Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Projects

“LifeEngine” is collaborating with Paraclete Foundation and Benebikira Sisters” to develop two extraordinary projects to help students in Rwanda learn sciences with hands-on experiments and also teach them English using a new strategy, which  is based on local stories.  Peter Bojo, an MIT student who is in Rwanda to volunteer with these initiatives of the LifeEngine Company will tell us about his ongoing experiences in Rwanda.  Reba project (Observe Project) is a unique innovative idea aiming at using locally available materials to come up with scientific experiments that will help students at young age (primary school) to understand the scientific concepts with hands-on experiences.  The use of locally available materials will help students to have an opportunity to repeat the same experiments at home and also to add on their imaginations.  The project will help small children in the primary schools of Rwanda and elsewhere to understand the scientific concepts and their applications in their daily life, thus offering them an innovative mind-set that will help them to carry on discoveries and create businesses at young age.  The entrepreneurial mind-set will also contribute to the development of Rwanda based on science and technology.

Let us hear from Peter Bojo (Fist Picture Peter visiting the Nyungwe National Park and Second visiting a local family to experience kids life at home):
Hello!  I’ve been working in Rwanda for three weeks now on a wastewater system in Butare and on educational materials in Nyamata.  This is my first time in a developing country and differences from the USA are all too real.  It has been a powerful experience.  I’ve had the privilege of the extraordinary hospitality of the Benebikira Sisters, who run schools across the country (20 of them with over 5000 students), orphanages, and guest houses. 
    On the cultural side of things, getting by with just English (no French, Kinyarwanda, or Swahili) is often a struggle.  However, some nuns, university students, and other volunteers do have good English.  I watched the World Cup here and felt the passionate support for Africa when Ghana beat the USA in overtime.  I’ve never seen a crowd go as crazy as the one on the university campus when Ghana scored on Uruguay in the quarterfinal.  And no one was even cheering for their country…Nyungwe forest was definitely worth the visit, and we managed to spot a couple of wild monkeys.  Every day is 70 degrees and sunny with dust.  People cut grass with machetes.  Soldiers walk around with weapons.  Farmers work on the steppes.  Clothing is often donated (at least I don’t think that guy had been to Hooters…)
    The wastewater system in Butare is meant to take shower, toilet, and sink water from the dorm and treat it by sedimentation, bacteria, and filtration so that it can be used for irrigation and toilet water.  Water is expensive so it’s a big deal if it can be reused.  But the recycling system currently doesn’t work: the “treated” water is discolored and has an odor.  The dorm has been kept at half capacity because of this.  In order to get an idea of which part of the system is not functioning correctly, the team came up with a diagnostic testing plan.  This consisted of taking Biological Oxygen Demand, Total Suspended Solids, Total Coliform, E. Coli, pH,   Ammonia, and Sulfate tests at various points in the system.  There was a lot of calling and negotiation before the tests were ordered from two separate laboratories.  In the end the rates didn’t match what I had been told and the technician, who had to be sent out for sampling, brought 3 bottles to take the 4 samples I had asked him to take (his lab was 2.5 hours away).  We will be receiving all the results tomorrow and then plan an intervention.
   I’m currently in Nyamata at the Maranyundo Girls School, where I’m surveying educational materials and will be meeting with teachers.  It is a middle school and has excellent facilities, which is unusual.  For example, the chemical lab is equipped with Bunsen burners, phenolpthalien, and potassium chromate. There are books for all of the 14 subjects, although students do have to share with one other person. The school is only three years old, and it was founded by Sr. Ann Fox from the Boston-based Paraclete foundation.  Sr. Fox is back in Rwanda and currently working on setting up a library for young children.  Rwanda has a very strict curriculum for chemistry, biology, and physics, with specific practical experiments that are to be done.  Based on discussions with teachers before leaving and internet searching, I have a list of experiments that I think might be interesting for the students.  So I will be meeting soon to discuss iron extraction from cereal, making a simple generator, simple chromatography…  But perhaps the most important thing will be something I’m told. Since the genocide roads have been built, electricity has arrived in many new places, and free education up to 9th grade has been instituted.  Rwanda seems to be progressing nicely, but there are tensions.  And a few grenade attacks this summer in Kigali.  I don’t fully understand the scars of the genocide, and as a visitor that is to be expected, and not something for casual conversation.
   I’m excited for the country that a fiber optic cable is being laid (you can see people digging along the road everywhere you go).  The internet cafĂ© connections here will remain fitful for the moment. Overall I have felt extremely welcome in Rwanda, and hope that both the Butare and Nyamata projects develop useful results.  Seeing life here is an experience and helping out is an even better one.

LifeEngine Clean Water Project

LifeEngine Clean Water Project
Testing Water Filtration Technology in Bisate Village