Every day, in Kenya, we see children who are enthusiastic about education, but unfortunately they are held back. We count ourselves very lucky to continue our education, and we dedicate this project to every Kenyan child with a desire to study.

Had these minds received proper nourishment, they would have made a difference. Every child has the potential to make a difference!

Our project – Think Green, Go Blue – provides an alternative way to purify water, using cactus mucilage instead of aluminium sulfate, which can be harmful to those who handle it and to aquatic organisms. In carrying out this work, we have grown from budding science lovers into passionate researchers. The project has left a mark on our lives that we shall not and cannot erase. Our journey has had tremendous ups and downs, and we believe that it has not ended, but has started from there.

Failing to win our annual school science fair for three consecutive years and seeing the small golden trophies in the hands of our friends just made us more determined to at least pass the first round. Then, after three years, we managed to win first place!

Where do we go from here? Winning our school fair was already beyond our expectations, and though it may sound cheesy, we were drowned in happiness when, round after round, we emerged in first place and finally made it to what we thought was the sky: the national level. There, we once again achieved first place! Truly, when you dare to dream, the sky is not the limit!

Having gotten to the national level, which in itself was very good (or ‘mzuri sana’, in Swahili), we did not know how to react. We were informed that selected first-place award recipients might get a chance to represent their country in South Africa. This inspired us to work our hearts out. We waited for months, but were disheartened when we got no response! We lost hope and went back to our normal science routine.

After an exhausting Human Biology test, our English teacher came to us with what seemed to be an angry face, and we thought, “Damn, seems like we’ve failed English”. But behind the mask of anger was the news that we had made it to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair! We thought it was a joke and laughed in his face, but we were wrong. We believed in science and it believed in us too.

That was truly the start of our journey. Before describing it further, we must acknowledge our backbone – our supervisor. She taught us how to stay motivated every step of the way.

It started with the hunt to find the best prickly pear in town, despite their annoying little thorns. That done, another challenge emerged – how to efficiently extract the mucilage from the cactus. With much trial and error and one week of hard work, we finally found the best solution to the problem. But the journey did not stop there.

Once we had our cactus mucilage and our unpurified water, the next step was to find an efficient and effective method of coagulating the impurities. After assessing and struggling with this experiment for almost two weeks, our cactus still failed to coagulate the impurities as we had expected it to. We had either put in too much mucilage or too little. It was important to find out the right amount of mucilage to purify a certain volume of water before we could proceed.

At last we managed to find the right ratio of mucilage to water. But the results were still not efficient enough. Sometimes the mucilage would purify the water really well, while at other times it would fail. So what went wrong? After deep analysis we discovered that standing water would fail to coagulate the impurities, while water from a flowing source that was not allowed to settle would do the trick.

The next constraint was the medium in which the water had to be purified. On small scale, we carried out the experiment using beakers of various sizes, ranging from 250 ml to 1,000 ml, with equal parts of unpurified water and mucilage in each. We realized that either extreme, too large or too small, was ineffective in purifying the water and coagulating all the impurities.

“We believed in science and it believed in us too.”

After testing the treated water in a testing centre, we found out that it would need further purification before it could be consumed. Our process can be fully effective and applied to large-scale water purification if cactus is used in place of aluminium sulfate (the present coagulant used in purification of water), while the rest of the purification process – for instance, chlorination – remains the same.

We would like to acknowledge the hard work of groups that have carried out similar research, as they formed the stepping stones to our project. With more in-depth research, we plan to develop this project and see it implemented on a large scale. We have thoroughly treasured this project. It was a life-changing experience for both of us.

Last of all, we believe and pray that one day all our Kenyan friends will have a school to go to where they will be nurtured to become their best – because as they say, “the beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”