Monday, February 9, 2009

Our deepest gratitude goes out to all those who made this trip possible...

The team has finally made it home tonight after a 24 hour delayed flight trying to leave Cameroon on Saturday.  Hooray!  Job well done team!  We are glad to have you home!

The travel team had a lot of people helping to make this trip possible this semester.  They were supported by a design team of about 25 students who worked extremely hard trying to create the best design for our filter mold, working on efficiency calculations, researching all aspects of sustainability, and looking into expanding our solar water pumping system.  Great job design team!

This trip also would not have been possible without the support of the College of Engineering or the Alumni Association.  Thank you to all who have donated to our chapter over the last couple of years!  In particular, thank you Murphy's Steel for providing and bending the steel for our mold, and Danny Richardson and Steve Beard for helping to troubleshoot mold construction problems.

We are holding a Benefit Dinner on Thursday March 12th at the Marriott Courtyard in Newark, DE.  To further support this organization visit our homepage at and register for the event.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

All I ever needed to know about life I learned from an engineer... Alyssa

When I told my dad I was going to Africa, he had two main concerns. One was that I would not have enough food to eat. This was a non issue as Martine daily cooked enough rice to feed a group three times our size.
The second was that I would not be coming home for six months. This is legitimate for my parents to worry about. Over the past six years, my travels have become much longer and farther from home. And to be quite honest, the two weeks I have spent here have rivaled some of my favorite trips I have taken. There is nothing about this place that does not take your breath away, whether it be the red brick houses, the kids playing the same games of tag and soccer that we did as kids, or the way that doing something as a simple gesture of kindness can get you a marriage proposal.
My dad was right to be concerned about me not coming home for awhile. Even though we get on the plane to Paris in a couple hours, I am not at all ready to leave. I have so many questions that I still want answers to and so many people and places and customs to explore. It is bittersweet to say that I have grown attatched to yet another place that is halfway around the globe, but I am happy to have seen something so incredibly awe inspiring.
Dont worry dad, Ill be on the plane with the rest of the group coming home. And there is nothing better than coming home after a trip like this.
We will see you all soon, much love.

Steve the Younger - Saturday in Yaoundé

We are back in Yaounde, and its amazing to think of all that we've seen and done in the past 2 weeks. I've been to 2 countries that I've never seen before and probably would never go to if I was not on this trip. I've learned how to construct slow sand filters, speak a little (very little) french, and see how an international enginnering project works. I played soccer in a Cameroonian pickup game, visited a king, chiefs, professors, mayors and met hundreds of people extremely far away from home. I've rode and walked down more bumpy dirt roads than I ever could have imagined. I've ate many different cameronian foods, some good (chicken, vegetables, pinapple), some bad (dried fish and spinnach, some grey mush with limestone in it?). I've worked on a project that can help save lives in Bakang, Cameroon. Its been a good 2 weeks.

Back In Yaounde

We have made it back to Yaounde after a great adventure in Bamenjou/Bakang. The bio sand filters in Bakang are finally becoming more popular. There is a long list of people that are going to be getting filters in the next few months. I think that the filters popularity is due to the test results obtained from the cheifs water filter and the evidience that Peter presented to the water committee. The water from the chiefs well had a significant amount of bacteria present. After using the filter the water was 10 times cleaner. It was great getting to see all of the hard work from the past year making a positive impact on the community. The community now realizes the benefit of the filters. The doctor at the local hospital made a good comment about the filters... He said "Its like fighting nature with nature" which is essentially what the bio sand filters do. They use bacteria to kill other bacteria. I look forward to hearing the sucess of the filters in the months to come. This trip has been such a great learning experience and I am so greatful that I had the opportunity to participate in it. I look forward to doing some more work with everyone when we get back home.


Two weeks went so fast

The past two weeks have been amazing. I`ve learned so much from being a member of this implementation team, the biggest lesson being organization. There is so much that goes into organizing a project like this. Itineraries need to be made and kept. Materials have to be ordered and delivered. Labor needs to be organized and trained. Tools have to be ready and prices need to be set. All of these things are done in the corporate world every day. Organization is necessary for producing and selling a product, which is essentially what we are doing.

The design process also required a lot of organization. Research had to be done and deadlines for the stages of design had to be met. Prototyping required working space and materials, all of which had to be set up in advance. It was a collaborative effort. Everyone had to be kept on the same page. Members had to be notified if schedules were changed, which they often did. It wasn`t an easy task, but I took so much away from the experience.

EWB offters students so much more than what they can experience in a class. The real world problems that we face add so much value to our education. We probably won`t be able to see all of the benefits from this trip until we enter the workforce and possibly after that. I know that I will return to the United States with a better idea of what it really means to be an engineer.


Souveniers and Goats- (by: Andrew)

As Dr. Steve has pointed out we are back in Yaonde. We will be heading home, in a few hours. On any trip, we want to find something to take home with us. On the last trip I found small momentos and trinkets to bring home, they were small compared to the true souveniers--The memories of the village and the villagers. I am glad I had the chance to return to Cameroon. On this trip I was able to experience and learn even more. I am certain that the memories of this trip and the last will be useful and that They will not sit on a metaphorical shelf and collect dust for a few years.

Instead they will serve as motivation. When we collected water for mixing cement treking down a steep hill to the source and back up to take the water to the work site. I will remember that is a small taste of what the villagers face everyday. As we talked to people throughout the village there were some villagers that walked many kilometers to the solar pump system. Because they understood that this water would be healthier for their young children.

During one meeting with the water comittee an analogy was thrown around comparing the filters to a goat. If someone is giving a goat away they would prefer to give it to a family that would take care of the goat, instead of one that did not care and would not take care of it. This was to explain why it was important for families to pay a portion of the filter cost.

This would apply to the solar pumping system as well. The community has shown that not only do they appreciate the system, but that they can take care of it. The placed a fence around the panels to protect them from the children and prevent them from climbing on them. As seen before they had leafy poles which would block the sun during the summer months. After explaining this to the community they removed the porturding sticks. And they placed a fence around the tanks as well. At different times the taps on the tanks broke and the community has fixed them and fastened them more securely.

They are taking good care of the goat that we have given them. And I am excited to begin the design work on a larger system with distribution and storage as well as develop the two proposed drill sites that were chosen, investigated and assesed on this trip.


We left Bakang today - Dr Steve (again)

We left Bakang today. Lots of our friends are wearing their new EWB-UD tee shirts which are VERY popular. We had a busy morning packing up, cleaning, completing construction and placement of two more filters, and saying goodbye. Warning to parents: all the students say they want to come back to Cameroon! This is in spite of constantly failing electricity, limited water, and no hot water at Mr. Mukam’s house. But house is very comfortable in many other respects, and Martine has kept us well fed. Although the house has a “modern” kitchen, she cooks most of our food over an open fire in the adjacent building.

Here are some pictures from yesterday. The rest will have to wait until we get back to the U.S. (as well as some videos!). I have strongly advised the students to post something for you before we leave Cameroon, so maybe you'll hear from them too.

Here’s one of the students that came to watch us after school let out. This also gives an idea of the of learning facilities they have available.

Back in the distance is Taylor, helping two men from the Water Committee build a sand filter. The woman in the front is getting her water supply. You can see why the filter is needed at this location.
The kids put their water containers down in front of the water tank while playing with Andrew and Alyssa. There’s a shy girl behind the barrier.

Here is the seamstress who made all the guys’ shirts and Alyssa’s skirt. She has three women who help her.

Here’s our first delivered water filter with the proud owner. His family has been getting drinking water from the Bakang solar pump, so the filter will save his family a long hike – now they can purify water from their hand dug well.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Water Committee Meeting

Here we are with the water committee after the meeting that Steve the Younger mentioned earlier (below). I was once again impressed with all of them and particularly the eloquent chief. The women were especially pleased that they are going to get filters for households. One woman stood up to say that they would like to celebrate by dancing, but it would raise too much dust (she was definitely right!). In addition to saying that we are all citizens of Bakang, the women all wished that their future children would come out just like the American students. That got a good laugh!
So today is very busy. We got up at 5:45 to go out to three water points and survey morning usage. Then we packed up a bunch of suitcases to take to Bafoussam for shipping to Yaoundé where we will get them (that's the only way we can get everybody and everything back and forth). The group going to Yaoundé will also buy some locally made crafts to auction at our appreciation dinner (mark your calendar - Thursday March 12th). Our other team is arranging for more sand, gravel, and cement purchases from the mission to make one more filter before we leave tomorrow, and more by the village folks later.
Which brings up finances. It costs about $25 to build a filter for one family that will last for many years. They cannot afford this, which is why the only filter in use since our last visit has been the chief's (which we found to be removing 90% fecal coliform even when used only occasionally). The committee said they can afford $10 and we hope the rest can be donated. So please think about donating $15 so a family can have safe drinking water!
More later. I've been invited for lunch at the mission.
Dr. Steve

We are the roots and branches of one tree

For the past week and a half I've been trying to put my second trip to Cameroon into words. I love it here so much. The scenery is amazing and the fruit is delicious, but what really sets it apart from anywhere else I've ever been is the people. I don't know how to describe them.

They have so little compared to our standards, yet they live such happy lives. The kids here don't want a Wii or an Xbox. If they want to bowl, they pile some rocks up and find a bigger rock to throw at them. They don't want games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto, or Need for Speed. The kids just want to spend time with their friends. People might rotate through three or four sets of clothes while we're here, but it doesn't bother them. They can live without having that new pair of jeans or another pair of shoes. The ones they have are just fine. Hardly anyone has a car here and people are okay with that. They walk. They walk for miles everyday, sometimes with a large bucket of water, sometimes with a book, sometimes with a bunch of plantains balanced on their head. They don't think twice about spending an hour or two walking everyday. People have walked everywhere in Bakang for as long as the village has been established, its just a part of life.

The people of Bakang have been dealing with waterborne illnesses for the same amount of time as well, but unlike walking, this is something that people are trying to change. As mentioned in previous blogs, the government drilled a well and installed a hand pump with the intention to provide cleaner water, but did not train anyone to fix it when it broke. Scanwater installed a water distribution system, but did not include the people of Bakang in the process so they did not know how to maintain it after they left. What were the people supposed to do? They keep getting let down.

That is why I am so happy about how much trust the people of Bakang have in EWB-UD. They are accepting us into their lives. They call us their brothers (Alyssa is a sister, not a brother) and they made us citizens of their village. They invite us to play soccer with them on the weekends and into their houses for meals. They dance and sing when we tell them about the plans that we have (Dr. Steve gets most of the dancing). They have so much hope that we can work together to make their village a healthier place to live. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it in their smiles when we are sieving sand for the filters. You can see it when they are filling their bottles at the storage tanks. All of the parents have hope that their children will grow up with fewer illnesses than they did. They see the Bakang of tomorrow being a much better place than the Bakang of today. But the people of Bakang trust us to help them get there. We don't want to make the same mistakes that others have. We are here to show them that we really are their brothers and sisters, united for one goal: to make this planet a better place to live for everyone.

If you ever get the chance to wake up early and watch the sun come up over the mountains in Bakang, do it...


From Steve the Younger - Wednesday evening

While Cameroon may seem at first glance to be a poor nation, upon closer examination it becomes evident that wealth is not as important to quality of life as I have been taught to believe. While large disposable incomes are few and far between, life here is more comfortable than what one might expect. Hunger appears to be a non issue here, as most people grow food, and usually have an excess to sell. Education is important, as almost every child can be found in school Monday through Friday, with the family usually footing the bill for school. Most people can’t afford a car, but that does not mean that transportation is not readily available. Many families own a motorcycle, and for those who do not, a moto-taxi or bus can take you anywhere you need to go for significantly less than what it would cost in the US. Perhaps more important is the fact that people simply walk to wherever they need to go. School, work, and the village of Bakang is for most people, a walk of only a few miles or less. The hospital, stores, restaurants, banks, and whatever else one might need is accessible by a short walk, a concept that seems lost to most Americans.

More importantly, quality of life is not based upon what people have in the material sense, but rather what they have as a community. In this case, the people of Bakang, Cameroon are wealthy as any. A place rich with tribal traditions, a reverence reserved for elders, and a general feeling of goodwill, is easily apparent to me that this is a great place to live. People here have been very friendly and generous. I have never received so many waves, smiles, and gifts from strangers as I have the past two weeks. People treat each other as family, from young children who are extremely affectionate and caring to their friends, to adults who literally referring to friends as “brother”. While this behavior makes it difficult to figure out who is related to who, I think it is the best example of this brotherhood is how people here are very caring of those around them, making Bakang a welcoming home to its inhabitants.

Today’s water meeting was a great success for us. We had scheduled a meeting with the water committee and whoever else was interested in our future implementation plans. The committee had put serious work in since our last meeting, deciding on a price of five thousand CFA (approximately ten dollars) for the filters. The committee had also selected the first three families to receive filters, and showed a lot of interest in using them in many households. This was a huge relief, as we had been working with these filters for the entire trip, but we were not sure that there would be a demand for them. Wise words from Dr. Steve, the Chief, and our guest Peter, who runs an organization that distributes these filters, explained to the audience the importance of these filters and how they work. We were received with many rounds of applause, a song from the ladies of the community, and a lady started dancing in Dr. Steve’s general direction (again). The highlight for me was when the members of the community pronounced us “citizens of Bakang”. This connection to the people here is really gratifying, and is great motivation to continue this project to bring clean water to the region.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Here's what we're up to . . .

Here's our team Alyssa, Guy, Steve, Taylor, Tyler, Andrew after removing the interior mold section successfully. This is up at the school. We have decided to move this filter because the water they get at the school is already from our solar-powered well, so no filtration is necessary.

Andrew, Tyler, and Steve at the market. Market day is an amazing chaos that happens every 8 days. Andrew has a bag with 3 large cubes of soap. We also purchased some local goods for the silent auction coming up this spring at our appreciation dinner . . . be there !

This is Steve, Taylor, and Tyler putting together the water filter at the hospital in Bamendjou. The hospital has water from SNEC (the water company but this water is unavailable, sometimes for days (like right now!). Imagine a hospital with no water....pretty bad. The filter will allow them to purify water from a hand-dug well in their courtyard when this happens.

That's it for now....they're having a celebration for us this afternoon (a "water fair") and also another meeting with the water committee. I'm off!
Dr. Steve

Alyssa - Tuesday

I bought a lot of what my mother would call junk today at the market. My purchases included a pipe, slingshot, hand-carved knife, lots of jewelry, a spice grater, and two bars of soap big enough to get me through the next eight years of my life. I’m hoping that it will encourage me to shower more, but chances are not likely.

The market itself was an interesting experience, not only because it was something new and an anthropologist’s dream site, but also because it reminded me about the concept of poverty that I was struggling with in the beginning of writing my thesis. Early last summer, I stumbled across a book called Festival Elephants, in which the author explores the meaning the word poverty and the manner in which this perception affects aid work throughout the world. Most importantly, he discusses the perceptions of western ideals of poverty imposed on the developing world, which lead to the epidemic of what development analysts call global poverty. According to the author, however, global poverty does not exist. It was an interesting idea, but one that is difficult to understand without visiting a place such as Bakang. Cameroon, by western standards, is a poor country. They lack consistent modern conveniences, such as electricity and computers, and most people live off less than twenty dollars a month.

So the Cameroonians lack money, modern appliances (with the exception of cell phones), traffic laws. They don’t trust refrigeration and they wear their clothes more than once a week. But this is not what defines their poverty. In fact, the community itself very proudly stands by who they are and the work they do. They do not consider themselves part of the endemic of global poverty; instead, they see themselves as a strong village with a problem of water access. The premise of Festival Elephants is that “global poverty” cannot exist because the concept of poverty itself is defined by the community and therefore cannot be uniform across the world. For some societies, this means a lack of family, food, money, even cows. In the case of Bakang, it is lack of access to water.

I am reminded of our mission here, which is not to save the community from their lack of monetary income or rather unique traffic laws. We are here to help problem solve and to explore different methods that can aid with a problem that cannot be solved by one group alone. This mutual relationship and understanding that has developed over that past two years has enabled the organization to approach the problems here in a way that does not encourage the fixing of “global” poverty. Instead, we get the opportunity to really explore the ways that a different community works, and learn all kinds of new and crazy things. How to walk with 20 pounds on your head. How to keep your clothes clean in this dirt. How to build a chair without nails. And ultimately, how a different way of life does not necessarily make someone worse or better off than you.

So we continue with this goal in mind: to make cleaner water more accessible to those who need it. I am also trying to convince the kids here that my hair is real, but I am thinking I will have more luck with the first goal.

We’ll see you all soon, stay warm all! Love.


“So much we take for granted” - Tyler

We have been here for just over a week and it seems like there is a list that goes on forever of things that are completely taken for granted in the United States. From the first steps out of the Yaoundé airport we have to be very careful of what we drank or ate. “Don’t drink the water”, drink only bottled water, don’t eat lettuce or other washed vegetables, brush teeth with bottled water, and stay out of streams and ponds. It may seem like a simple task until you rinse your toothbrush with dirty water out of utter tiredness. Then you have to boil water to clean your toothbrush off and by the time you are done it takes you 20 minutes to brush your teeth when it should have taken 2 minutes and you are now thinking of the sleep that you have just lost. In the US there is no need to worry about all of these things. When you turn on the water at home water comes out and you know it is clean enough to drink. In Cameroon, it is a gamble if water even comes out of the tap let alone being safe to drink.

Electricity… another technology that is taken for granted in the US. When you switch the light switch…you get light. Here in Cameroon the power supply is frequently not working. Almost every night, after having dinner, we sit down and have a meeting about what was completed during the day and what needs to be completed the following day. Frequently these meetings are done over the light from one of our flashlights. And…the lights just went out as I was writing.

Traffic laws……haha what traffic laws? In Cameroon you make your own traffic laws. Avoid people, motorcycles, chickens, goats, cows, or any other strange obstacles at all costs. Driving in reverse on a one way…not an issue here in Cameroon.

Public Transportation… The only public transportation here in Cameroon is a bus the size of a minivan that is packed like a can of sardines, has people riding on the outside, and is strikingly similar to something that you would see out of a Dr. Seuss book.

This list can go on and on (sanitation, doctors, paved roads, supermarkets, drug stores,…. etc.) I expect to find many more that I can add to this list in the coming days. I am not at all saying that Cameroon is a bad place, because it is not. It is a wonderful country with extremely friendly people and it has been one of the best learning experiences of my life. But I think that it is very important to remember how fortunate we are. So…next time you go to your sink for a drink or turn on the light to read a book remember that there are billions of people that are not as fortunate as you.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday February 2nd (Dr. Steve again)

Everybody wanted to see the Scanwater fiasco so here we are (except Dr. Steve) at that site, not far from Bakang. Andrew, Steve, Tyler, Taylor, Nura, and Alyssa admiring the view from up on the (empty!) water storage tank. This is the facility put in by a Scandinavian outfit in the late 80's with no community involvement and using expensive fuel to run water pumps. The people stopped using it very soon after Scanwater presented it to them. We expect to do better, needless to say. We met with the village's Water Committee and talked about what we're doing next. We want to help make the water filters more affordable for them ($10 is way too much it turns out) so we may invite families in Delaware to sponsor families in Bakang - paying a goof fraction (but not all) of the filter cost. This is under discussion.

Here's Alyssa going native. This was during one of our survey hikes.

We also brought in a hydrogeologist from Yaoundé who used Tony's map and dc conductivity to test two distant sites proposed by the chief for new wells. These will be in sites with very little water currently available, near other village areas so the water could be shared. Great job by Tony - both sites have water pretty much deeper than at our existing well (60-70m) . . . but he thinks the capacity could be four times as much (5 cubic meters per hour if you can imagine that).

Good news that we seem to have succeeded with our filter mold. The first one had to be broken apart because the interior mold section could not be removed, but we now know that a shorter drying time is essential. We'll have more pictures on our next post. A shout-out to Murphy's Steel for donating the materials and doing the heavy bending for the filter mold!

Today was market day. We bought some stuff to silent auction at our upcoming banquet. This is rather unlike any farmer's market in the U.S. so we'll post some pix, asap.

Finally, a story. I was with our hydrogeologist on his second day - the original well site had good production possibilities but was on a hill where the drilling truck might not be able to reach. So he walked up the road a ways then down a wide, hard-packed dirt path where he pointed to a spot and said it would be ideal. I looked around and saw that this was smack in the middle of a family "concession" or compound. Nobody was ho,e though I did note a hand-dug well nearby. The bucket rope was very muddy and looking down into the well I saw that it was pretty dry.

But I was getting pretty nervous. Imagine coming into your driveway in the aftrnoon and some strangers are poking around, taking measurements to put a community well in your backyard! And sure enough, here came an older woman with a basket on her head, down the path. She looked at me and all the activity and asked something in the local dialect - I said "peut-être nous pouvons avoir un forage ici" and the hydrologist said a few other words about putting a well there.

She smiled. She exclaimed something. Then she started singing and dancing. She danced with me, and with the hydrogeologist. And she danced for a long time.

I have a brief video of her I'll try to upload (although it failed yesterday). In any case, the experience made my day - and, of course, hers.