Skip to content

Got A Kenyan Drivers License?

June 6, 2010

Well before I begin I must say we are quite sad tomorrow is the last day at the CYEC.We are hoping to start a gmail account for some of the children to keep in touch. Today was the arts festival where many people from the area came to buy and sell paintings, jewelry, bags, and more. We also played a Kenya vs. USA soccer match. The score? USA 1, Kenya ? (I think 6). Regardless, everyone had a blast. Each team spent the day relaxing and preparing for one last work day tomorrow. But before I leave I have to paint a picture of just how difficult it was to communicate with the locals here.

Ugali is a staple Kenyan dish made of maize (corn) flour yet its something the center gets rarely. What are our thoughts? Well its like eating mashed potatoes without the milk and butter. Bland is probably the best way to describe it. Yet for some reason its one of kids favorites. So ED and Mashabu decided to pitch in some money to the center to give a Ugali dinner along with Jet Li the sheep. (we also went to town to buy Nestle Iced Tea packets for drinks).

While talking to the chef for the kids he said something along the lines of wanting to go to the States to earn a license and went on about how much he wanted to go the States. However before we left the center the cook came looking for us and two other men were with him. The two men were kenyan driving instructors… Apparently the cook thought we were going to pay for his license test which was around 5-7000 shillings or close to a 100 dollars (:o). We had to tell the cook that there was a miscommunication and apologized but there were several instances throughout the trip where communication was an issue. I mean, communicating with other engrish speakers is difficult how much more has it been with swahili speakers! Still, it all contributed to the overal experience of this trip and I’m sure everyone will take home something life changing however big or small it is.


Jet Li the Sheep

June 5, 2010

Today was another normal working day for the E-Design team except for the fact that we are all either done our projects or have the finish line in our sights. We had a long night last night thanks to Khanjan’s surprise bachelor party, so everyone was still feeling it this morning…enough said haha.

 Team Drip-It

            The drip team did nothing today. Not because they are lazy but because they finished their project 2 days ago. Graham is recovering from sickness and felt a lot better today.

Team Gassy-Assy

            The digestor’s woes continued with the leaks they have been having problems with although they have reduced them to a single very small one today. Let’s cross our fingers that the sealant holds for tomorrow!

            Chris and Liz traveled to Wambugu Farm, a local government center which showcases alternative energy technologies, to pick up waste for the digestor. Some really cool news is that they met a man, James Muira, who is a local expert on biogas production. They have established a long term relationship with him in hopes of having him oversee the biogas system after we leave. They want him to continue to monitor and educate the CYEC kids as well to ensure the progress the team has made is not all for naught. As a side note, they also set up the gas line that runs to the kitchen.

Team Get-High Tunnel

            The high tunnel team is almost done! Today we put up the plastic on the end frames while bumping to Shwayze and the King of Pop, Michael J, on Jeff’s portable speakers. We still have to hammer up a couple random pieces here and there because we ran out of nails three quarters of the way through the day which stalled movement forward. Shouldn’t be too much longer.

While Jeff was finishing work for the day after lunch, Min was out on a little adventure of his own. He has been talking about buying a goat for a while now as a gift to the CYEC kids to eat and finally was able to make it happen today. So he left for a 10 minute walk to pick up one which turned out to be a half hour hike through some rough territory. Apparently he almost died twice, walking next to some steep banks on the side of a quarry. So once at the farmer’s place, instead of picking one himself, the farmer left for an hour and returned with a sheep…close enough. Min wound up paying 3,600 Kenyan Shillings for Jet Li, that’s the sheep, and forcefully dragged it back in what I can only imagine as a hilarious charade. As sad, and kind of awesome, as it will be to watch it get slaughtered tomorrow, it will make the kids happy. They eat maize and beans for every meal, everyday, so they deserve it. We can’t wait to see their reaction.

Well that’s the news from Nyeri, Kenya. We’ll see you tomorrow.


Crunch Time

June 4, 2010

As our projects and time in Kenya are drawing to a close, the essential design teams have been wrapping up projects and fixing snags along the way.

The anaerobic digester team had some issues with a leak in the seal connecting a pipe to their main tank and spent a lot of the day working to repair it. They again bailed the water out of the tank and applied silicon gel. It will sit overnight and tomorrow they will fill it again. Meatnwhile, they have been putting together other components of the digester. They set up the water trap, which catches the condensed water that will be in the biogas. They also set up the gas hose. Liz went to Wambugu farms to confirm that they can pick up some slurry from them tomorrow morning, which they will hopefully be able to put in the tank.

The drip irrigation and high tunnel teams went to Nyeri first thing in the morning to pick up some more supplies. Upon arrival at CYEC, the drip irrigation team reattached the endcap to our main line, which came off yesterday due to water pressure. We let it sit to seal and will run water to test the seal and calculate flow tomorrow. Tomorrow we also hope to put some sort of fence or barrier around the field so that young students are not tempted to play with the lines. Elias, the student who was a huge help in repairing our tank and putting together the connections yesterday, made a scarecrow for the field. As we did not have much work today, I spent the afternoon helping the high tunnel team.

The high tunnel team finished putting up the mesh after getting in from town. After lunch they had the challenge of putting the large sheet of plastic over the tunnel hoops. After some strategizing, they decided to unfold the plastic and roll up each end into the middle. Then, they would lift it to the top and roll it down from the center. They recruited as much help as the could for this process, and after a couple snags on the frame the effort was a success. We then nailed the plastic along the wooden cross braces. The high tunnel team was very excited to see it coming to into shape so well.

Graham and Elias secured the endcap on the main line


June 3, 2010

The day started off like any other day with the essential design team waking up to the sound of roosters. After a short breakfast at the hotel we walked to the center going straight to work. The digester team realized that there was a leak in their main tank and decided to head to town to buy more epoxy to fix t he leak. The day was spent fixing the leak and  planning for the next day for the digester side of things.

The irrigation team had a great day besides a minor speed bump due to a hole in their water storage tank. The team got to lay out the drip tape over the field and and get all the connections in to the mainline of the drip set up. The team is also working on finding a new way to seal the end cap as it caused some leakage towards the end of the day.

The high tunnel team continued to press on through the scorching sun finishing up the skeletal structure of the tunnel and finishing the end frames of the tunnel. The team also got the mesh nailed into the base to keep the bugs out. There are still much work to be done.  Tomorrow the team will try to finish the  basic  structure of the tunnel by putting up the plastic covering over the skeletal structure. It should be an exciting day tomorrow.

In terms of progress, each teams had their share of productive and unproductive days but T.I.A. (This Is Africa).

[side comment: Dream Blog]

It seems that everyones had one or two dreams regarding their projects.  Mike’s had dreams of his digester, Kerri’s had dreams about the drip irrigation system, and well… I had my first dream about the high tunnel last night.

I was back at school asking some lady if the dimensions we chose for the high tunnel on site at the CYEC would hold up in the next few months. The lady began to lecture me on how the round shape we chose for our design was completely off and we needed to change our design to  be in the shape of a shark’s fin! She said that it allowed more light to get in and how it was  somehow better than our original design. In the middle of the conversation a herd of warthogs came rushing by. Shortly after, a man on a bicycle with a bow and arrow shot and killed a warthog… Dumbfounded I left the site and got to a bus stop where I met up with Chris and Mike to go to the airport by 6:30 pm.  When  I asked Chris what time it was he  said 11 am while Mike said it was already 5 pm!

-The End-

Well this dream pretty much summed up a lot of the things that went on during the trip. Every time we took measurements to construct the tunnel we realized that something was wrong with it. Things would be uneven or we would have to come up with quick creative ways to fix things (i.e. two man powered hand drill, homemade PVC clips…). Another thing is that we’ve eaten some unusual foods here, least I have. For the first time I had ugali (african staple), goat, sheep, and well… cow intestine (The Noodle at Banana Leaf). Finally, we never know what time it is here (besides the few that carry around watches). I stopped wearing my watch for two reasons. One because the kids seem to want it so bad that I feel bad carrying one around and two because knowing the time here simply does not matter since everyone works on Kenyan time… Basically, punctuality does not exist here… but T.I.A.

All Hands on Deck

June 2, 2010

Well, less than a week to go!  Essential Design’s projects are starting to look like permanent landmarks at the CYEC as they get closer to completion.  I feel like each team had a few adventures apiece, with maybe the most interesting one with the Anaerobic Digester team.  We filled up the digester with water today, and as it was filling up, one of our students, Jackson, dropped his key in the water!  This water is 3 feet deep, and this key is about 2 centimeters long.  The solution: dunk Jackson head first in the tank and hold his feet:

Anyway, each team made a lot of headway, while rolling with the punches:

High Tunnel:

Today was the day that the team put up their hoops, and the structure is taking its shape!  Min and Jeff had to go around and gather about 18 people to help bend the hoops.  We did it all in an inch-worm fashion, with Min and Jeff commanding one side take a step, then the other, and back and forth.  It was a great PVC caterpillar.  Very impressive.  They topped off the day by adding vertical supports along the center of the tunnel, and their clothes now have a shade of gray from the oil they painted on them.

Drip Irrigation:

Kerri and Graham spent the morning running shopping errands for Essential Design.  To all of our knowledge, all the materials we need are in!  This is good news because it’s becoming crunch time, with the planes to take off on Tuesday.  Kerri was a gracious errand-runner and got us all passion fruit and ketchup!  By the way, you never know how much you miss ketchup with your “chips” (fries) until you don’t have it.  When they came back, they laid out their drip tape and attached it to their mainline.  They have a couple of things to iron out still, such as protecting the main line from the intense sun and to find a nursery for their seeds before planting.

Anaerobic Digestion:

Our team had our plan laid out for the day, and as usual, it twisted and turned into something else.  TIA. The morning was supposed to be spent getting cow manure from the neighbors via wheel barrel, as well as visiting Wambugu Farm to gather their slurry from their functioning digester (we want their active bacteria).  The rest of the day was to be spent building the guide frame and setting up the gas line.

However, as it turned out, we were filling up the digester with water, and there was a leak at one of our pipes!  So, we had to empty the water to the level of that pipe; to save the water, we attempted to use a barrel to catch the water, and then drag it up the hill with a mass of people to be dumped into the chamber when the leak was fixed.  It ended up, though, that the water was sloshing everywhere and the digester ended up rolling down the hill with Mike, or the “Batista” as the kids say (apparently he looks like a certain pro wrestler), chasing it!  After that ridiculous scene, we got the leak fixed and Mike tapped the top of the barrel for the valve while Chris and I went to Wambugu Farm to get some of their slurry.  The slurry will have to be obtained tomorrow morning, as we found out; should be interesting to see how we will transport a 210 liter barrel of cow manure and slurry.

Sounds like a fun day tomorrow!

Posted by Liz Bell

Madaraka Day, Interviews, and More!

June 1, 2010

1 June 2010

Coming off of a long, eventful Monday, today seemed somewhat less labor intensive for the majority of essential design. Aside from Min and Jeff, who rose earlier than the other essential design team members to assemble vital parts of the high tunnel, the Drip Irrigation and Anaerobic Digester groups were able to indulge in a little extra shut eye. Although overcast early in the day, the sun poked through later in the morning, perpetuating the streak of rainless days. Today also marked the last day Amy Freeman will be working with us; she’s been a source of inspiration, support, and entertainment for essential design as a whole.

Despite some slow points, not a day goes by at the CYEC without at least one memorable anecdote. Today, a few happenings are worth mentioning. Firstly, Kristian and Ben, representatives of WPSU broadcasting, conducted individual interviews with each of the essential design teams. Each team member got a chance to shine under the big camera, answering questions specific to the project and Kenyan context. Excitingly enough, these clips will be included in a live airing of the 2010 Kenya story later this summer (on the Big 10 Network). Another, more cultural event that took place this afternoon was a CYEC soccer game. While the essential design teams worked fastidiously, the CYEC kids geared up for a competitive hour of futbol. The game was even officiated, and was most likely in commemoration of the day Kenya gained its right to a self government (Madaraka Day) – June 1! The kids brandished vibrant jerseys of ruby red and shiny yellow. In contrast to the long grass and patches of red Nyeri clay, the uniforms were quite an eye catcher. Seeing kids dart around grazing goats with a ball at their feet brought a smile to many faces. Lastly, on a more serious note, Paul Maina, owner of the CYEC, made a visit to each of the essential design project sites. He seemed very impressed by everyone’s progress, and especially excited about the prospect of integrating some concepts of the projects into classroom curriculum.

The Drip Irrigation team started off the day by looking up information about growing plants in the Kenyan climate. Graham and Kerri are planning on planting onions, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, and peas in the drip field. Most of the day was dedicated to explaining aspects of drip irrigation and crop rotation to CYEC students, namely Jasinta and Dennis. In order to make sure their students understood the key points, the kids back-taught Graham and Kerri about the drip irrigation and crop rotation process. In addition, the team members showed the kids all of the components of the drip system. However, after realizing that the connection to the water tank isn’t compatible with the newly received parts, Graham and Kerri have made plans to go into town tomorrow and do some shopping.

The High Tunnel team started the day pretty early, arriving at the CYEC around 8:00. Although they only performed three actions, each took a considerable amount of time and effort. They started by putting up all of the supporting hip boards on either side of the high tunnel. Next, they removed the high tunnel frame, with the help of 18 people, and laid it flat in order to tack on additional reinforcement. In doing so, 2 parallel cross braces were installed. Each brace was bolted lengthwise into the structure. Min and Jeff returned to the hotel dirty and tired.

The Anaerobic Digester team had a somewhat slow start today. The team began the day by meeting with the omniscent Andrew Okello. In doing so, they discussed certain technical considerations of the biogas unit, as well as future plans. Liz, Mike, and Chris met up with their CYEC champions Joseph, Paul, and Jackson around mid morning. The group headed to Wambugu Farm, a government run renewable energy organization with a working biogas system. The point of the trip was to inquire about start up feed for the biogas model constructed at the CYEC. A preferred example of a start up feed is the waste from an existing biogas system – the effluent from Wambugu Farm. The team was looking to secure this “seed” in order to obtain a populated culture of anaerobic bacteria for their digester. When proportioned correctly with water, this effluent would facilitate methane production at the CYEC. Getting there and realizing the office was closed (due to the Kenyan Independence holiday), the team wrote and delivered a letter with hopes of visiting again tomorrow morning. The rest of the day was consumed by interviews and ground leveling around the digester. As of now, the digester is in place, with all pipes attached and sealed. Liz, Mike, and Chris hope to begin start up tomorrow, build the guide frame for the floating gas drum, and possibly run the gas hose to the kitchen.

Overall, the day was full of accomplishment and a growing sense of pride. Excitement is building as each essential design team nears completion of the respective projects. In another light, everyone is looking very forward to Sunday. With the help of Wishvast, Penn State students have organized a community fair at the CYEC. Activities such as face painting, art work, bead making, food stands, and soccer will bring an air of refreshment to the trip!

Dig, Dug, Done!!!

May 31, 2010

Another beautiful day in Kenya.  So far, each day in this African winter is like a perfect Pennsylvania summer day.  The equatorial sunshine is intense, but those of us from PA are all too familiar with the now universal farmer’s tan.  All threeessential design teams ended the day with a sense of accomplishment, despite some setbacks for the high tunnel team and theseemingly endless wait for parts, which all teams have been experiencing.  All things considered, today was a strong start to what is practically our final week in Kenya.  We are confident in our designs and implementation and pleased with our ability to make a difference at the Children and Youth Empowerment Center and beyond. 

The anaerobic digestion team was pleased to meet a new arrival to the CYEC today.  Moritz is a German volunteer and a educational science major back in Germany.  He arrived only today but will be staying for 6 months at the CYEC as a staff volunteer.  He offered much help today and had many useful suggestions.  You can see Moritz in the attached photo (with , as he helps with the biogas build.  The AD team is exceptionally excited about his prescense because he will likely be a huge asset in seeing the biogas project through after the Penn State group leaves.  He is environmentally minded and his background in educational science makes him an excellent resource for the youth who are working on the project.  The AD team hopes to work closely with him, via the internet, upon returning to the US. THis collaboration should allow the development of a biogas curriculum, which could prove to be a major addition to the current woodworking, metalworking, and tayloring programs. 

Other work on the biogas project included the signifacant step of burying the digester chamber.  All of the neccessary pipework was attached in the early morning and the digester was lowered into the hole that was dug before the safari. Construction of the digestor is now nearly complete.  Remaining tasks include constructing a guide frame to ensure that the floating drum remains straight as it travels up and down, running gas line to the kitchen at the CYEC, and designing and building a biogas burner from available materials.  The team feels confident that they are on track to accomplish these tasks.  Starting the digester is perhaps the most important aspect and tommorows first task is to travel to a nearby working farm-scale digester to obtain an active bacterial culture.  This culture will be used to innoculate the digestor at the CYEC.  The start-up procedure will take approximately 3 weeks in all and, unfortunately, the team will not be here to witness methane production. 

The high tunnel team worked hard today but major setbacks mean that they will be arriving very early to the CYEC tommorow in order to catch up.  TOday’s work included drilling holes to attach the perling and hip-boards (the lateral braces for the hoops) and raising all of the hoops.  Unfortunately, crooked Kenyan lumber did not cooperate with the pre-arranged holes for the perlings and hip-boards (which assumed straight boards) and tommorow new holes will need to be drilled.  Also, fitting PVC pipes together in Kenya can be quite a task.  The dimensions are non-uniform and heating and stretching of the PVC is required. Though this was done last week by the team, the pieces seem to have magically returned to their previous shape.  Here, there is also a lack of convenient heating mechanisms.  Fires have been the tool of choice.  So, another fire was started today and the pieces reshaped.  Min Pack spent a large portion of the day tracking down some parts in Nyeri, as all of the teams await some hard-to-get parts from Nairobi. 

The drip irrigation team accomplished a major goal today – the completion of field preparations.  All nine of the raised beds have been completely constructed.  In addition, the main water tank has arrived and the only material in limbo is the drip tape, which should be arriving from Nairobi this evening.  After completing the field prep, the team conducted research on proper crops and crop rotation patterns.  Materials were compiled which can be easily distributed to the CYEC staff member in charge of the shamba (or garden).  These instructional materials should ensure that both the drip irrigation system and raised beds are used to their fullest potential.  After determining the proper crops to be planted, a trip to Nyeri town yielded some seeds, though seedlings were the goal.  Seedlings, as it turns out, are obtained only at a premium.  The seeds will work well, however, and the construction of a low tunnel over one of the nine raised beds should shelter them and speed along their development.

Overall, essential design is on track to complete all of the projects by the end of the coming weekend.  It will be tough to leave, but we’ll do so with a sense of accomplishment.