Jim Hall and his wife have been volunteers for Start with One Kenya since 2009. One Kenya is a non-profit providing a range of services to Kenyans in the areas of clean water, sanitation, education, health care and economic development. Experience has taught Start with One Kenya it is more effective when focused on one big need or issue at a time. It then develops a quality solution, implements it in a way that supports evaluation of the results so that the business case for it can be made, and then expands that solution geographically. 
This approach has been applied to providing clean water. Water quality in Kenya is hundreds of years behind the US. Most people rely on surface water sources that are shared with live stock, the various economic activities in the area, and local wild animals. Usually the water is turbid to just plain muddy, fouled with fecal matter, of many colors, and has a unique taste associated with each source. Even when staying at a four star hotel the water cannot be trusted to be consumed, used for brushing your teeth or washing uncooked food. The four most common diseases within Kenya are waterborne illnesses. 
Compare that to our ubiquitous clean, clear water that is essentially tasteless, and absence of waterborne illnesses.  
The solution often applied to improving water quality is digging new deep wells. One Kenya rejected this approach quickly for a number of reasons: 
  • It is expensive to dig a well and provide the power needed to bring the water to the surface with local generators or gas/diesel pumps.
  • Maintenance is not feasible in many areas, so the wells become useless fairly quickly. 
  • Each well might service 10,000 people. They are micro solutions in a country that needs macro solutions. 
  • Well water often becomes contaminated prior to use because it must be hauled to the use site, usually in unsanitary containers. 
Facing these challenges, One Kenya focused on filtering the water taken from the traditional cistern and surface sources already in use, at the point of use, as the best solution. No power source is needed; each family can be given independent access to clean water; it will work in all areas, urban or rural; it can be done at very low cost; and it is a proven technology.
After reviewing already extant filtration systems, one was found that works well. Negotiating with the manufacturer did not lead to a low enough price to be effective. So One Kenya took advantage of the fact that the technology the company uses is not patented and started a redesign and manufacturing process. The result is the Uzima filter system. It filters out 99.9999% of particulate matter in the water; meaning all bacteria, protozoa and other disease sources are removed. It doesn't remove nano-sized matter, so the taste is generally not changed, not necessarily an improvement but not a negative for the local population either. And the filter lasts for 10 years with regular back washing. In fact, if the filter is not back washed it stops operating, telling the user that "maintenance is required". The entire system consists of a couple of buckets joined by the filter, and a back wash "syringe". 
As a validation test one county sized area was chosen for mass distribution of the filter. 15,000 filter systems went, one per household, to service 65,000 people. Each filter was bar coded so its ownership could be tracked and matched to the results and family history. The results were overwhelmingly successful: 
  • 89% reduction in water borne illness at the household level, and 94% reduction among children 5 and younger. Vaccination for amoeba based diseases is no longer needed 
  • Medical costs dropped from $242 per household to $17 after the filters were distributed. 
  • The number of school days missed dropped from 56 to 3 per household
  • The number of work days missed per household dropped from 74 to 3. 
The total cost of the program was $480,000, resulting in medical cost savings alone of $2,700,000. That is a return of $5.62 per dollar spent just in medical cost savings. The use of "cluster leaders" from the local community has supported the needed detailed tracking of results, and ensured any use issues that developed could be handled quickly. 
One test of the ability to scale up the size of a filter system was conducted at a school too. A single "super sized" filter was added to the out feed line of a cistern rain water collection system already in use. It is successfully meeting the needs of hundreds of orphans at the school by cleaning thousands of gallons of water per day. 
These impressive results have started the mass distribution of the Uzima filter system across Kenya with other countries expressing interest in starting a comparable program.