Thursday, December 31, 2015

Second to Last Day! Meeting New Communities!

The name Kumponda gets thrown around quite a bit in Kumponda. Let’s try to clear things up. Kumponda Group Village is a large community of 18 smaller villages. One of those smaller villages is called Central Kumponda. Each smaller village has a chief, and the chief of Kumponda Group Village is called Kumponda. There is another chief who oversees many of the smaller villages called Kumponda 2.

For the entirety of this trip, we have been working with the development committee of Central Kumponda, close to where the chief lives. On the day before we left for home, we got the chance to talk with the chief and some members of two other communities – Kamwendo and Zwanya – within Kumponda Group Village.

Before we left, we gave Joseph a visit!

The chief and people of Kamwendo happened to be in Central Kumponda because the government was distributing subsidized fertilizer. The distribution occurred near committee chairman James Masamba’s house, so we invited the chief and others to discuss with us there. 

From previous team trips, we knew that Kamwendo has a reservoir, which they use to farm fish. This allows the community to earn money at the local Lunzu market, just outside of Central Kumponda. In addition, Kamwendo has a beekeeping operation and sells honey at the market. The community said they are able to grow most of the food they need to survive, but the lack of rain in the past six years has cut their ability to grow enough maize to store for the dry season. The community has recently constructed a dam in Kamwendo, in hopes that water can be used for irrigation during the 8-month dry season.

The chief of Kamwendo asked us to provide cement and other supplies to help them finish their dam. We replied with an explanation of EWB and our focus on long-term solutions rather than short-term gifts. Every chief we talk with seems to expect our direct and short-term support, so we have been very careful about explaining our organization clearly and making only making promises we intend on keeping. The chief also said he has heard great things about the maize mill project, thanked us for the work we are doing, and looks forward to learning how to construct the mill from the committee when the time comes.

After talking with the Kamwendo community members, Mr. Masamba surprised us with lunch! Nsima, pumpkin leaves, tomatoes, and onions. It was pretty delicious! We also had a little fun after lunch, before taking off for Zwanya.



To Zwanya! 

Zwanya was a beautiful village! It was about five kilometers away from Central Kumponda.


The chief of Zwanya had stopped by our work site in Central Kumponda several times over the course of the trip. He was slightly disappointed when he heard we were working with Central Kumponda before Zwanya. Multiple times, we discussed with him that the work we do must be led by the development committee. Once the committee is able to finalize the mill with our support, the committee will be able to teach other communities, including Zwanya, how to develop the mill.

Zwanya was a very neat community, and it had some clear challenges. For discussions, we split into a team of females and a team of males. Through these discussions, we learned that Zwanya has a very difficult time with food security. Most of the food they consume is purchased from the Lunzu market, which is a two hour walk away. When the rains are strong, the Lunzu river floods and extends their trip to the market. Almost every year, the heavy rains in January wash away their crops and some of their homes. The women in the community said that when hunger strikes, they sometimes just go to sleep, hoping the hunger will fade. Food security is a huge challenge there.

The community has worked to develop beyond these challenges. The community has an experimental community farm where they bring agricultural specialists to teach the community better methods of growing food during the challenging years. Also, each household has their own compost pit, where they mix food scraps, maize stocks, and manure from chickens, goats, and cattle. There is also a larger community compost pit. This was neat to see! The community members said their largest strength is their ability to grow vegetables. They sell many vegetables at the markets.

Zwanya was a special community. It was great to learn more about the people there!

The day ended with these guys trying to sell Cate a turtle. Cate almost bought it just to set it free in its mountain home. Not cool guys. 

So much love to all the EWB teams still traveling! And a HUGE thank you to our supporters back home - Malawi team, family, friends! You fuel us :]

Have a wonderful New Year's Eve!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Final Tests and Educational Discussions

The 28th has come to greet us so quickly, as it feels like just yesterday we were climbing off the plane in Malawi. It has been such an amazing journey; where new friends were made, new stories were recorded, and traditional values of hard work and trust helped tear down cultural borders. The travel team has been so grateful for this experience, and we know there is still work to be done.

The team began the day with the electric maize mill, visiting for more of a detailed insight on how maize currently is ground inside these electric mills. Recognizing the improvements that our Bicycle Powered Maize Mill can achieve, we wanted to begin back at square one, to be sure we were considering all possibilities. Here is a look at the inside of the electric maize mill:

When reanalyzing the current design, we noticed a distinct difference in one of the main components: the grinding mechanism. What the team has successfully developed on this trip is a power delivery system that drives a rotating shaft. This in itself is very versatile, which is good news for us in further iterating the grinding mechanism of the Bicycle Powered Maize mill. It was interesting to see how it all worked from an insider perspective. Good things to keep in mind as we improve upon the maize mill going forward.

Moving on to Joseph’s house, we exchanged a couple borrowed tools and materials, and were soon on our way back to the community to run some tests and discuss remaining goals, but not before snagging this picture with all the fierce puppies trying to attack Joseph.

Arriving in the community, we got some things together to have another productive day. First, we wanted to perform some testing to see if beans and nuts may have a different result when put through our mill. The community uses flour from soy beans, pinto beans, and ground nuts (peanuts) for different types of relish to mix with their nsima, so we decided to send them through the mill and see what turned out.

The soy beans ground into fine particles, not quite small enough for flour, the pinto beans crushed into particles and some flour, and the ground nuts mashed into a sort of paste, literally peanut butter consistency (and didn’t taste half bad)! These were fair results, as we now know the common denominator is the groove size in the plates. Once modifications are made to the plate surface, we are confident this mill will operate properly.

Once testing was wrapped up for the day, the team wanted to sit down with community members on more of a one-on-one basis to learn about their personal experiences. This is a particularly enjoyable part of the trip, as we are always fascinated by the responses we hear from people around Kumponda. Learning more about each of them helps us better understand the severity and common nature of these challenges they face. Once wrapping up the small group discussions, it was time to turn it over to the committee to close out the day.    

This community meeting is a critical one. It is important for us to convey to the community leaders that we are not done thinking about them. We are not finished working together to help them develop out of their daily struggles. We certainly are not at ends with the Bicycle Maize Mill. With Jarvis’ help, it was nice to be able to sit down with the committee and make these points, while always encouraging that they hold the knowledge and skills now to create this thing on their own. Their confident responses and heads held high were empowering reminders that we did the best job possible throughout this project to transfer the ownership and teach these motivated people about the idea we have for a sustainable solution to food security challenges.

We hope to speak with more members of the community tomorrow to learn even more about them, but for now I will sign off. Thanks again to everyone for your support, and another huge shout out to the amazing Cal Poly EWB teams out there.

Keep fightin’ the good fight,