Welcome to the field school where we study more than just rocks 😉

Are you wondering what engineering students do here at TBI? If so, this is the post for you! I’m writing to give you a little insight on the work we do. But first, let me introduce myself and my peer:

My name is Gianna and I am a rising sophomore at Stony Brook University pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree. I am here with Gabe, who is a rising senior at Stony Brook University and is a Civil Engineering major. 

Finding a fossil, between checking out water infrastructure in Kaikol village.

We have been at TBI Turkwel for 2 weeks now. During the first week, our Professor, Acacia Leakey, had us explore local communities. In each village we visited, we were able to have discussions with community members to learn more about their culture, aspirations, and challenges. Furthermore, we were able to see how different communities obtain drinking water and food, and how they obtain electricity if they have it. We also tested the water quality at each community to see how clean the water truly is. With Acacia’s guidance, Gabe and I were each able to pick a short-term project that the respective communities have shown their concerns about. I’ll share more about this later!

Testing water at a borehole near Lothagam

Sundays at TBI are our days off, but typically there is an optional activity that we can participate in. This past Sunday, we were able to go to Eliye Springs, which is a small resort with a beachy area on the shore of Lake Turkana. Going there was a nice break from doing work and a great bonding experience amongst us students!

Eliye Springs

Monday marks the first day of work for the week. This past Monday, Gabe and I went to a school in Nakechichok, which is a village right outside of TBI Turkwel. We learned about the challenges of running a school in a place that does not have steady access to WIFI or even electricity. While we are not going to work on these issues as our projects, we plan to troubleshoot the solar power system that is currently not working in the hopes that we can identify the problem for the school. Also, for today’s (Sunday) activity, we decided with the Origins Field School students to go and paint a mural at the school with the help of the kids from the village!

Painting a mural at the Nakechichok primary school

On Tuesday we went to visit Kakuma, a refugee camp located in Turkana County. Here, we got to learn how the camp manages to feed all of their refugees and how they manage their waste. Greenhouses are used to grow food, but some of them are starting to fall apart because the metal becomes too hot for the plastic, causing the plastic to melt. As stated by the worker, it is important for us to see these issues so that when we go to build something, we can learn from past mistakes. While some greenhouses have failed, others are in good working condition.

Greenhouses in Kakuma Refugee camp.

Wednesday, Gabe and I helped build a manhole here at TBI. The staff had already been working on multiple manholes to help prevent the erosion of the sand from rain. So, Gabe and I were able to join, and the staff was kind enough to teach us about masonry and the proper techniques needed to ensure that quality, long-lasting infrastructure is built. 


Both Thursday and Friday were spent collecting data so that Gabe and I could outline the scope of our projects and compile a list of necessary materials.

Gabe’s project is to repair a piping system that brings water to the village of Kaikol. In this village, they have a borehole that is connected to a reverse osmosis water filtration system. This system is powered by solar panels and should last the community several years. However, there are some leaking pipes that need to be fixed. These pipes over time are causing lots of water to be lost, and this water is something the community heavily relies on. Furthermore, because of the leaks in the pipes, there is a lot of stagnant water, which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, potentially increasing the cases of malaria in the community. Gabe hopes that through these repairs, less water will be wasted and there will not be anymore stagnant water.

Gabe and TBI’s plumber, Naftali, measuring pipes in Kaikol village.

My project is directed more towards healthcare and its waste management. There is a clinic in a town called Loreng’elup and in order to dispose of their trash, they have to burn it. As explained by clinic staff, they have 3 separate places to burn their waste, depending on what it is. An incinerator is used for needles and then there are 2 pits. The first pit is used to burn general trash and the second is used to burn placentas from women who have chosen to give birth there. So, my project is to redesign and construct 2 new pits as both of the current pits are in poor condition. These new pits will be upgraded in design and placed in new areas to ensure that anytime something is being burned or transferred to the pits, it can be done safely and as efficiently as possible so that the clinic staff will not have to be concerned with their waste disposal anymore.

Nurse Paul, who manages the Loreng’elup clinic talking to students about the major health issues in the clinic.

We are aiming to have both of these projects finished by the end of next week so now is when the real work begins!

To finish the week, both field schools got to go to Lodwar. Here, Gabe and I were able to get prices for supplies. We also purchased the paint for the mural, and made sure to stop to buy some snacks and locally made souvenirs. Like many other days, we finished the night off with a community football (soccer) game. While Gabe and some other TBI students play in the actual games, the rest of us play with the children off to the side, usually games like tic tac toe!

The engineering and origins students have a chat with Dr. Louise Leakey about the history of research in the Turkana Basin.

All jokes aside, it is a lot of fun being here with the TBI origin students! Typically, you can find us together, playing games like Jeopardy or Quiplash, stargazing, playing with Tupak, and just generally learning more about each other. I hope you enjoyed this engineering takeover, thanks for reading!