Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back in Business!

After some delays getting the replacement pump, the Center for Alternative Technologies has finally come through. Benson, Mbithi, and crew installed the pump using the supplied continuous plastic pipe, troubleshot an issue with the low-water sensor, and then saw water emerging from the well on August 15. Hurray!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Some quick media

So, now we have tons of photos and videos, and will try to sort through them all to find the best ones. In the mean time I've selected several from Peter's stash that were important for documentation, and put them throughout the blog. In addition they are on Flickr in better quality. Also, we're busy uploading some of the videos onto youtube.

Right now you should be able to see some of the pictures here (from Peter's amazing camera), and here (from my less amazing camera). All descriptions are written by me.

Also, videos are here. They are all tagged with "HMC Kenya Pump Project." Right now they are still being processed by youtube, but eventually they should show in their full HD versions. More will be added later.


A Slightly Less Abbreviated Version

The final week was a roller coaster ride, which plunged us from the high of getting the pump working to the low of losing the pump to the bottom of the well as we attempted to locate a short circuit in the wiring that had somehow developed after two days of operation. Luckily, nobody was seriously hurt in the second plunge, although Rob's hands took a bit of a beating. When the dust settled, and I summoned the courage to call Benson and report Tragedy, Part the Second, we'd hit bottom and were ready to start rising again.

We were alarmed to the short circuit when the Pump Controller stopped working. When we opened it up, we noticed a huge burn mark on its circuit board.

I looked at the budget and found that we had money left to replace the pump, this time using PVC piping and polypropylene rope, as recommended in the Lorentz pump manual. Fortunately, we had removed enough of the pipe before the pump fell that the remaining pipe sits about 75 meters below the top of the well, so nothing needs to be hauled up to install the new pump. Benson decided to make another trip down to Ngomano to survey everything so he would know how to install the replacement pump when it arrived. On the drive back to Nairobi, he and I spoke with Nawir Ibrahim at the Center for Alternative Technologies, which is the sole importer of Lorentz pumps in Kenya. He will work up a quotation for the replacement pump and send it to me shortly. Using light piping and a rope instead of the heavy galvanized pipe and chain, Benson and Mbithi should be able to lower the new pump easily and safely, without needing the chain hoist. So, although we didn't quite hit a grand slam, I'd say that we hit a bases-loaded triple and Benson is now at the plate. All the plumbing and wiring has been done, the classrooms shine at night "like a small city," the teachers can now conveniently charge their cell phones in the staff office or the lounge using solar energy, and the whole school is excited with its makeover.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Finale (slightly) Abridged

Good news: travel went fine and now we're back in the United States. It was a long trip from the school up to Nairobe, then Dubai, then the LAX, then home, but it went mostly as planned.

The not-so-good news is that the pump fell back to the bottom of the well.

A slightly more descriptive summary will be posted later.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ozzie's Post

Ever since Peter's family has arrived at the school, progress has sped up. We now could split up into two teams; one devoted to getting the pump out of the well, and one to begin constructing the electrical system. I chose to be on the second team and found it very satisfying.

When the pump fell into the borehole in the beginning of our work, our experience took a dive into a desert of teeth grinding and desperation. For weeks we spent almost all of our time doing nothing but trying to devise and construct crazy methods for getting the pipe, then the skirt, out of the well. Despite Peter's many comedic comments on our expertise in dropping things down wells, it was incredibly frustrating to try so hard with so little progress to show for it. It wasn't until we came back from the safari when our luck started to change with the pump.

For example, this was one of the many hooks we made for the skirt that didn't work.

The electrical system has proved far more forgiving. At first we had a few delays as we waited for the "power house" to be constructed (Originally it was planned to be a closet, but Benson recommended expanding it because the room was available anyway.) This consisted of four brick walls and a large steel door being laid underneath the new tank. We planned and helped install the solar panels on the top of the tank, and seeing the entire structure come together by our design was quite an experience.

Here we are trying to help make concrete, which was one of the few (structural) things we did for the power house.

The students later helped us put the new tank on top of the power house.

A few days before the power house was structurally finished, we decided to hook up the battery (it was fully charged when we purchased it) to the television to watch the World Cup, replacing the noisy generator with a slightly less noisy inverter. Fortunately we were able to connect the solar panels to the battery shortly after to continue this tradition, while keeping the inverter now locked up in the power house, out of earshot. A few of us spent a good two days working day and night to install and connect the charge controller, pump controller, inverter, power strip, battery, solar panels, two switches, and one small light. While much of the pump effort was abstract brainstorming with few clear results, almost every hour with the electric system had something to show for it.

From left to right the order is switch to solar panels, pump controller, charge controller, and the blue inverter to 240V.

The first real impact from the solar system was the constant power to the lounge room. Previously the electric outlets and television set only received power when the noisy generator was powered by expensive gasoline, but now that was not an issue. So while before we all needed to be careful to charge our appliances when the power was on for soccer games, afterwards it wasn't an issue.

More exciting was the power to the school. A new solar panel and battery were purchased by the school to expand their current lighting system (two classrooms with about two working florescent light bulbs each and a staff room with one). After a few calculations we realized that a large portion of the power at that time was being lost in the cable transmission between classrooms, and that the problem would become much worse as the system expanded. We decided to help remedy this by purchasing a new inverter for this system and running it on 240 volt alternating current instead of 12 volt direct current, a change that greatly reduces the line losses.

At this point the plan was to wire two more classrooms to the existing light system, which we would get to use alternating current, and attach our previous pump power system to power the laboratory, the principal's office, and a power outlet for the staff office. This meant that a huge trench had to be dug across the soccer field and through most of the school for the cable to go through. Once again the local parents came to the rescue with shovels and pick axes, marching through the earth and finishing the entire trench within a day and half. Another trench was dug in order to connect cable from the power house to the lounge room, and a few more are still going to be dug between the class rooms.

One unintentional advantage in having both systems running on alternating current was that it meant that the either system could be used to power any of the loads up by the school. So when we found out that the new inverter we bought for the school was a piece of junk, we were able to still test the new lighting with the pump system battery. Then we decided to leave it this way for the night. At this point the two classrooms that had previously only had a few working light bulbs had all of them replaced with better ones, and the new lighting was installed in two more classrooms, as planned.

After finishing up some of the wiring for the laboratory at dusk we were exhausted and went down to get dinner. Like always we had a good tasting and relaxing meal together, but this time Principal Peter interrupted us. He came down from the school unexpected, and proclaimed that the new lighting made the place feel like a city. Somewhat surprised but very curious, we all got up to see what the difference was.

As soon as we left the room we could see the classrooms from across the field. All four of them were lit up, much brighter than before. We all walked up to the classes where several students were studying in each one. We knew that these light bulbs were rated to consume a bit more power than the ones that were there before, but there was no way we could have expected the difference it made.

Peter Saeta walked up to one of the classes to face the students, all beaming back to us. "Is this too bright?" he asked. "Yes, yes!" they shouted. "Really??" he asked, hinting on taking some of it away. "No! No!"

Normally the sun provides light into the classrooms through the windows, but now the light bulbs shine tons of light out of them. Through these windows the entire upper campus was dimly lit. Inside it seemed like the classes were brighter then than they were ever in the day. It was truly a fantastic sight, made truly magical by the realization that much of it had been the product of our labor.

I talked a bit to Principal Peter and teacher Samuel, who both expected great things to come from the new system. Today they told the children to be wary of the electricity because they weren't sure if it would last, so "only" about half of the students stayed late. With this addition that proportion is expected to rise dramatically. Some students may even show up to school now long before sunrise, at about five in the morning, Samuel said. The Clay school will be visible for miles.

We found out that the parents come at nine to pick up their children and walk them home, so we decided to come back to visit the school then. When we came a collection of elders were outside looking very, very excited. One of them soon burst into song and danced her way into a classroom, leading the teachers and students to cheer and move along. After some delighted discussion about the new lights, they thanked each one of us and then went home.

Similar things have happened to us in expectation, mainly in Kisii where musicians were brought in to celebrate us in hopes that we would do great projects with them in the future. But here we have finished most of the work, and the people are even more delighted. This night has been the highlight of our entire experience.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brennan's Update (7/13/10)

I just got a call (seconds ago) from Africa from my father, Professor Saeta, bringing word of their great triumph. They have got the well working, and working beautifully, with a plentiful flow rate of 700 liters per minute. (I think.) [Actually, 700 liters per hour.] In any case, they have got everything working well now, and they are relieved to have it all working well.

(Later edit by Ozzie)

It took a while to get the pump to work, but once we did we were quite excited.

We took showers.

A few days later, we connected the pipe from the borehole to another pipe in the trench,

then from the pipe in the trench to the tank.

In addition we connected the conduit.

By this time you may realize that by "we" I mean Peter, Ethan, Ryan, and Isabel. The rest of us were at the school for most of this time doing electrical work.

And here's a picture of a goat that stood across from us for the entire trip. It just stared at us and yelled loudly for the whole time. Perhaps the one we ate was a relative.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rob's Update

11 July 2010

It has been a banner weekend out here at the Clay International School. It all began on Friday with the awards ceremony in Kathonzweni (a town 45 kilometers from here) which Peter mentioned in his last post. Early in the morning, we all piled into the Toyota SUV and the rented bus with sharply dressed teachers and students for the occasion. In true Kenyan fashion, we were generously welcomed and treated as guests of the school and thus the whole educational district. Being such distinguished guests from the US, we were invited to breakfast with a member of the Kenyan Parliament before sitting down to listen to several hours of speeches (all alluding to the importance of not wasting time) before the true ceremony began.

This was the first awards day for the district and the first time that the Clay School was eligible for any prizes given that they just graduated the first class in March. We were invited to sit on the dais overlooking the thousands of students, parents, and teachers from both primary and secondary schools in the area.

When the secondary school awards began, it wasn't long before the Clay name was heard. From there, it seemed as though a beaming Principal Peter, dancing parents, and leaping students never left center stage. When the dust had settled, the school took home awards for 10 of the 11 subjects offered and trophies for environmental conservation and being the best secondary school overall.

Needless to say, we were eager to celebrate with the students and teachers, and it wasn't long before we were fighting our way through crowds of primary school students enthralled with our white skin to give hugs, hoist trophies, and exchange high fives with the students. It was truly a great day for the school and an indication of just how much they are doing right in terms of education. These teachers care so much about the students, many of whom are immensely grateful for the opportunity to attend a free school, and these awards helped to recognize the model on which this school operates. It also set a bar for the next group of graduating students to achieve.

At the conclusion of the day, Benson, Linda, Peter, and I went to Wote for a late afternoon trip to pick up a few supplies including more wire and another solar panel and battery for the staff office. Benson had arranged for this panel before our arrival with the intention of adding lighting in two more classrooms to make four in which students can study after hours. The panel was not there and had to be picked up the next day, so we got the rest of the supplies and headed back to the school, stopping on the way to pick up Principal Peter and Samuel, the assistant principal, in Kathonzweni. The rest of the night was uneventful as we took it easy in preparation for lowering the "Rocket of Reclamation" in the morning.

Saturday we arose with a mission to lower the Rocket and try and clear the well if the pipe wrench would allow. With the rod and chain securely attached to the rocket, Ethan, Benson, Peter, Evann, and I sent it on its maiden voyage down the well. Slowly we lowered it, adding rods as it sunk toward the top of the pipe. Suddenly, about 50 meters down, it stopped. Figuring we were at the top of the pipe, Peter and I slowly rotated the Rocket and tried to lower it past the pipe, but it wouldn't go. We tried every orientation, or so we thought, until finally, with ease it slipped down and continued its descent. A few seconds later it was caught again. Now we felt we must be resting the funnel on the top of the pipe, so again we turned to get the hook behind the pipe and center it under the Rocket. On the first try, the Rocket smoothly continued sliding down. One and a half rods later (4.5 meters), we figured we must be past the first coupling in the pipe and so could start pulling up. We attached the rods to the chain hoist, securely fastened the chain as a fail safe, and began to raise the rods. I pulled slowly on the hoist with relative ease until suddenly there was resistance. The hoist refused to move though I pulled harder until finally with a mighty tug, it gave way. The chain was still substantially heavier than it had been before the obstruction, giving hope that we had caught the big one. Up we went, pulling slowly and removing rods as we went, all the while securing the chain slack in case it slipped.

By early afternoon, however, our smooth ascent was interrupted. As we pulled on the rod with the hoist, suddenly something snapped and the chain and rod jerked downward a few inches. Scared and stunned, we looked at each other, checked the rod and found no weight on the end. Ethan pulled it out to find that with four rods left, somehow the Rocket had come unscrewed at the bottom and was no longer attached. Luckily, the chain, our fail-safe, had caught the Rocket and was still taut. We quickly made a loop in this and began hoisting once more with weight still on the other end. However we hit another snag soon thereafter. The Rocket and whatever it held suddenly hit a tough patch and would not move higher. We had hit snags earlier in the day and had always gotten past them by pulling harder, but now this wouldn't work. Furthermore, we couldn't go back down either. We pulled so hard that we heard casing give way and sand begin to pour into the well. Stuck in this predicament, we took a lunch break.

While we had been having fun with the well, Ozzie, Isabel, and Evann had been working on the power house, equipping it with all of the electronics necessary to run the pump and the battery systems. Despite some difficulties with wiring sizes, they were making excellent progress and were planning to have everything in place for the World Cup match in the evening. After lunch, they returned to this task and the rest of us headed back down to the well to try a bigger hammer. Using the rods and a square washer, we banged the top of the Rocket in the well until it suddenly gave way and put the chain in tension again. With this and a mighty heave, we were moving again. This happened about 9 meters below the surface. Soon, 6 meters had passed, then 3, and then suddenly, from the blackness below emerged the top of the pipe--a sight we had not seen since it went crashing down into the depths on our first full day here. As it breached the surface and came into sunlight, we began to celebrate and cheer. The others ran down to join us in the celebration as we pulled the first segment out. When this had fully emerged, our Rocket came out, still riding the pipe and gripping it tightly. It had performed gloriously on its maiden voyage and deserved a retirement in the sun. We quickly secured the pipe, removed the Rocket, and kept raising the pipe. Segment after segment emerged from the well as we raced the sunlight to empty the well before dark. As we removed each section, we received a very tangible confirmation that the pump at the bottom was still in tact. As each section was unscrewed, water gushed from the joint all over Ethan and me. At that point in our giddy mood at having raised the pipe, no water could have been sweeter. Yet again, we hit a tough patch as the pipe once again would move neither up nor down. We decided to tie it off for the evening and attack it in the morning. Though when all was done for the day, we had pulled up not only everything we had dropped in the well, but also 9 sections of pipe.

To sweeten the day, the electrical team had installed all of the devices in the power house, the parents of the school children had dug a trench up to the staff office for wiring, and we were connected to watch the World Cup on the solar battery. It was a celebratory evening as we watched the match, though we were also exhausted from the hard work.

Sunday morning, we once again rose and headed down to the well to finish the job started the day before. Using the same trick of banging the pipe with the rod which had worked the day before, we freed the pipe from its resting place on the well casing and continued to raise. As before, torrents of water erupted from the pipes as we removed each one, drenching Ryan, Ethan, and me. With only a few minor snags, we removed 8 more segments of pipe, and as we raised the ninth, we saw the pump and our nemesis, the pipe wrench.

Eagerly, I reached down and grabbed the wrench handle only to find that it had broken at some time during its stay in the well. The jaws fell off and went crashing down to their final resting place 100 meters down at the bottom of the well. With a mighty heave, Ethan pulled out the pump and pipe and it was done--the well was clear! Giddy with joy over our achievement, we took photos, patted each other on the back, and celebrated an accomplishment 5 weeks in the making.

There is an interesting side to this story as well. Back when we were trying to fish out the wrench, Benson had promised us that he would slaughter a goat if we removed it. Though as of Sunday morning we had not, Benson still had felt our achievement in raising the pipe and pulling half of it out was worthy of fulfilling his promise. So in the morning, a goat was led into the compound and then slaughtered and dressed by the cook for our celebratory dinner at having removed all of the pipe. It was a special and memorable day all around.

The rest of the afternoon was consumed by laying conduit and wire up to the staff office, preparing the new pump for being placed in the well by waterproofing the electrical leads, and sorting out a few other electrical problems which arose. So when the sun finally set on this magnificent weekend, we were preparing to watch the World Cup on a battery charged on solar power knowing that the well was completely empty save for the jaws of the wrench, and that the new pump and lighting is ready to be installed. Even now as I write, there is great excitement in the room both because of the game and because everyone including the teachers knows that this has been an incredible weekend and has relieved so much of the stress we have had during this trip.