Archives—July 2017

Home Bound

By the final week, we had become accustomed to what we referred to as “India time”. We had promised Gajapathi, our main contact at the Kunnankulathur Government High School, that we would be to the school by 9:00am on Tuesday morning for the school prayer. We had arranged a vehicle to pick us up for 8:45am, but it didn’t arrive until 9:00am. Worrying we might have missed the prayer, or at a minimum be fashionably late, we pulled up to the school noting the ceremony hadn’t begun yet. We had gotten the chance to watch the school prayer during week three while working on our projects but none of us knew what to expect from being a part of it. Students led us into a classroom as they went through their usual routine. Towards the end, we were called to the front of the stage. Gajapathi took the time to introduce us to all of the students and presented us each with a handmade flower necklace and gift. Seeing how much of an impact our presence at the school left on the students is hard to put into words. More importantly, what we were able to each takeaway from working with the students is truly priceless and indescribable.

From left to right: Aishwarya, Gajapathi, Marcello, Julian, Brianna, Sarah, Nichole, Vishal at the Government High School.
From left to right: Aishwarya, Gajapathi, Marcello, Julian, Brianna, Sarah, Nichole, Vishal at the Government High School.

 

On Wednesday, we had the pleasure of being guests at Gajapathi’s home. We were welcomed with bowls of homemade mango ice cream that were to die for. Gajapathi has spent the last two years planning and building his home. In India, celebrating the building of a new home is very important. We were able to look through the album that was created based of the housewarming celebration that was held. All of his wife’s family, his family and co-workers from Kunnankulathur Government High School were part of the event. A tradition in India is to have a cow draped with a saree walk through the home which we found to be super cool. Gajapathti gave us a tour of his new home which is beautiful. There is a guest house on the second level and a rooftop that has a breathtaking view of the hills, a constant breeze and is perfect for star gazing. Every detail from the doors, cabinet handles and light fixtures was planned and hand picked by Gajapathi. Following the tour, Gajapathi served us a homemade Indian dinner. We were able to eat on banana leaves which is one of my favorite parts of India. All the food was delicious from the idly and dosa to the prawn rice. Before departing his home, Gajapathi left us by saying we always have a home in India.

The India team from left to right: Julian, Nichole, Brianna, Sarah, Marcello at Gajapathi's home.
The India team from left to right: Julian, Nichole, Brianna, Sarah, Marcello at Gajapathi’s home.

Then came Thursday, our final day in India. It hadn’t sunk in that we were going through the “lasts” of our daily life. Going to the school and seeing the students for the final time brought tears to my eyes. From all the selfies, autographs and kisses on cheeks, pulling into the school and seeing their smiling faces and waving hands is a memory none of us will forget. We had brought stickers to hand out to the students before leaving- and I use the phrase “hand out” loosely. Once one student had a sticker, all the students wanted a sticker and before we knew it, the bag of stickers were out of our hands and enveloped in a crowd of cheering elementary aged students.

On top of saying goodbye to the students at Kunnankulathur, we were left with saying goodbye to the friends we had made at KVCET. My great grandma and her friends used to say “too-da-loo” to each other, which translates to “see you later”. I had told this to Lago, one of our friends, so that we didn’t have to say goodbye. After piling the luggage and ourselves into the vehicle, we waved our final waves and headed to the airport. All of us knew this wasn’t the last time we would cross paths. We know the KVCET students will be coming to Michigan Tech in February of 2018 and we are eagerly awaiting their arrival and counting down the days until they land at CMX. More importantly, we all plan on returning to India to be reunited with the friends we made during our five weeks. Everyone was so open, willing to help us and kindhearted. They showed us what it means to make life long friends.

The India team with R. Elango and his intern at Kunnankulathur prior to leaving.
The India team with R. Elango and his intern at Kunnankulathur prior to leaving.

The Final Countdown

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to put our impromptu speaking skills to the test. We had been informed of an informal question and answer session that we would be participating in earlier in the week. We were told to not worry about it and just show up for the event. What we envisioned was having a conversation with small group of students discussing what we like about India and talking about Michigan Tech. From our expectation, we were in for a little surprise.

The best part of the surprise was that the room the event was in was air conditioned. We have gotten so used to being without air conditioning that when we enter an air conditioned area, it makes everything better. The group of students that we were interacting with was also much larger than we anticipated; it almost seemed like we were acting as a panel for a class. When the professor for the class introduced us, he mentioned the students in the class were interested in hearing about the graduate programs at Michigan Tech. With all of us being undergraduate students and having not prepared anything for the session, we were far from experts on this topic.

We went around and each introduced ourselves. We talked about the projects we’re doing here in India. Sarah went through a slideshow Marcello had put together of pictures of life at Tech and in the Keweenaw. Then the floor was opened for questions. The students asked about clubs and sports at Michigan Tech, what our favorite things about India are, if there is a masters program in biomedical engineering and if we knew any Tamil. While the session didn’t go exactly as we anticipated, it was a lot of fun and the students did ask engaging questions.

We were also able to cover lots of ground with the solar and water filtration projects during week four. With the water filtration system, all the supplies needed to complete the project were purchased. The inflow and outflow storage tanks were cleaned, the pipes were cut and attached, and the sand and gravel barrels have been filled. When attaching the pipes, we ran into an issue with the connectors we decided to use. Initially we planned on having straight pipe connections and attaching them to the barrels using epoxy. The connectors we used created a slight slanted connection that we troubleshooted by using hose for the slanted pipe connections. For week five, we need to wash and dry the charcoal and replace a joint from the outflow storage tank to the overflow pipe. We also need to put up the chicken wire and tarps to monkey proof the water filter and it should be good to go!

For the solar project, the wiring was completed from the panels to the classroom. The low voltage direct current fans were put together and installed into the classroom. The LED lights were put together and installed into the classroom as well. The students are able to utilize the solar power for the lights and fans in the classroom at all times and power the computers for part of the time. We actually got to see the solar power system being used on Friday during a regular power outage.

None of us can believe we’re already into our final week. Time has flown in India and we’re not quite ready to leave. We have enjoyed every second thus far and are eagerly anticipating what week five will bring.


Third Times’ A Charm

On Monday afternoon while waiting for the car to bring us back to KVCET for lunch from the school, we had the chance to meet the students! Third times’ a charm as they say and three weeks of us coming to the school on a regular basis must have been enough time for the students to get comfortable enough to show us their school. We were sitting on the steps outside the main office when a group of students approached us and began asking us questions: our names, where we are from, what our friends’ names are, etc. One student asked us to visit their classrooms. Once they grabbed on to our hands, everything happened very quickly.

Initially we tried the “buddy system” when going into the classrooms but the students had full control. We all ended up in different classrooms but the excitement when one of us entered a room was the same. All the students were waving, smiling and wanting to shake our hands. They all shouted questions at the same time which made it hard to converse but didn’t take away from the fun. Some students asked us to dance, others wanted to see American money and all of them wanted to be in a selfie. Being surrouned by their excitement and energy gave all of us a new perspective on why we’re doing the projects we’re doing. Getting to meet the students also made going to the school each day to work on the projects even more enjoyable.

During week three we were able to make lots of headway with the solar and water filtration projects. For the water filtration system, our initial plan was to clean the barrels and replace the biochar. After emptying the gravel barrel and attempting to clean it, we made the executive decision to replace the system. There was also lots of sun damage and cracks in the pipes and since we are putting a roof over the system, we felt its longevity would be lengthened by replacing the components. We spent the remaining week purchasing supplies,  measuring the barrels and cutting the holes for the pipes to complete a dry fit of the system.

For the solar project, the school is currently having two buildings added so the construction workers offered to cement the stand for the panels to the roof for us. We were also able to get the stand painted and prepped for the cementing to be completed. Miscellaneous shopping trips were completed as needs of parts and tools arose.

We also were able to discuss plans of the garden project with the headmaster. We designed a vertical garden to be put on the side of the building below the water filtration system so that the runoff can be used to water the garden. The headmaster was very pleased with the plans and is excited to see the final product in place. He showed the plans to one of the engineers working on the construction of the new buildings at the school who was also very excited about the fact that a garden could be put in at the school. The engineer volunteered to take the garden up as a personal project, using our plans, and has offered to carry out the construction of the garden.

With the progress we made during week three, we were able to come up with a timeline for our remaining time in India. We are confident with where our projects currently stand and we are excited to see what our final two weeks bring!


Sustainable Development

Last Friday the India Team traveled to a village near Poonamallee called Kuthambakkam. It is a neat little village, tucked into the land surrounding the greater Chennai area. We had the privilege of speaking to one of the village’s prominent members, R. Elango. Elango is an older man and as such has the standing to call us his children. He is a well-kept, proud but humble man. While we were there he told us about his experience as Panchayat President. A Panchayat is a form of local government. It is a committee with the leader being the Panchayat President. As the President, he managed to eradicate the illegal distilling and sale of alcohol in the village and helped erase caste discrimination. He did not end poverty completely, but he was able to make sure that nobody in the village is starving, and the upper-and-lower-classes are no longer at war with each other.

He also gave us a presentation on the vision for his village. He is a chemical engineer by training, but as the Panchayat President wore many hats of a civil engineer, an electrical engineer, etc. He helped bring technology such as compressed bricks that don’t require firing. They can be made with the local resources to the village allowing everyone to build a house. Some of the houses are less extravagant than others, but everyone in the village has a sturdy house that will not be destroyed in the event of a flood or monsoon season. This simple task was not easy, but gave the lower-classes a sense of pride.

We learned about Elango’s plan to set up a network of villages where 30 or so villages will get together and each one will specialize in one area. Each village isn’t large enough to have a specialist in all fields so by specializing by village the network can rely on itself and keep the local economy strong. That way the wealth doesn’t leave the village to the city leaving the village poor. This also helps the landless people by giving them jobs and making them “local producers” as Elango calls them.

Elango is very focused on sustainable social and economic development. He has made it his mission in life to help people by demystifying technology and is going through a process that he calls “unlearning”. We are very thankful for his help since he is helping us develop the solar system we are implementing in the village closer to KVCET in the village of Kunnankulathur.

When we arrived to the school in Kunnakulathur, the headmaster, Gajapathi told us that they were not as interested in solar street lights as they were solar panels. So, we switched our plan from solar street lights to panels. Gajapathi wanted us to be able to put the panels on top of one of the new school buildings, but because the buildings are still undergoing construction, we won’t be able to do that. Instead we will be placing them on top of an academic building to power their computer lab.

This past Wednesday and Thursday we spent our time in Elango’s village of Kuthambakkam helping to build the stand for the solar panels and also helping his intern, Jonas, solder the new LED lights that we will be putting into the school.

I actually really like this one
Julian, hard at work soldering low power LED lights. The lights will be put into the Kunnankulathur Government High School. From left to right we have Vishal, our guide; Julian, teammate; and Jonas, Elango’s Electrical Engineering Intern. Jonas helped us quite a bit with the solar project. And is going to help us some more in the days to come.
Ow! HOT!
Sarah Soldering an LED to the low power lights. The lights each have 4 PCBs with 3 LEDs each. This makes for a total of 12 LEDs per light. Each LED consumes 1W of power for a total of 12W per light. This is a huge improvement from the conventional 40W tube lights. The LEDs are first coated in the brown stuff in the circular tin in front of me, flux (this was new to me since all the solder I’ve used before had flux inside the solder itself); then the stuff in the green tube, a thermally conducting but electrically insulating paste, is applied to the back; finally the LEDs are placed on the PCB and soldered into place.

The energy saving lights use only 12 watts (W) each. This is a hefty improvement from the conventional tube lights that consume 40W each. In addition to energy saving lights we are providing energy efficient fans that consume a maximum of 28-30W which is an improvement on the 60W that conventional fans use. We are providing eight LED lights and two Brushless DC fans. This along with four 100W panels and six 80 amp hours (AH) batteries will be used to run the lights and the fans along with a computer in their computer lab. The lights and the fan will always be able to use just the solar power, but the computer will use the solar mainly as a backup power supply in the event of a power outage (which are fairly common here, in fact we had one today).

This week we also assessed what needed to be done with the water filter in order to make it work properly again. Due to some clogging (maybe from our new frog friend, Frances, that we found hanging out in a pipe?) and other small maintenance issues, the filter hasn’t been working properly. However, we have diagnosed the issue and are making a plan to work on returning the filter to its former glory.

We are very proud of our work so far and thankful for the help we have received along the way. Next week we will work on installing the solar system as well as extensive water filtration maintenance.