We started sending the Hospital’s raw sewage downhill to our new wastewater treatment plant this week. We had a few months delay between construction completion and actually “turning it on” due to lack of funds, but it’s finally underway! Here’s a short video of Riley and Liam enjoying the, um, smell.
This final phase of an engineering project is called “commissioning”. For our new wastewater treatment plant, it involves:
- Disconnecting and decommissioning around sixty (60) old septic tanks: sucking out the contents, bashing holes in the bottom of them so they don’t hold water anymore, dosing them with lime, and filling them with dirt.
- Building new connections (pipes and manholes) between the sewage pipes that used to discharge into the septic tanks and the 2.2 km of new piping leading to the treatment plant (laid during Phase 1 in 2013).
- Ensuring that the discharge of effluent into our three treatment ponds builds up to a sustainable biological treatment process, eventually filling all three ponds and releasing treated wastewater to the environment (roughly 30 days after the ponds fill).
One of many examples: all of the toilets, sinks, disposal drains and disinfection stations in the nine surgical theatres flow to a too-small and old septic tank, inevitably overflowing it and filling a trench that carries a river of raw (hospital!) sewage down the mountain. Now we connect this drain from the theatres to the new sanitation pipes and voila! It flows tidily (and invisibly) one kilometre down the mountain to our new wastewater treatment plant, where a combination of sunlight, oxygen and bacteria will naturally decompose the pathogens in the waste over a period of thirty days, releasing water that is of suitable quality for release to the natural environment.
There are now several teams of local fundis (tradesman and tradeswomen!)–plumbers, masons, trench diggers, and ladies to make them chai during their breaks–working in parallel to disconnect the old septic tanks and build new connection points.
I am delighted to note that the first effluent has started to fill our treatment ponds: I took the kids on a ‘poo tour’ yesterday, and despite the incredibly bad smell, it was so great to see the sewage start to fill these ponds.
It is difficult to put into words how wonderful it is to see this plant, the result of more than five years’ planning, fundraising, negotiations with the Kenyan government, and construction, get “turned on”. Engineers from all over the world: South Australia (Alfonso, Tim, and Karen at Inside Infrastructure), Michigan (Jim and Jullie with EMI), and Kijabe Hospital (Shammah and myself) have donated significant time and effort to design and construct an environmentally friendly engineering solution that will treat Kijabe Hospital’s raw effluent and no longer cause cross-contamination with the water supplies of nearby villages.
When commissioning is complete, the casual visitor to Kijabe Hospital won’t even know it’s there. And that’s exactly how it should be. Allowing the mission of the hospital to care for the “least of these” to continue to grow and give hope to those who have lost it.