By Thuy T. Tran

Bringing fresh, clean water to a parched community is like offering a song that lifts the spirit — one that affects the giver as much as the receiver. A new documentary film titled Kel Wer, which means “to bring song” in Dholuo, documents the journey of five Oregon State University members of Engineers Without Borders-USA to Lela, Kenya, to help provide access to safe water. 

The 30-minute narrative explores the technical challenges the students faced while participating in a service project in Kenya. It introduces the warm and resilient people they met and encapsulates the life lessons they learned along the way. Some lessons were shared and others were unique to the individual.

The project culminated four years of hard work and visits by teams from previous years that included a health survey, technical water source assessment, GPS mapping, an alternatives analysis, and designing and building a rainwater catchment system and well. One of the highlights for Jessica Cawley was the thrill of seeing the design come to life. “Realizing the benefits these two engineered systems would bring to the community and witnessing the change in the community was an exciting and empowering experience,” she said.

Zachary Dunn said the trip to Lela caused him to look more closely at his day-to-day activities at home in the United States. “It gives you an appreciation for the small things in life, like a flushing toilet, and the things you take for granted,” he said.

For documentarian Justin Smith, shooting Kel Wer redefined the art and craft of filmmaking and helped him to see what was possible. “The onsite footage was captured entirely without the use of electricity,” he said. “You couldn’t just recharge your camera by plugging it into an outlet. I used only portable solar panels while shooting in Lela.”

Kel Wer was screened for the first time to the public in Portland, Ore., at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on April 9. Approximately 120 people attended the event, which also included a photography exhibit of the people of Lela and a question-answer session with Justin Smith and the student travelers.

The next screening will be held in Corvallis, Ore., at 6 p.m. on April 30 in Kearney Hall room 112 on the Oregon State campus. For more information, see or contact Thuy Tran at Join the Facebook event at

Q&A Kel Wer OMSI Premiere
Q&A following documentary screening with filmmaker and student travelers: (from left) Dean Sandra Woods, Zachary Dunn, Justin Smith, Jordan Machtelinckx, Rachael Fischer, Kristina Milaj, and Jessica Cawley (Photo by Darryl Lai).
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