Engineering Grad Uses Skills To Bring Clean Water to the Philippines

Kevin Fischbach ’12 is working with the Advancement for Rural Kids, Inc. to bring clean water to the village of Sibariwan.

As Kevin Fischbach’s fellow classmates from Manhattan College’s class of 2012 were preparing for finals and graduation in May, he embarked on a trip to the Philippines to help bring clean water to Sibariwan, a rural village in the town of Dumarao, Capiz. Since January, Fischbach ’12, a recent graduate who received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, has worked with the Advancement for Rural Kids, Inc. (ARK) on designing and building a rain catchment and filtration system at the Sibariwan Elementary School.

“A big part of ARK’s mission is to help improve the health of kids in impoverished rural communities,” Fischbach says. “If they can alleviate health needs, I think that it will inspire the kids to work hard in school and will be a constant reminder of the long term hazards of unclean water, which will improve awareness.”

The rain catchment and filtration system is the first of its kind in the area and was recently built by parents, teachers and students of Sibariwan on a volunteer basis with ARK. The project successfully engaged the support of local stakeholders, including the community, the Department of Education, and key government officials all the way to the governor’s office. The widespread support made it the first infrastructure in the province of Capiz to display the names of two opposing political parties. ARK will formally publicize the rain catchment and filtration system at the end of 2012 after the testing phase is complete.

“Kevin was a great addition to the project team, and he researched the appropriate materials to use, so that the water is 100 percent safe,” says Ayesha Vera-Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of ARK. The project team consisted of Bruno Levine, an ARK senior adviser who has more than 25 years of water engineering expertise, and the company CabioKid, which designed the catchment and trained the community to build it.

“Using relevant scientific calculations he learned from Manhattan College, Kevin fine-tuned the design ensuring the system is capturing the maximum amount of rainfall and filtering the water at a good rate,” Vera-Yu adds. “He also helped to inspire students and parents with his generosity to share his knowledge and his eagerness to learn from them.”


All of the above photos were taken by Kevin Fischbach.

Fischbach’s research for the rain catchment and filtration system stemmed from Manhattan College’s Sustainable Aqua Filtration Equipment (SAFE) project, which was created during the 2010-2011 academic school year with the help of nine chemical engineering students. SAFE is a smaller water filtration system that runs on gravity and removes 99.99 percent of dirt and germs, and was developed from previous patented analysis conducted by Fischbach’s professor of chemical engineering, Gennaro J. Maffia, Ph.D. By using collagen nanofibrils, which come from the raw material corium/the layer under the skin of cows, contaminants are removed from the water and filtered through a basic sand and charcoal filter.

This is a wonderful and unique opportunity for a student to apply what he has learned in a global context and make a positive difference in the world.

“This is a wonderful and unique opportunity for a student to apply what he has learned in a global context and make a positive difference in the world,” Maffia says.

By following the principles of the SAFE project, Fischbach worked to construct a process that would facilitate making rainwater viable for drinking use. The system first collects rainwater in an upper tank, which runs through a sand filter bucket and into a lower storage tank, where it is then ready for consumption. This system joins the ARK funded in-school organic garden and feeding program already in place in Sibariwan to improve the health and well-being of the community.

During Fischbach’s two-week visit to the Philippines, volunteers from the community participated in building the rain catchment and filtration system.

“Many of the volunteers were parents from the school, and the work that they did was amazing and inspiring, and a lot was accomplished,” Fischbach explains.  

When he left to return to New York, all of the construction was completed, and just the roof surface treatment to prevent rusty roof water needs to be installed after the concrete slow dries.

“The water catchment project is a very good project in school because children get their drinking water, and we are not sure if the current water is safe and if there are chemicals in the water,” says Maam Emilie Palma, president of the PTA for the 2011-2012 school year, a parent volunteer and a Baranggay council member.

Fischbach is also helping with an operations manual for the catchment currently being developed with the people of Sibariwan. The manual will instruct the community and other communities on how to build a catchment, use the system and maintain it.

“I will continue to provide whatever support I can to the water filtration project,” Fischbach says. “I hope to develop some basic How-to Excel sheets that can be used to aid future similar projects, whether repeating the large scale of our tank or for smaller household purposes.”

This summer Fischbach is gaining more professional experience interning as a cosmetic chemistry intern at BASF Cosmetic, a personal care company, in Tarrytown, N.Y., and will pursue a master’s in Chemical Engineering this fall at Manhattan College.