyans. At the time, the country was facing fluctuating weather problems; half the country was drought-stricken, and the other half had a rampant increase in water-borne diseases due to flooding. So, while I was attending the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya, as part of my Middle Years Program Personal Project, I created a cost-effective water purifier.

Mine was made from traditional elements, such as sand, gravel, charcoal, cotton cloth, and moringa oleifera, which is a local plant known for its natural antioxidants and its drought-resistant properties. On average, the filtration unit can purify 5 liters of water in 30 minutes, and it costs less than $20 per unit to make. Each unit has enough materials to purify water for approximately 18 months of daily use by an average family of five people. In order to ensure that the purified water is potable according to the World Health Organization standards for clean water, a test was carried out at the Coast Water Services Board (CWSB) in Kenya. Some of the parameters they tested included turbidity (cloudiness), total dissolved solids, chlorine content, alkalinity and the conductivity of the water, which indicates the salt concentration. There are specific parameters within which the tested water must fall in order to consider it safe for human consumption.

My initiative is called Matone de Chiwit, which means “drops of life” in the languages from the continents in the world that suffer most from water scarcity: Africa (Kiswahili), Latin America (Spanish), and Asia (Thai), respectively.

Filtration unit, Matone de Chiwit

My journey was filled with many challenges and obstacles, ranging from creating a successful working product to collecting donations for the execution of the pilot project in Mombasa. While designing the filtration unit, I experimented with multiple elements and ended up failing many times throughout the process. In theory, all the elements of purification that I had researched, including woolly cotton, crushed charcoal and galvanized and stained steel, should have effectively cleaned the source water. However, during the experimentation process, I realized that the theoretical research I relied on did not always apply in practice, hence I came to the  conclusion that alternative solutions were important to test as well.

Failure often results in demotivation; however, analyzing the causes of the problem and keeping a positive mindset did, in turn, provide me an opportunity to grow my project into a better venture. The initial failure of my product motivated me to do better. After much experimentation, I decided to use charcoal pieces instead of crushed charcoal and cotton cloth instead of wooly cotton as alternatives. The final purification unit also contains gravel, sand and moringa oleifera. Before graduating from high school, I had the unit patented, which allowed me to take the project to competitive level in university.

After the success of the product, I decided to apply for grant funding for the project in university. I received the Reynold’s Changemaker Challenge Seed Grant for two years in a row. Using this money, I have been able to host more fundraisers and continue to conduct research to improve the unit. In 2016, I was fortunate to receive the New England Biolabs’ Passion In Science, Humanitarian Duty Award for my project.

I am fortunate to have the continuous support of my parents throughout the process, and my academic supervisor at the Aga Khan academy, who provided me with guidance and insight into the entire process, and also provided me with a form of moral support, particularly when the project did not take the planned trajectory. It was through their support that I was able to gain access to more connections in the water industry and potential sponsors to help expand my project. It is with the support of these individuals that I remain motivated to continue to expand, and as a result, I am currently establishing a team of youths at my high school and at my university in preparation for large-scale expansion.

Matone de Chiwit has evolved into a social enterprise that tries to solve the global problem of access to clean water. A few years ago, I piloted the water purifier in the Matupeni Community in Mombasa with help from Davis & Shirtliff, one of East Africa’s largest suppliers of water-related goods. Twenty units were donated to residents of the village. Following the success of the pilot, I am in the process of establishing a large-scale manufacturing partnership with local companies, so that we can expand.

Filtration units, Matone de Chiwit

In the future, I plan to expand the project to other developing countries. I believe that Matone de Chiwit has the potential to serve the larger global community. As a global citizen, I believe that I have a responsibility help populations in developing countries gain access to clean water. True leadership means embracing our global community and taking action to make life better for others.

How are you going help the world as a global citizen? There are many ways to get involved with Matone de Chiwit. Email us at matonedechiwit@gmail.com to keep abreast of our new projects, integrate our work into your lesson plans!

Karishma Bhagani (right), Founder of Matone de Chiwit, distributes water filtration units in the Matupeni Community in Mombasa, Kenya.

 

Karishma Bhagani is a third-year undergraduate student double majoring in Drama and History at New York University. You can follow Matone de Chiwit on Twitter at @matonedechiwit or email us at matonedechiwit@gmail.com.