Friday, December 25, 2015

Mill Check: Testing…Testing 1, 2

Wednesday the 22nd we woke up with the goal of finishing the initial construction of the maize mill to prepare it for testing. No small task ahead, we set out to the community with purpose in our hearts, and of course, smiles on our faces.

Every day we are reminded how great our community has been in wanting to take ownership of this project, and of their enthusiasm to work alongside us to bring the concept to reality. Not enough can be said about their hardworking ethic and lighthearted, fun to be around characters. Even when the work gets tough, they never seem to want to take a break. They value a good day’s work to get the job done and so do we (even when our drivers can’t hang).

In the background of this picture you can see Joseph, our welder. He has become a pivotal part of this project, and we would not nearly have been able to make the progress we have without him. A big thanks goes out to him and his family for sharing with us some amazing guidance and ideas during the fabrication of the grinding plates.

After making some adjustments with Joseph and the other community members on the wood frame, it was time to bring the pieces together and see the trial run of the mill. Mixed emotions circulated the community members and the EWB team, as we did not entirely know what to expect. We had iterated many times with the community that we were challenged by the difference in materials and tools that were available in the US versus those available near the community. Utilizing available materials was a major design priority to making this a sustainable project, and we accomplished that.

Time to test, apprehension in the air, and upon the first turns of the plates, we realized that we had some more work to go before this mill could be effective. There were issues with the spacing between the plates, as well as clogging in the feeder hole where the maize entered the grinding surface. Unfortunately, not so glamorous a finish to a long and tiresome day, the team had much to consider. Arriving to our hotel, we were saluted by hope set over the mountain side; a gorgeous reminder of our progress and the greatness yet to come.

Thursday was a new beginning, and the team had a few tricks up our sleeve. After brainstorming throughout the night, we came to the community with a game plan to overcome some of these obstacles, first off discussing with the community the problems we all observed in the initial test. The community had several points to make that we had been thinking about the night before, too, demonstrating  that they had also been brainstorming outside of our time together, which is more than we could ask for their involvement. Not too long after, we began making improvements to the components of the mill:

Working out the kinks took a bit of time, as the morning did not bring any electricity to use a grinder or drill, so the crew began filing the grinding plates by hand. Ready to test a second time, the team recognized the maize being used was extremely hard, and as it turned out was unprocessed. We learned about 50% of the community “processes” their maize by crushing it, soaking it in water, and letting it dry for 3 days to make it more workable. This was a curious piece of information, as we had not seen or felt the processed maize. Turns out, it was much softer than the unprocessed maize, and was capable of being ground into flour through the Bicycle Powered Maize Mill.

Wow, following a fun and challenging journey, the maize mill grinds! Improvements will continue to be made to increase efficiency, but we sure have something to be proud of so far. We were so thrilled to see tangible proof of the project potential that we started giving high fives to everyone, to which Cate said, “nu-uh”.

Thank you again to all of our supporters, for you helped make this possible, and we could not have gotten to this point without you. We are in no way finished with this project, but we carry the hope through these successful tests that it gives opportunity to be an equitable alternative to the unreliable electric maize mill. This should be exciting news to you all back home, rejoice in the milestone. Shout out to all the other teams abroad, we hope you are finding the same success in your missions.

From the Warm Heart of Africa,

Warm Regards,



  1. Muli bwanji! Great job you guys!! I've been keeping up with all of your amazing efforts in Kumponda and I'm extremely proud of you all! Keep up the awesome work
    - Nahel

  2. Great post, Spencer. You're an excellent story teller. And congratulations to the team on the progress. That must be very gratifying. I'll have to find out why Cate was all "nu-uh" with the high fives. :)