Natural Systems for Wasterwater Treatment Course!

Written by Chloe Wallace

An eye opening four days that gave a group of thirteen keen students from different walks of life, the opportunity to learn how to really take care of our most precious resource in a way that is inspired by the natural flow of life.

The course was held at the apt location, Distant Relatives Eco-lodge and Backpackers, Kilifi, Kenya. With the Kenyan coast being a water scarce region, Romain, co-owner of the Distant Relatives, expressed to us on day one the struggles they had been experiencing with water during the recent drought.

This being one aspect that pushed them to implement a fully functional waste water treatment system at the backpackers. It would allow them to re-use waste water from the lodge on their land. What better way to achieve this at an Eco-lodge than through natural systems!

The heroes of the story being the awesome Barefoot Soulutions team Ivan and Sven, who geared it all into action and saw the perfect opportunity to spread the knowledge.

Our instructor Sarah Den Haring, a Kilifi resident, saw the lack of water treatment and sanitation works in the area on her arrival over twelve years ago, and so started her company Green Water. Since then she has designed and managed the construction of a range of water treatment structures such as reed beds and wetlands.

Each day of the course began with a wholesome breakfast. Local tropical fruit, and fresh eggs from the backpacker’s very own hens, prepared for us by the kind kitchen staff. Tea, coffee, baobab juice and mandazi (Kenyan doughnut) were enjoyed during short morning and afternoon breaks. Not to forget the much appreciated delicious and nutritious traditional lunches, my personal favourite being maharagwe (beans prepared in coconut milk) with chapati and a side of well prepared moringa! Generous portions were well deserved after info and action packed mornings.

Sarah did well to give us a good overview of the many site specific options for water treatment as well as the technicalities, biochemical processes and terminology involved. A look at plant species used for water purification was of particular interest to me. An exciting guest lecture was also given by Sven Verwiel of Barefoot Soulutions on Aquaponics and Aquaculture, another take on man made, nature inspired, water systems.

A definite highlight was our site visit to Sarah’s wonderful off the grid home where we had the chance to observe two operational waste water reed bed systems. A small system treated the kitchen water while being aesthetically pleasing, placed under the kitchen window and feeding into a bed of banana trees. The larger system was responsible for treating all other water including sewage. How amazing to see the water flowing out of the series of reed beds odourless and colourless! The visit was complete with our tea break atop a tree-house in the canopy of the big old mango trees, what fun!   

I think it is fair to say that we much enjoyed getting our hands dirty assisting in the construction of Distant Relatives new reed bed system. For me, the opportunity take part in building a system, was invaluable in gaining the confidence to construct my own. Our last day in the field ended with each of us planting our own reed into the bed, which gave a real sense of accomplishment.

All in all, what an inspiring, instructive, and fun educational experience that will guide each of us in playing a part in protecting and sustaining the environment and its resources. Many many thanks to all involved. Asante sana!