I predict that we will finish probably exactly when we are done
| May 22, 2014 | 9:07 am | Uganda | Comments closed
Mulembe! For us in Africa, it has been quite rainy for the past few days, but despite getting stuck in Mbale or under the gazebo at the borehole, we have been able to get stuff done. A word from our project leader Aaron: “The things we are doing are relatively good and I predict that we will finish probably exactly when we are done.” I know that update was loaded with detail, but let me elaborate a bit. The solar panels are up and running! Yesterday we connected the motor to them and the motor/bike setup successfully pumped the borehole! Now we just need to tweak the system a bit to make it more efficient. We’re in Mbale looking for new parts that will make everything run more smoothly. It’s super exciting seeing this whole project come together and I’m so happy that we will be able to provide an easier, faster way for the people of Shilongo to get water. Aside from the great progress we are making on the project, I have also learned quite a bit of Lugisu. I can proudly say that I can now count to ten, tell you where I’m going (if where I’m going is the borehole, home, Mbale, bed, or for a run), and ask Jenny if she is sleeping (which comes in handy after 7:00 PM when Fred and Rogers are telling us stories). Ok, well I guess that’s all! We’re going to head back to the village soon to start preparing our American lunch (it’s spaghetti, which is really Italian but that’s close enough)! Bye bye!
-Lele (Lily)
| May 21, 2014 | 9:27 am | Uganda | Comments closed

Hey everyone! We just wanted to let you know how things are going over here in Shilongo. The gazebo was finished Saturday and has been quite helpful for staying dry when its raining at the borehole. Members of the community expressed their concerns about the security of the solar panels if they were on the gazebo so we have decided to install them on Jude’s roof which is about 50 meters from the borehole and we will use PVC piping for the wires. Samuel from FDNC recently connected us with a man named Robert from Innovation Africa. He has a lot of experience with similar projects using solar panels and he has helped us purchase all the necessary materials. Currently, Dave, Jenny, and Aaron are looking at motors and bicycle parts. Overall, everyone in the community seems happy with our plans. Yesterday was the last day of the children’s vacation so we made sure to do plenty of activities with them. Lily and Jenny painted the children’s nails at the borehole and they were all very excited. We had no idea how beautiful Colin’s feet were until they were painted pink. After lunch, we attempted to make chocolate chip pancakes, but it turned out more like fried dough. Regardless, the kid’s devoured them. After the pancakes we finally did the glitter activity and everyone was covered in blue sparkles. That night, to celebrate graduation for the seniors back at Tufts, Colin slaughtered a chicken. The contrast of the glitter and blood that covered him was… interesting. Looking forward, we are monitoring our iron-related bacteria tests from the Muswema borehole and we will be working on the motor and bike setup for the next few days. A note from our mentor: Dave says everything is going well and on schedule.
-Lily and Colin and Timoth

Celebratory Chicken
| May 19, 2014 | 10:28 am | Uncategorized | Comments closed

Hey all just a quick update on how the project implementation is progressing!
Yesterday we were in Mbale and purchased all of the necessary materials for the structure to be built. Jude ordered a boda boda to bring 4 10 foot steel poles back to shilongo and they somehow beat us back so that by the time we arrived all four poles were already drying in the cement. Today Dave and I went back into Mbale to continue our search for a motor that will suit ours needs in seemingly ever single shop in the city. We fortuately have some promising leads that we will follow up on when we come back into Mbale on Monday afternoon. In the meantime Jenny, Lily, and Colin are busy doing water testing and finishng up the structure in Shilongo. We expect to start building the bicycle component of the project on Tuesday and are right on schedule to finish the entire project in time.
P.S. we are going to eat a celebratory chicken tomorrow to celebrate all of our seniors officially graduating!

Everything is Awesome
| May 17, 2014 | 10:12 pm | Uganda | Comments closed

Mulembe! It has been quite an eventful few days. On Wednesday, we finally made it to Shilongo and were greeted by Rebecca’s family and all the others. Everyone was very excited to see Jenny and Dave again and the kids were all asking for everyone from last trip. The pictures and letters made everyone happy and the children spent all day playing with the racket balls that Dave brought. Yesterday we held a meeting with the committee members to discus the plans for the pump improvements, solar panel installation, and water testing. Overall, our ideas were supported, but they made a suggestion to use metal poles to support the structure holding the solar panels instead of timber because of termite problems. We were unsure if we could afford the extra price of metal poles until we came to Mbale today and were able to find poles for a very good price with help from Jude. We are very excited that the digging for the project was started today and we are hoping to make a lot of progress in the next few days. Aside from that, we are all doing well and no one has gotten sick yet despite the bugs we ate that apparently “run in your stomach” which I think means diarrhea. Luckily I did not eat too many even though they were surprisingly tasty unlike the unripe fruit (mango, guava, etc.) that Jenny keeps eating. We saw the school, health center, and one of the churches on our first short tour of the village and I feel like I have met so many people already. Colin and I were able to go for our first run today and I was immediately out of breath because we were greeting every person we passed. They were all very friendly and laughed at our terrible attempts at Lugisu. Today we were quite successful in Mbale and I was not nearly as scared or overwhelmed as I was last time. Dave and Aaron are looking at motors and solar panels now and Colin, Jenny, and I just bought some spaghetti and chocolate to surprise everyone with. Soon we will go back to the village to continue our work on the installation. As they say in the Lego Movie (which I watched a total of three times on the planes)  “everything is awesome!” We will keep you posted.


Greetings from Mbale
| May 16, 2014 | 11:04 am | Uncategorized | Comments closed

Sorry for the delay, but here is a two day old message from the travel team:

“Hey everyone! After three days of extensive travel we have finally
arrived safe in Mbale. The enormous malls and extravagant light shows
in Dubai contrasted with the bustling bus station in Kampala has left
us a bit shocked. Currently we are shopping for supplies in the city.
Dave and Aaron are out searching for solar panels, while Lily, Jenny
and I are with Rebecca shopping for food. We are extremely excited to
see Shilongo and meet the villagers.We’re surprised that Lily and I
haven’t been hit by a boda boda yet. We’ll keep you updated on our
work in the village!”
– Colin


Expect more updates soon!

Wise Words from Old Man John
| January 15, 2014 | 3:21 pm | Uncategorized | Comments closed

Hello everybody, this is John and I’m back on US soil, while the rest of the travel team is probably mid-trip as I’m writing this. It’s was a long, arduous trip back, about 40 hours door to door. It was also rather bittersweet to leave such a welcoming and caring community and a great set of students.

On my last night in the village, we decided to cook for our hosts and some of their neighbors. We decided that making pizza would be a unique treat for the people in the village. Kyle took command with his own personal pizza dough recipe (minus the yeast, which wasn’t available) and everyone participated in the preparation and cooking, all to a rousing success. It was a unique, flatbread style pan cooked pizza, that was delicious.  There was enough pizza to feed about 40 people, so it allowed us to provide some to more people.

The work with the tank was just about wrapped up, and I’m as eager as everyone else is to see how the final product turned out. I would like to take this opportunity to describe what a sincere pleasure it was to work with and get to know better everyone on the trip.  Each person had their own unique talents and gifts that made them a key part of the team. For the sake of brevity (i’m still jet-lagged) I’m not going to list everyone’s unique talents, but I found this group was full of highly intelligent, dedicated, hard-working, charming and truly endearing. We had plenty of laughs and formed a strong bond. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work this team and I know the village was very lucky and appreciative to have them working on the village’s behalf.  I wish the travel team and safe and pleasant return and I look forward to getting back to work on the next phase of the project when they get back.

Work Hard, Play Hard
| January 14, 2014 | 12:31 am | El Salvador | Comments closed

Well kiddies, the important lesson here is that when you finish your project with two days to spare and find yourself in a beautiful, warm-climate country, it’s basically like vacation, and I’ve got a healthy tomato sunburn to prove it.

We have, of course, been unable to keep ourselves from doing some work. Yesterday we went to El Porvenir to put on the rest of the snap links and say a few more goodbyes. At the tank near Luisa’s house, she, Gilberto, and Carlos came out to say hello. They had already replaced the first flush diverter end cap with the bottom of a 2L soda bottle (as Bob had suggested) to keep it from getting lost before the rain arrives in August. We collected water samples from the springbox and the river to compare to last year’s results. We also ventured to the PIPA source for that sample, and to Arada Vieja to check out our old project. It’s still in pretty heavy use, though a stick recently got stuck in one of the pipes and the upper tank is currently empty as a result. No damage occurred, but it takes 20 days to fill and naturally they hadn’t tracked down the stick until they’d used all the water.

In the evening we invited Rubén and his family out to dinner. Mike and the other visiting Epilogos inhabitants came too, with a girl whose college tuition they’ve been sponsoring. Their half of the table spoke English with Bob, but the rest of us spoke Spanish. If you’re wondering, that’s how you can have two different dinner parties at the same table. We gave Rubén an origami bull that I had folded and Bob had painted to hang from the rearview mirror of El Toro. It was an excellent evening that ended in our first encounter with Salvadorian traffic – it took us over an hour to get home, but it didn’t matter because we were bonding with Rubén’s wife and mini-Rubén. At one point we had to stop extremely short. Ryan smashed into me. I took the opportunity to finally (if sarcastically) say the Spanish pickup lines I learned from duolingo.com in real life, which cracked up the Salvadorians pretty hard.

¿Tienes novia? ¿Te dolío cuando te caíste del cielo?

He didn’t respond…telling myself it’s because he was too busy laughing.

One thing I can say is this: if you’ve never driven in some sort of open-top car, such as El Toro or a lesser pickup truck, at night, with a mostly cloudless sky above you, well, let’s just say you really haven’t lived and should probably get on that. Why stargaze lying still when you can stargaze at 50 mph?

Today has been a similar sort of adventure. We got bowled over by aggressive waves at the beach. Rubén said he was going to drop us off but ended up spending the whole day and getting a sunburn himself. He brought us yet another watermelon (better than Mike’s; shh don’t tell). Classic El Salvador moment: he and Ryan were kicking a ball back and forth when along came a healthy-looking golden retriever. You know how golden retrievers sort of hold tennis balls in their mouths and look contented about it? Well, since this is El Salvador, this one was happily walking around with a coconut. However, he can’t have been that contented because he dove right in for the ball, leaving us only the ragged, chewed-on coconut behind. Soccer aborted, we went for lunch.

This evening we checked out the bacteria farm we grew last night in the incubator. It’s going to be a presence/absence test at best, judging by our second consecutive non-negative negative control. Apparently, boiled bottled water contains about 120 general coliforms per 100 mL. Not buying it. Field notes of the day: bring distilled water with you to foreign countries. Rinsing the labware with the sample beforehand and performing the filtrations in order of expected cleanliness really doesn’t cut it. Our most disturbing result, which is prominent enough to consider despite certain experimental error, was the quantity of E. coli in the PIPA water source. I am not pleased.  We told the community they would need to chlorinate the water anyway, but perhaps it might need a higher ratio than we thought.

Rubén stopped by one last time to give me back my machete, which he had offered to sharpen. It’s, um, very sharp now. He had asked us to pay him something criminally low for all the above-and-beyond driving work that he’s done for us. We paid him more anyway (yay for budgeting, EWB peeps) and he counted it out into two piles, saying, “You engineers can’t do math right.” We thought he might cry when we told him it was for his excellent service and because El Toro is awesome, and because we absolutely could not have completed the project without him. I also wanted to tell him he’s basically our personal Chuck Norris, but I didn’t know how to get the sentiment across in Spanish, or if Chuck Norris jokes are even a thing here. Apart from there being a lot of hugs, I have to say goodbyes always kind of suck.

Graciela also left us a lovely note. It’s hard to tell sometimes the kind of impact you have on a place. It could be that tomorrow, some gang is going to come through and mow down all the tanks. It could be that all the PIPA trucks break down, or that the mayor breaks his promesas. I don’t know. I can’t believe anything in this country until I see it with my own eyes, which makes it a shame to leave our project finished but untested.

However, there are some things I have seen already: I’ve seen the community bust their asses to work with us, seen some quit drinking for a week and get up early, seen them do tasks ahead of time that we did or did not ask them to do, seen them have patience with language barriers, seen them take notes during the chlorination meeting. Even though there are still feuds and discordances, it would be blind to say that the community has not transformed since we first met everyone in 2009.

Our little project has been a bit of a linchpin in community bonding. Who knows when the last time so many of them worked together was? Furthermore, the road to Luisa’s tank has not been fixed in five years. We were trapped in it on a giant ferretería pickup not even ten days ago, but today it’s practically a Salvadorian highway. The road to Chepe’s may not have been repaired in even longer, but it is now entirely free of brush and ready for root-cutting, which Chepe is all about. I’m confident in saying that even if our rainwater catchment system isn’t perfect, the community members will find a way to make it work. It’s hardly going to go to waste.

The part that boggles my mind is that we did very little of the actual labor. Sure, we spent a lot of time jumping through EWB National’s red tape and applying for grants, but that’s not necessarily what Porvenir needed to improve their water quality and access. They did the cutting, the clearing, the digging, the concrete mixing, the pouring, the rock removing, the sawing, the nailing, and the gluing.  They didn’t need us for any of that. What they lacked was money for the materials – but moreover, what they lacked was leadership. The other day, when we arrived in the community and no one was around, Ariel asked Chepe to go find some of the others to help with the concrete.

“They don’t listen to me,” Chepe replied. “They listen to you.”

Now, we’re no magicians. Sure, Ariel has stellar people skills, but it’s not like she knows the community members better than they know each other. The point is, that whole leadership thing? It was a roadblock for Porvenir. And it’s probably a roadblock for many other similar communities with smart, able-bodied residents. It seems to me that a little bit of leadership can go a long way. I hope the effect lingers when we’re gone.

Serious evaluation aside, it’s T minus 8 hours till our departure for the airport. Sleep time. Good night, goodbye, and thank you all for keeping up with us.


$2 Haircuts
| January 12, 2014 | 2:18 am | El Salvador | Comments closed

Post by Ryan Durigan

This morning, that lovely alarm clock chirp sounded even more annoying than usual—if that’s possible. 6:15 and it was time to get up. With the long drive to Usulután ahead of us, we headed over to breakfast at 6:45, promptly seeing an unfamiliar van sitting in front of our house. Only then did it dawn on us that we wouldn’t be travelling in El Toro today, the first time in 8 days. Due to the length of the trip (somewhere between an hour and a half and 4 hours, depending on who we asked), Mike convinced us to travel in a closed car with tinted windows for safety, as gringos are easy crime targets.  Guillermo, the new driver, only added to the unfamiliarity by being there 45 minutes early.

As it turned out, it took about 2 hours to get from SJV to el Carmen, including a quick stop in San Salvador to pick up Kenia, the Cristosal representative who would be showing us around the community. She and Ariel Spanished on about important things while the rest of us sat in the back spotting cows, awarding a point to whomever saw it first. The game came to an end as we pulled up to the El Carmen community center. The community members of El Carmen made a great first impression—as we walked down a Porvenir-like path, following Kenia, we saw at least 15 people mixing concrete and working together to repair their road, without the leadership of an outside organization. We quickly learned that this community was quite a bit better-off than El Porvenir, featuring electricity in all the houses and, on top of that, a water distribution system from an enormous tank.

After checking out the giant spring box and the ram pump that fed the water distribution system, we headed uphill to take a closer look at the tank. Unfortunately, we had forgotten a cinta, but Grace wasn’t fazed. To estimate the tank diameter, she simply climbed a 12-foot built-in ladder and walked across the roof—10 paces long. In total, we estimated that the tank held about 150 cubic meters.  Grace, still on top of the tank, opened some hatches and decided that the tank was about two thirds full. We took a few water samples and headed back to our van. Back in the van, we discussed the feasibility of taking on this project. We’ll have to discuss it with the whole group before we make any decisions.

Good news! Ariel received a phone call from the ferretería in La Puerta, and the snap links were in! We stopped by to pick them up on the way back. Once there, Grace also nudged Ariel to inquire about a sheath for her newly acquired (albeit quite dull) machete—but ferreterías don’t sell them, so the search continues. Finally, we made it back to SJV a tad before 3pm (or two, I really don’t know because my phone is still in Eastern time and I forget whether I took that into account or not). The girls decided to be girly for a while (yup, even Grace) and went over to the hair salon. Like 4 hours later, after Bob and I had finished doing everything we could think of except starving, they finally showed up, Ariel and Grace with new fancy haircuts, and all with painted nails. (Well, actually Grace drew the line here, and didn’t get hers painted.) They told us that they had met Rubén’s wife, whose sister happens to be the hairdresser. Apparently, for two haircuts and three manicures, the total came out to $13—not bad.

Somewhere in those 4 hours, there was a knock on the door. I, expecting only the girls, inquired, “who’s there?” When I heard “I’m looking for Ariela”, I quickly opened the door to Ana’s familiar voice. After discussing Ariel’s whereabouts, I told Ana we’d be over for dinner and said goodbye. Only after shutting the door did I realize that the whole conversation had transpired in English. Now of course, this isn’t weird for me—except that I didn’t know Ana spoke English.

Turns out she teaches English lessons….

Ariel, craving pupusas, finally came through on her pupusa debt to Grace. On the way to dinner, we grabbed a few at the pupusería next door and brought them to Mike’s. We ate quickly as it was almost time for the Patriots game, for which Steve had bought wings and such. After they finished eating, the girls snuck away, blaming it on water samples or something so they could go watch a romcom. Bob, Mike, Seth, Kathy, Steve and I stayed to watch the game on the projector Steve brought to donate to a local school later this week.

We got the snap links, checked out the new community, and watched the Patriots win—I’d say this was a successful day.



Classic Jenny
| January 11, 2014 | 12:47 pm | Uganda | Comments closed

Classic Jenny with the morning report:

Mulembe! While the Bostonians have been hit with snow, we have been graciously given constant 80 degree weather. (However, last night it got below 70 degrees so Rogers made sure to put on his winter coat.) Yet despite the heat, the tank construction is almost finished, with only the stairs left to go. Three engineers, along with some community members, work hard all day long. (That is, except for an hour-long morning boosela break) (I have no idea how to spell boosela/busala, but I do know that it is a home-brewed beer that must be drunk using a 2-meter long bendy straw).

After two community meetings earlier this week in which the muzungo (white people) outnumbered the community members present, the third time really was the charm. Abby, Kyle, and Jenny spent all day hanging signs for the meeting, which called for the villagers to attend and “keep time.” Apparently “keep time” means start the two hours later than schedule to give people time to meander in.  Once everyone was finally assembled, we discussed our current project, example future projects, and what exactly the children would wear while cleaning the tank. By the end of the meeting, all important matters were decided upon, and the annual group picture was taken.

As always, food was a very important and eventful part of the day. For dinner on Thursday, Rogers got us a chicken, which Kevin preceded to slaughter and pluck. Then, as Rogers took out the insides, we all got a very detailed science lesson on chicken anatomy. I can now confidently say that I can identify a chicken kidney, although I couldn’t tell you the first thing about cooking it.

For breakfast today (Friday) we made Rebecca, our gracious host, banana pancakes with m&m’s and maple syrup. Rebecca’s three little boys especially enjoyed the maple syrup, making sure not to waste a drop by wiping both hands over the plate and then licking their fingers. The boys were consequently bouncing off the walls (and us) all morning long. For dinner tonight we will attempt to make a pizza on a charcoal fire as part 2 of Americans Attempt to Cook.

Tomorrow morning John will be leaving us, by foot then bus then car then plane then car, done in no time at all! Although we will miss him, we know that he will be greatly enjoying his travels by thinking about his day-long plane ride being over.

Is It Real Enough Yet?
| January 10, 2014 | 11:25 pm | El Salvador | 1 Comment

Four months ago, our tank design for Porvenir looked like this:

Site Plan 3D Rendering 001

It’s pretty incredible when something that was just in our minds, or just on paper, starts to take form in real life. We’ve been asking ourselves each step of the way – is it real yet? That this idea we had back in September is solid and three-dimensional now? Every day the answer was no. We wouldn’t believe it until it was all done. In fact, Ariel and I still claim it’s not real until the PIPA delivers the water and the community remembers to chlorinate it. But today, I guess the answer is kind of a yes. There it is, in real life, blending right into the background scenery:

The Finished System


We finished everything around 11am, except for the some of the chains because we don’t have any more snap links. We had scheduled a meeting for 2:30 to discuss chlorination and who would get the keys. Naturally we told everyone the meeting was at 2. Unfortunately, Erynne wasn’t in on that sleight of mouth and told them the actual time (oof freshman move), so between that and finishing early we ended up lying around and playing soccer with the kids for several hours while we waited for people to show up. Freshman moves aren’t all bad.

Catherine and Erynne also collected more data points from the GPS. They just finished entering all 83 of them into our Excel sheet. Listening to their progress on the bunk bed across from me assures me that it is thrilling work. That was sarcasm.

We had a camp for the kids during the meeting. Erynne and Ryan taught them to play agua, agua, jabón (our version of duck duck goose) and Viene La PIPA, a variant of Viene El Capitán. They put glitter on the kids’ hands before that one to demonstrate how germs spread.

Mike and crew showed up for the meeting too. Graciela brought a ribbon to cut.

After that official-sounding business was taken care of, it was time for soda and galletas. Earlier this morning, Ariel and I bought a giant piñata of the Angry Bird variety. It was bright pink and turned out to be very robust. I’ve never seen a piñata last longer than ten minutes, and I’ve also never seen such aggressive hits, despite the fact that some of the kids had never seen one before. It was definitely the most popular party participant.

I made up with Luis Antonio for hitting me in the head and handed him his very own cinta (measuring tape). I forgot to mention that he came up with a name for Ariel yesterday – la gringita. He gave Catherine so many hugs goodbye that the community decided she was his new girlfriend. I hugged Luisa and she was almost in tears. I can’t pretend I understood exactly what she said, but it was something about being old and what a pain in the ass it used to be to go down to the river. I hope that our implementation really is the answer to that problem. But until I hear that the PIPA truck came (and later, that the rainwater catchment system works), it’s not real enough for me. All I could say was good luck.

Bob had a much better line, which he got Ariel to translate for him: “At the university, they teach us to work with our heads. But being with you guys in Porvenir has taught us to work with our hearts.” Daww.

On our way home we stopped at a couple of ferreterías to see if they had any snap links. Neither of them did, but at the second one I encountered a personal success of the day – I finally managed to obtain a machete. Price: $4. You’re welcome, Mom.

Tomorrow – because why not keep moving – we go to Usulután to check out a new community that has asked us to help with a water project. Long drive. Getting up early. Night night.