At Human Needs Project (HNP) we partner with community members in Kibera slum for clean water, sanitation, and a path out of poverty – giving the gift of opportunity, health and dignity.
It took six years, but the Kibera Town Centre became a reality in 2014 when its 8,000 square-foot building opened. There are now clean toilets, showers, treated drinking water, laundry facilities, wastewater treatment, biodiesel generators, inexpensive WiFi, a small bank which lends money to entrepreneurs, a green market which sells energy-efficient appliances, and even classes in film, business and computer technology.
The HNP team spent two years designing the center and its services. It needed to have a water source, drinking water treatment, wastewater treatment, plus reliable and efficient energy systems – and that included back-up sources. The team decided to include a biodiesel generator plus 40 solar panels to heat its water. David Warner, co-founder of HNP, said, “We are off fossil fuels. Our green energy backbone is growing.” The biodiesel generator currently runs on recycled cooking oils from a local restaurant, Java House. Current production rate is 120 liters per day, more than enough to cover the Kibera Town Centre.
Water is not only the essence of life, but it is also a vital necessity for health and wellness. Finding a water source was the first challenge for HNP. Most wells are drilled about 300 feet down. The team found that the Kibera Town Centre site was situated atop an aquifer 1,000 feet underground, protected from the leaching of surface pollutants. HNP’s state-of-the-art water filtration system is pumping pristine water out of its 1,000-foot borehole well for several hundred people who walk through its doors every day. Today, clean water flows through all of Kibera Town Centre’s basic services, including drinking water, showers, toilets, and laundry services.
“It’s a challenge to build so many services into a one building. We had to create our own infrastructure, especially for drinking water and wastewater treatment. We built it all from scratch,” Warner said. “And we had to do some innovating to make it all work.” One innovation was using crumpled then cut-up plastic water bottles as filtering media in the wastewater treatment system. The “plavel” replaced gravel which is typically used as a filtering medium. HNP continued to involve locals so they would take ownership of the project. School kids in Nairobi and Kibera volunteered to collect the 150,000 bottles needed for the project. The bottles were then crumpled and cut by hand by 25 of the Kiberan project managers.
These integrated services provide a holistic solution to the challenges of living in slums, including a lack of clean drinking water, proper showers or sanitation services, and washing machines to minimize wasted hours washing clothes. Together, these basic services are radically improving the health, income, and livelihood of children, women, and families in slums.