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!

video

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.

-Ozzie

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.

-Ozzie

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.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

8 July 2010

Well, I think we've made some progress, although not quite as much as we'd prefer. First, the good news. Underneath the 4200-liter tank, Mbithi and coworkers have built a bricked-in room that has been dubbed the "power house." The cement is drying, and Saturday we will be ready to complete the wiring of the panels and transfer the battery, inverter, and charge controller from the lounge to the power house. Meanwhile, we have been using them to run the television for the second semifinal World Cup match, to charge phones and computers, and to update the XOs (the one-laptop-per-child computers). A line has been marked out for a trench to lay wire up to the staff room (a run of about 160 yards), which will allow us to supply 240-V AC to the staff room. This will allow them to charge their phones and run other equipment there. In fact, the staff seem much more excited that the solar panels will be making a reliable source of "free" power available than water from the well.

This brings me to the latest chapter in the well saga. When the pipe went crashing to the bottom of the well, it took with it a two-foot-long pipe wrench that had been used to hold the pipe while the chain hoist was repositioned. At the time the rope broke, the pipe was not firmly attached to the pipe, but when the pipe started falling, it managed somehow to upend the wrench, which we are fairly certain fell business end down. As best we can tell, it would have become wedged between the pipe and the well casing, preventing the "rocket of reclamation" from tipping the top of the pipe away from the casing so that it can be caught by the funnel and guided down the pipe of the rocket. Hence, we decided that we needed to fish for the wrench before trying the rocket.

We had our favorite blacksmith in Wote make a hook to snag the jaw of the wrench. It was surmounted by a loop to which we could attach the heavy chain. Fishing with the chain is a real pain, however, because it is really heavy and tough to raise and lower. Ozzie recommended attaching the rope to the top of the hook, so that by pulling on the rope we only needed to raise the bottom few feet of chain. Using this method, we dropped the hook several meters past the top of the pipe and set about fishing. I suppose there's no need to drag you through all the tedium, but suffice it to say that we managed to hook the casing many times and something more mobile on occasion. On one such occasion, we used the chain hoist to raise the hook, which eventually caused the chain to go very taut. In fact, we pulled so hard that the hoist was locked and unable to release. Several of us took a turn at trying to free it; fortunately, Benson managed finally to do so. But the hook was now unstuck from whatever it was hauling and we had to go back to fishing.



When nothing further was getting caught, we hauled up the rope and chain and found that the hook had been bent and needed a little TLC to be back in position to catch the wrench. I bent it slightly in a couple of places, filed the end a bit, and went fishing again. I decided to drop the hook well below the place we expected the wrench to be, and managed to hook what felt like the wrench. It rose about a meter or two, and then got stuck. After a couple of down-up cycles, it became unstuck. Unfortunately, the hook no longer felt weighed down by the wrench. Others took up fishing and hooked it again, and plenty of us had a chance to feel the weight of the wrench on the rope. It rose past one coupling, we think, but eventually fell off. Subsequent fishing expeditions found nothing, no matter how deep we lowered the hook. So, at this point we think that the wrench has been lowered far from the top of the pipe and we are going to try the rocket on Saturday morning. (Tomorrow is given over to an awards ceremony for the Clay students at Kathonzweni.)

Once again, please keep your fingers crossed! It would be very satisfying to get the pipe up, pump on the well for awhile, and find out whether the water gets any less salty.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ozzie's Post

Note: Please read Isabel’s last post before reading this one.

The first day we visited the orphanage, something was mentioned by the supporting leaders about finding a source of revenue. Currently the teachers are all volunteers. Nick, the principal, stated several times that the quality of teachers could be “improved” if they were paid, quite bluntly in front of the current teachers. Also they don’t like having to repeatedly beg for individual donations.

Instead they would like a business. There are several supporting village members who are willing to provide their time but currently don’t have many ways of providing assistance. Nick first mentioned that they were considering having the women make baskets, which I assumed was for sale at the local market. Of course, this would mean that their maximum profit margin would be about equal to that which the other local basket makers are willing to accept. This business seems so saturated that it seems to be practically a PCM (perfectly competitive market), which seemed like quite a difficult source for significant revenue. After we left for the hotel we pondered about other business ideas, but couldn’t come up with much. It’s quite a challenge coming up with valid products to market to a culture completely different from your own.

The next day we had some time to prepare for soccer and I began a conversation with Nick. He spent a while asking me about American politics and I struggled to remember enough to give him decent answers. For all the complaining we do about our own government, it’s still seen by many as a model of excellence. This went on for about forty minutes until he started explaining his own situation. Nick is a veterinarian who is able to sustain himself by leaving to do jobs a few times a week. Then he comes to class midday, teaches until the end of school time, and assists the kids until late in the night. I’m pretty sure there’s no time left in his schedule to sleep or eat meals or anything luxurious.

This is Nick.

Just joking, but the pictures of me talking with Nick are not as interesting.


This discussion transitioned into business. His main idea isn’t baskets; it’s poultry. Nick feels comfortable with the field and already has some experience. He has a plan: Create a 58,000 shilling structure that is 500 square feet large, fit it with 500 chickens bought at 72 shillings each, and feed them all for 1200 shillings a day. After five months the chickens should produce about 300 eggs per day, which sell at 10 shillings each. A year later their laying cycle will be over, so they will be sold off and replaced. Note that around 80 shillings are equal to a dollar.

The problem as I see it is the cost of feed per day. While future students may be able to help construct the structure and many chickens are already available by donation, it seems like a stretch to find an American donor willing to pay for five months of chicken feed. Even if the scheme succeeds it would only make about $23 per day (for 12 months after paying $15 a day for 5 months); a solid amount but a tough call for an entire orphanage.

I brought up the idea of opening an internet cafe. Nick was very receptive, recommending that internet cafes were very profitable, especially when they include printing services. We discussed the idea of charging for computer lessons, which could even be done before any internet connection is established. While I tried pushing it a little, Nick seemed very much against getting the children involved in the business, arguing that it would sacrifice from the schooling. About 20 minutes in he mentioned that the idea was actually discussed before with some of the orphanage’s sponsors. I then asked about setting up a small business charging cell phones. Again Nick was incredibly receptive, saying that he expects they would be able to get 20 customers a day paying 10 shillings. However, this seemed to me to be a fairly obvious idea and I’m sure Nick had considered it before. I wonder if in both cases Nick waited for me to state the obvious so that I would gain ownership of each idea. If so, it kind of worked.

Finally I introduced my final two ideas and they didn’t go as well. The first was to have a computer repairing service, which was quickly dismissed because there weren’t enough people locally who owned computers. Second was the idea to make dairy products. Nick said that in the region there is one producer who all the locals sell their milk to. However, it didn’t seem like many dairy products would sell outside of milk; yogurt and cheeses are both far from popular. These “failures” did make me satisfied with the knowledge that at least Nick did seem to be taking me seriously. I’ve read about Americans who proposed ideas to poor foreigners, who would praise each one no matter how impractical it would be. Those poor people weren’t used to expressing their own thoughts and would simply bow and praise the Westerners. Nick was much more confident than that; in fact, after seeing him give a math lecture I’d say that he was one of the most competent teachers and leaders I’ve ever met.

Soon the soccer game ended, which I was originally supposed to be in but had instead missed completely. After a while of some minor talk, we were brought to a final meeting with the elders. The main leaders thanked us, prayed for us, and thanked us some more; partially for coming to spend two days watching them do work and partially to convince us to come back with aid. The head expressed that the financially wealthy folks near by have never paid them any attention, while foreigners from the other side of the planet have come to stay and assist. He gave us responsibility over the establishment, and asked us many times to return. Eventually one of the mothers in charge handed us “all that she could afford to give”, which was a few bags with Obama pictures on them. They made clear that in addition to excitement and the possibility of aid, one of the main things we were providing was encouragement. Many of the volunteers, like Nick, had been contributing their best efforts for years into this project, and a little encouragement and blessing apparently provided a huge benefit.



While it is delightful to be happy and play games and complement hard working establishments, ultimately we do want to work on projects for long term progress. For this one orphanage in particular, students from Harvey Mudd (or any other place) could be a huge help in helping to establish whatever businesses they ultimately decide on. On their business; hopefully the adults at the school will continue to think of new ideas outside the three mentioned to them. I’d like for them to begin with a list of at least ten before choosing. If you have any ideas, please post them to the comments of this blog, or email one of us.

Businesses aren’t the only thing to be worked on; the school also needs more buildings. Right now the few students who do live at the school stay on the property of the elderly couple who are lending it to them. The lack of space means that many of the other students have to live far away with distant relatives. The lack of a distinct residence makes it impossible to convince the government that the orphanage is legitimate, disqualifying them from getting government aid. The school community is already trying to establish materials for the new residence houses, but they could definitely use donations and assistance to complete the process.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty for us is finding things that we could write into grants. Most of the ones we would apply to would require for us (or other excited students) to do engineering work. These funds aren’t to be donated in mass, but instead used to complete a project that we would work on. For example, if we asked for $3,000 to purchase a freezer for a school it may be a challenge because it’s a one-time cost. However, if we asked for $3,000 to construct a cooling structure of some type it would be more reasonable because then it could provide us engineering experience.

I ask you, the reader, to think about ideas and keep this in mind. We need business ideas, and we need engineering ideas. Of course, if you are interested in donating a large sum for something in specific, we wouldn’t mind that either.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Isabel's Post: July 2nd

As Evann left off, we were on our way to the Thriving Talents ChildrenÕs Centre in Kisii, in the west of Kenya. We arrived at the orphanage in the early evening, and were met with a very warm welcome. As we approached the place, we heard cheering from behind the gates. The gates flew open and the kids ran up to the car singing a welcome song. They lined up and we were serenaded as we entered the gates and came to a large field. Music was playing from a boombox, and the artists and some teachers were dancing around.

They were soon joined by the students and we were quickly pulled into the mix. It was so much fun to dance with the students! The students grabbed our hands and we jumped around in small circles, playing a sort of dancing follow the leader.


After a few songs, the students put on a small show for us. In addition to many welcome speeches, thanking us continuously for coming, the girls sang and danced for us and a couple students recited poems.


After this wonderful ceremony and some more dancing, some students showed us their rooms. The living conditions were cramped, dark, and fairly dirty. The orphanage houses about 150 kids in a few small rooms packed with bunk beds. I found the story of this orphanage to be very touching -- it is the work and generosity of a few caring people. An elderly couple donated a large part of their property on which to build the orphanage and school, but when the money fell short for the construction, the couple agreed to allow the children to sleep with them in their home. In addition to their home, the couple seems to continuously give all that they have to help provide food for the children. The four school teachers are completely volunteer, and a collection of guardians (mostly grandparents of the children) try to help provide for the children as well.


We returned to the orphanage the following day. We watched and helped teach math and english classes in the morning, then played with the students in the afternoon. Ethan brought a frisbee, so we taught kids how to toss it around. Then the girls led Evann, Linda, and I on a walk to a nearby tea factory, while the boys engaged in a soccer match. Ryan was the big scorer with his hat-trick -- course maybe goalie Ethan was just going easy on his brother for his 15th birthday...

There seems to be a lot that ESW could do to help this orphanage. They are planning to build new dorms and classrooms and then try to become economically self-sustaining, which fits well with our goals as a club. Hopefully this visit is the start of another ESW partnership in Kenya. We discussed possible future projects for ESW at this school, which Ozzie will elaborate upon in the next post....


Thriving Talents ChildrenÕs Centre, Kisii
IsabelÕs Post

1 July 2010: Evann’s Post

Before leaving for the Mara, we attempted to push the apron of annoyance further down the well so as to better reach the pipe.  Despite some hesitation from Isabel (always the skeptic), we decided the best course of action was to use the rods that were previously attached to the hand pump to move it.  Despite some more concern from Isabel, we used a pipe vice that had been broken by Benson as well as a slightly faulty locking hook for our hoist.  We were able to get all 19 rods down the well, but retrieving them was another story.  As predicted, the hinge on the hook bent, allowing the rods to slip and caused Isabel and Rob to grab for the rods.  Though the rods were saved from the same fate as the pipe, pump, and skirt, Isabel injured herself when her hand hit the broken pipe vice.  The well gained another item: one jaw of the vice.  Peter rigged a temporary way for the vice to hold the rods, using a pipe and some crowbar, and we were able to get all rods out safely.   A few days later, we drove to the Nairobi to pick up Linda, Ethan, and Ryan.  In typical Kenya fashion, we arrived at the airport fifteen minutes after their arrival, but two hours before we collected them.  For dinner that night, we visited the Carnivore!  The restaurant had a very Disney Jungle River Cruise feel, with all servers wearing zebra-print aprons.  Sauces, salads, and fried potatoes were placed to the table, while all meat was served individually, mostly off of large skewers.  The choices of meat were: beef, pork, chicken liver, boar heart, chicken, turkey, crocodile, and ostrich!  I dared only the final four.  Upon receiving crocodile, I found (as a piece hit the floor) that house cats roamed below us in search of lost bits!  The following morning, we drove to the Mara West resort.  We saw various animals on our way, but I found the most impressive to be the zebra that were wandering around what would be our rooms.  The view from the grounds was phenomenal!  Most buildings were designed traditionally, being circular with thatched roofs.  However, the rooms were actually tents underneath, well-furnished and complete with electricity.  The bathrooms were even more beautiful, with two six-star toilets (sit-down, flushing, and clean with toilet paper), two tiled showers with hot water, and four sinks.  Peter and Linda were taken to a very swanky cabin, which had a personal bathroom and a deck over-looking the valley below!    The next day we drove to a primary boarding school near the park.  The faculty and students welcomed us warmly.  The girls were especially eager to show Isabel, Linda, and me their home.  The girls that greeted me first, Francesca and Mary, loved my long hair - since most children we’ve met have shaved heads to allow for easy lice removal.  The dorms were very cramped, with five bunk-beds per (Mudd double-sized) room and two children per bed.  The school has won many regional awards, their most-prized for their English program.  Since the school’s opening in the 1980’s, the number of girls in grade 8 climbed from one to eight, significant in that girls are often kept at home or take nanny jobs.  The school is also noticing younger and younger children entering their program.  This is impressive considering that grade is not related to age, and some people are still in primary school upon turning 20.  We also met the youngest fourth grade student at the school, who was eight and adorable!   That afternoon, we went out to the park.  I found the most memorable sighting of that day to be of a group of three female elephants and one baby.  He was so cute!  We also saw gazelle, topi, water buck, giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, baboons, monkeys and impala.  The third day at the Mara, we got up early and went out directly after breakfast.  We saw so many amazing things!  We saw two giraffes fighting, which consists mostly neck-slapping and looks as if it’s in slow-motion.  We were nearly charged by a mother elephant after we attempted to cutoff a rather large herd - we were within 10 feet of her, and got fantastic pictures!  We almost ran over a mating-pair of lions, resting in the grass on the side of the road.  We followed these two until the male was just too tired to keep walking.  Fun Fact: Lion mating-pairs mate 45-65 times a day for two weeks, without hunting.  We followed other safari groups to a small group of cheetahs and, after the ranger left, went off the road to be right next to them.  We then witnessed wildebeest (in the largest herd of anything I’d ever seen) crossing a crocodile-infested river.  Since the wildebeest have terrible eyesight, they follow the easy-to-see zebra.  The wildebeest crossed the river only when the zebra did and stopped when the zebra realized there were three crocodiles waiting for dinner.  Lucky for me, we didn’t see any wildebeest get eaten, but we heard excited screams from other vans of tourists around us.  The crossing was very impressive!  The mother wildebeest would reach the other side and realize that their children were not with them, so a quarter of the herd was going back to the river.  It was crazy!  On the drive back, there was rain and lightning, so Rob, Ethan, and I stood up with our hands and heads out of the roof the whole way back.  Our guide, Mark, drove extra fast just for us!  :)  The next day, we left for Kisii...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Evann's Update

Before leaving for the Mara, we attempted to push the apron of annoyance further down the well so as to better reach the pipe. Despite some hesitation from Isabel (always the skeptic), we decided the best course of action was to use the rods that were previously attached to the hand pump to move it. Despite some more concern from Isabel, we used a pipe vice that had been broken by Benson as well as a slightly faulty locking hook for our hoist. We were able to get all 19 rods down the well, but retrieving them was another story. As predicted, the hinge on the hook bent, allowing the rods to slip and caused Isabel and Rob to grab for the rods. Though the rods were saved from the same fate as the pipe, pump, and skirt, Isabel injured herself when her hand hit the broken pipe vice. The well gained another item: one jaw of the vice. Peter rigged a temporary way for the vice to hold the rods, using a pipe and some crowbar, and we were able to get all rods out safely.



A few days later, we drove to the Nairobi to pick up Linda, Ethan, and Ryan. In typical Kenya fashion, we arrived at the airport fifteen minutes after their arrival, but two hours before we collected them. For dinner that night, we visited the Carnivore! The restaurant had a very Disney Jungle River Cruise feel, with all servers wearing zebra-print aprons. Sauces, salads, and fried potatoes were placed to the table, while all meat was served individually, mostly off of large skewers. The choices of meat were: beef, pork, chicken liver, boar heart, chicken, turkey, crocodile, and ostrich! I dared only the final four. Upon receiving crocodile, I found (as a piece hit the floor) that house cats roamed below us in search of lost bits!



The following morning, we drove to the Mara West resort. We saw various animals on our way, but I found the most impressive to be the zebra that were wandering around what would be our rooms. The view from the grounds was phenomenal! Most buildings were designed traditionally, being circular with thatched roofs. However, the rooms were actually tents underneath, well-furnished and complete with electricity. The bathrooms were even more beautiful, with two six-star toilets (sit-down, flushing, and clean with toilet paper), two tiled showers with hot water, and four sinks. Peter and Linda were taken to a very swanky cabin, which had a personal bathroom and a deck over-looking the valley below!

The next day we drove to a primary boarding school near the park. The faculty and students welcomed us warmly. The girls were especially eager to show Isabel, Linda, and me their home. The girls that greeted me first, Francesca and Mary, loved my long hair - since most children we’ve met have shaved heads to allow for easy lice removal.

The dorms were very cramped, with five bunk-beds per (Mudd double-sized) room and two children per bed. The school has won many regional awards, their most-prized for their English program. Since the school’s opening in the 1980’s, the number of girls in grade 8 climbed from one to eight, significant in that girls are often kept at home or take nanny jobs. The school is also noticing younger and younger children entering their program. This is impressive considering that grade is not related to age, and some people are still in primary school upon turning 20. We also met the youngest fourth grade student at the school, who was eight and adorable! (You can see a little of the school here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtwTmTEGvfQ )

That afternoon, we went out to the park. I found the most memorable sighting of that day to be of a group of three female elephants and one baby. He was so cute! We also saw gazelle, topi, water buck, giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, baboons, monkeys and impala.

The third day at the Mara, we got up early and went out directly after breakfast. We saw so many amazing things! We saw two giraffes fighting, which consists mostly neck-slapping and looks as if it’s in slow-motion. We were nearly charged by a mother elephant after we attempted to cutoff a rather large herd - we were within 10 feet of her, and got fantastic pictures! We almost ran over a mating-pair of lions, resting in the grass on the side of the road. We followed these two until the male was just too tired to keep walking. Fun Fact: Lion mating-pairs mate 45-65 times a day for two weeks, without hunting. We followed other safari groups to a small group of cheetahs and, after the ranger left, went off the road to be right next to them. We then witnessed wildebeest (in the largest herd of anything I’d ever seen) crossing a crocodile-infested river. Since the wildebeest have terrible eyesight, they follow the easy-to-see zebra. The wildebeest crossed the river only when the zebra did and stopped when the zebra realized there were three crocodiles waiting for dinner. Lucky for me, we didn’t see any wildebeest get eaten, but we heard excited screams from other vans of tourists around us. The crossing was very impressive! The mother wildebeest would reach the other side and realize that their children were not with them, so a quarter of the herd was going back to the river. It was crazy! On the drive back, there was rain and lightning, so Rob, Ethan, and I stood up with our hands and heads out of the roof the whole way back. Our guide, Mark, drove extra fast just for us! :)


(It is impossible to find one single photo to summarize the entire safari from the thousands of great pictures that were taken. So instead here's a picture of the camera that took many of them, which should be a decent substitute.)

The next day, we left for Kisii...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rob's Update

Since Peter has talked a lot about the challenges we’ve experienced with the pump, I thought it might be nice to talk a bit about the other activities in which we’ve engaged at the school. As I learned last time, one of the most important and rewarding components of this partnership is the interaction we get to have with the students. The first form this took was through sports the first weekday we were there. Last time I was here, I taught the students a little bit about baseball, though it was a difficult game to teach in an hour. At the request of some of the teachers, I collected some equipment and came back with enough gloves to equip a team and so Peter and I tried again to teach the game. The kids loved to hit and laugh at their friends who missed the ball, but had some trouble understanding what an out is and where to run after they had hit the ball. It seems as though we need more time with them to truly teach the game. While this went on, Isabel and Evann taught jump rope to many of the girls. I had no idea until we got here that Isabel had participated in competitive jump rope, so this was something about which she was passionate, and the students enjoyed it immensely. They were good at skipping rope and even turning double dutch to rhymes about the Obama family and others. However, the biggest hit of the day was Ozzie teaching soprano saxophone. We had been welcomed with song and dance earlier in the day, and Ozzie then had introduced them to the horn. Now, he got to teach a large group of students who all wanted to play the new instrument. They were getting the hang of making a sound, and hopefully he and I can teach them more throughout the trip.



Since the first day, we have also gotten to teach other things to the children. The next afternoon, Evann and I taught some students about graphing calculators. They had never seen the devices before and were fascinated when they plotted figures from their textbooks and saw the same shapes crawl across the screen in their hands. It is amazing how quickly these students catch on and how appreciative they are of chances to learn something new. They have a true passion for learning and understand the importance of having an opportunity to go to school. While we did this, Isabel and Peter taught basic computer skills on the One-Laptop-Per-Child computers we brought. The kids loved these new toys but still have a lot to learn!

Since then, the highlights of our interactions have been a physics lesson given by Peter on optics and lenses, Ozzie’s daily saxophone lessons, and a few soccer and volleyball matches between us and the students. Peter was a big hit in physics and looks forward to giving more lessons in the future. We didn’t fare as well on the field as all of us realized that our talents in American football, baseball, jump rope, and other sports didn’t make us automatically skilled in the others--the students defeated us handily in each. But maybe in 6 weeks we’ll be better!


I have to say that the whole trip one of the things that has impressed me the most is how much the school has changed in the short year and a half since my last visit. It is much closer to being complete and self-sustaining than the last time I was here. The pump down at the river has provided enough water that the school has lush fields with ripening tomatoes, cabbages, and other fruits and vegetables. They are harvesting and selling these products regularly and beginning to have some cash flow to pay for the school expenses. The assembly hall is now almost complete (it was only walls when last I was here) and they hope that this will generate more revenue as well as provide a space for assemblies and graduations. At the rate the school has grown since I was here, I hope that it soon will be much closer to its goal of economic sustainability. The community really supports the project and has already given us a great deal of help on our project, so it would be nice to see it be a success. I am very hopeful that the HMC groups that travel here in the future will see the same amount of improvement that I have witnessed, and that soon the school will be self-sustaining.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

26 June 2010


We await the start of the US–Ghana match here in Mara West and I will attempt to produce a blog post that offers some details of our attempts to retrieve the pipe and pump from the well. Rob has written a post that resides, unfortunately, on one of the XO’s that are still back in Ngomano. He will either recreate it or we will post it when we get back to Ngomano. Meantime, here’s a picture of the “harpoon of death” that was supposed to slide inside the pipe, expand against the inside of the coupling between pipe segments, and then get hauled out of the well. A strong chain was looped around the hook at the right of the picture, which would provide a torque pressing the sharpened edge at the bottom right against the wall of the coupling and the bottom edge of the first pipe segment.



Rob and Peter played tug-of-war with the pipe to test the harpoon and it seemed to hold quite well. Of course, the trick would be to install the harpoon inside the upper end of the pipe, which almost certainly was resting against the side of the casing inside the well, roughly 50 m below the top of the well. To manage this guiding, we designed the “skirt of salvation,” shown in the picture below. It was made from various available materials, including the mouth of a 20-liter water bottle, some wire mesh, plastic cable ties, and the walls of the water bottle. The skirt would be lowered with the harpooned located in the mouth of the water bottle, which should end up centered over the entrance to the pipe. At least, that was the theory.



In practice, the skirt and harpoon were lowered together, but because the chain holding the harpoon was so much heavier than the rope holding the skirt, it was fantastically unlikely that though they began the descent together, they ended up that way. After lowering the pair to level of the top of the pipe, and then lowering the harpoon another 4 m, we started raising the chain hoping and expecting to feel the resistance grow suddenly stronger. It didn’t. So, we raised both and were deeply saddened to see no harpoon attached to the chain and only the small top piece of the skirt still tied to the rope. Fishing with the sand-filled Coke bottle showed that the rest of the skirt was lodged about 7 meters below water level.

We went back to the drawing board to design of sturdier hook and came up with the “rocket of reclamation,” which is shown here.
It is made of 2-inch pipe, which will be dropped over the end of the pipe. The curved structure at the right is designed to pull the top of the pipe away from the wall, and the dark portion is a funnel to guide the pipe into the rocket. When we return to Ngomano after our safari in Masai Mara we will attempt again to fish out the skirt of salvation, which has be renamed the “apron of annoyance” and then lower the rocket to draw out the pipe. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Isabel's Update

Since the pipe disappearance episode last Sunday, we have been hard at work designing and fabricating a means of fishing it back out of the well. We estimate the pipe and old pump to weigh about 3 kN, so we have been trying to design a piece that will be strong and robust enough to lift that weight. The piece also needed to find the 1.5 inch pipe in the 6 inch well, hook onto or into the pipe, and be easily fabricated with the materials and tools available in Wote.

We came up with a couple general designs: the "jaws of life" and the "harpoon of death." The jaws of life would essentially be tongs that would be held open by a spring as they are lowered down by a rope. Once positioned around the pipe, a strong chain threaded through the handles of the tongs would be pulled to close the tongs and then pull up the tongs and pipe. The harpoon of death would instead slide down inside the pipe. It would be made of sharp hinged arms that could easily slide down the pipe, but that would spread and thus get caught on the way back up. Once below the first pipe junction (where there is a small gap between pipe segments within the coupling), we will begin to pull the harpoon back up and hopefully catch the pipe at that junction and carry it up to the surface.

We chose the harpoon design because we thought it would be more sturdy and thus less likely to break or slip with the weight of the load. We spent the day yesterday in Wote having our harpoon made by some blacksmiths. We designed the piece in such a way that seemed easy to fabricate, but we didn't take into account the difficulties of working with hand tools: there is very little precision. Thus the pieces we received from the blacksmiths still required a lot of work before they would even fit inside the pipe, let alone pick it up. So the past evening and morning we have spent some quality time with a hack-saw and file in an attempt to shape the piece to the necessary dimensions.

We have also been designing a cone structure that will guide the harpoon into the pipe. If all goes well, both the harpoon and cone should be finished soon and we should be fishing by this afternoon. And that will be the real test of our design....

But enough of the technical information. I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts about this wonderful country. Within 36 hours of landing in Kenya, I was in love with the place. After the excesses of Dubai and the luxuries of Emirites Airlines, it was comforting to land in Nairobi, which felt more like a real place (rather than an amusement park or Las Vegas).

Nairobi was a fine city, but it was my first morning run in Wote that really made me happy to be here. Wote is a small town with a few main streets full of little one-room shops packed wall-to-wall. I was surprised by how much was available there -- you could find basically everything you need, from clothes to food to construction materials. And the town has much more lighting and running water than I was expecting. The roads were all made of hard-packed dirt (runner's paradise) and the views were stunning. The land around here is so much more lush than I imagined -- the red dirt is covered by yellow grass and lots of large green trees and bushes. And while there are rolling hills (with little round brick huts tucked into the hillsides), this is definitely big sky country -- big, blue, and covered with fluffy clouds.

I ran past boys walking their donkeys with supplies loaded on their backs, a family cooking breakfast on an outdoor fire, and plenty of chickens and stray dogs. But even more than the scenery and the dirt roads and all the donkeys and chickens, what I loved was the people. I just could not stop smiling the entire run because every person I passed would wave and offer a "hello," "good morning," or "how are you?" Everyone was friendly and seemed so content with life. And the little children screamed happily and pointed as I passed, then ran behind me until I turned around. Then they'd stop, smile shyly, wave and say "bye, bye," then run off. So adorable.

The people here seem to live such rich lives. I love that the pace of life is slow and relaxed, and everyone seems to have a wonderful attitude towards life. They seem to be very happy with where they are and what they're doing. And it is contagious.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15

Star date, 15 June 2010

Much has passed since we arrived in Ngomano, and we have been poor correspondents. Where to begin?

On Sunday, June 13th, we began working on the well. The first step: removing the bolts holding the handle mechanism to the top of the well. Happily, we managed to loosen them all without rounding too many corners, and managed to get the handle off, which dropped the rod supporting the pump mechanism a few inches. Now, how are we to hoist the pump and pipe?




Benson contacted some friends in a nearby village, who brought a chain hoist. Meanwhile, we prepared a tripod by binding together three 10-foot pipes using a segment of polypropylene rope that we bought at Lowe's.
To the top of the tripod we attached the hoist using a rope we had bought the previous day in Wote. It was then child's play to raise the rod until the flange supporting the pipe down to the pump lifted off its base to reveal the top of the pipe. Using a large pipe wrench to hold the pipe, we disconnected the hoist and reattached it to the pipe, allowing us to hoist the pipe until the coupling to the second pipe segment emerged from the bore hole. We then set the pipe wrench to hold the second pipe, but realized that we also needed the wrench to grasp the pipe to unscrew the first pipe from the second. So, Benson sent someone to fetch a pipe vise.



While we waited for the vise to arrive, Benson asked Rob what was the silliest thing he had done in college. Before Rob had a chance to reply, the rope holding the hoist broke and the pipe began to fall, upending the pipe wrench, which tumbled down the bore hole. The pipe continued to fall until the flange attached to the top of the pipe crashed against the well head. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

When we calmed down and had removed the stand from the pipe vise, we retied the hoist using better rope and started hoisting the pump rod until we could see that the pipe had sheared off at the top of its threads and was now down at the bottom of the well. Damn! We started hoisting the rod segment by segment until 18 3-meter segments had been removed. Not surprisingly, the bottom was no longer connected to the pump. So, we managed to remove the rod that formerly activated the pump, leaving the pump and the 1 1/2-inch pipe at the bottom of the well.

Some fishing with flashlights and a Coke bottle filled with sand allowed us to determine that the water level is about 23 meters down and the top of the pipe is another 27 meters below that. So, we're now designing fishing apparatus to hook the top of the pipe and haul everything out. Our first design we called the jaws of life, but we're currently more keen on the harpoon of death, which we will attempt to thread down the pipe to the first coupling. We plan to head to Wote tomorrow to see if we can get someone to weld up our designs.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Kenyan post


(This picture is from the center where we got the solar panels from)


We have arrived at the school and have been very warmly received in rather sumptuous quarters. Patricia cooked us a very tasty dinner of rice, spaghetti, and lentils, which we washed down with Coke (since we forgot to get water in Wote, and didn't really have space for it, anyway). I am writing this post onone of the XO computers, which brings all sorts of challenges, so please excuse the brevity of this posting.

Everyone is very well and the weather is glorious. My thermometer reports 75 F at 9 pm. Now it is World Cup time: America v. England.

We have texted many of you from at least one of the cell phones, so youmay already have the number. For the record, the two numbers that we have at the moment are 0711-592-124 and 0711-678-612. I'll try to post some pictures shortly.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Setting up the pump test



We decided to test the pump in the Saeta pool, using solar panels we borrowed from RCC Solar in Upland (thanks!). The panels and pump worked great, and we're homing in on a robust design that will allow us both to pump water and to charge batteries for computer charging and evening lighting.