DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Spring 2013: As our first multi-disciplinary (Engineering, Political Science, International Business) team wrapped up their 16 months work as part of our effort to develop new social businesses in West Africa, it felt appropriate to write a new overview of our project (Overview).  This gave me a chance to reflect on where we've come over the past 3 years and coin a new acronym S-BIWA.  Much of what I might include here is included in the overview, so I encourage you to take a look. 

 

In May, Emily Vogel, one of the graduating students from the 2012-13 team was selected to speak at the Baccalaureate Service.  In her speech, "A Different Kind of Love," she reflects on her time at Elizabethtown and her work on the S-BIWA project.  "I have learned ... how to live our motto [Educate for Service]. Loving kindness has become part of my values and a core principle in my life. ... [I] had an experience that forever changed my outlook on the world. I noticed how much potential there was for sharing knowledge and ideas ... it is necessary to use what I have learned over the past four years and to apply my abilities to help others in the community and around the world." I invite you to listen to her full speech recorded in this video (4 minutes):

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.
DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

A new team of 3 third-year engineering students began work in January thinking about next steps in the product development.  This group will be joined by 3 International Business Students in the fall as they set up long term feild testing of the phone chargers and work to develop a small houshold work/study light. Matt and Pat are also back from their semester-long "experience of a lifetime" at UTG through the PEACE program.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

January 2013  Last summer I began thinking more about how to build on the connections we have developed between UTG and Etown and formally implement a structure to ensure an ongoing partnership beyond the present project.  On that project, several of the involved students worked on their own over the summer to advance the work in preparation for the fall semester.  The project has captured the passions of the team.  Partnering with Dr. Petru Sandu, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Business Administration department at Elizabethtown, and Dr. Momodou Jain at the University of The Gambia we have designed a multidisciplinary and multicultural engineering and business design program through what we have labeled a West African Tech Business Incubator.  The incubator develops appropriate and affordable technologies and business plans for launching locally (in West Africa) managed social business.  With a newly established partnership with the PEACE program at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, Elizabethtown students have full access to a semester-long study abroad program at UTG (University of The Gambia).  Two second-year engineering students are participating in that program this spring and they will be working on community based service learning projects in The Gambia (you can check out a blog all spring at matthewjadro.tumblr.com).  These and other students participating in the PEACE program will likely become team leaders on future incubator projects.  The addition of a new Technological Design minor at E-town will also foster participation by students in business and other majors in the capstone design project work in the 3rd and 4th years.  


Go to the people

Live among them

Learn from them

Love them

Start with what they know

Build on what they have

But of the best leaders

When their task is done

The people will remark

"We have done it ourselves."

[Ancient Chinese Proverb]

The pilot project for this collaboration features the development of a low-cost, locally-assembled photovoltaic mobile phone charger.  In the fall, two political science students (both of whom spent the fall 2011 semester at UTG with the PEACE program) and an international business major with a strong interest in social business joined the project team, enrolling in EGR491 – Engineering Senior Project.  The students spent the semester developing prototype systems and a preliminary business model, along with preparations for a site visit to The Gambian in early January.  We just returned from that trip.  We were able to accomplish the full set of goals the team set out.  First testing several configurations of the system helped the team make several key design decisions and the success in typical phone models was very encouraging. 

 

We met with representatives from UTG, including several students very eager to partner with the team to continue local testing and product and business plan development locally in The Gambia.  We also met with a Gambian placement coordinator for the US Peace Corps who was excited about the system the students are developing and assured the team there would be a market for the system and his Peace Corps volunteers in upriver rural communities would be eager to use and help distribute the product.  He also assured us that the target price would be accessible community members in these villages.  Similar encouragement and support came through meetings with leadership in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Energy, both of which were very supportive of our project and offered their support and partnership. 

 

The following section of this update comes directly from the student's daily updates to family and friends during our 2 week trip.   

 

3 Jan 2013:  Today was our first full day in The Gambia, and it was an exhausting learning experience. We slept in a little and had a delicious breakfast of bread with butter and mango. After breakfast we were given a tour of Pirang, the village in which we are staying. Afterwards, Dr. DeGoede, Nick, Jen, and I [Emily] ventured to Brikama to set up Dr. DeGoede's cell phone, and we had time to visit some of his friends from living in The Gambia a few years ago. Meanwhile, Elly and Josh stayed at MEHDA, where we are staying, and tested some solar panels. Before dinner, we all relaxed and wrote in our journals. We had an excellent dinner of fish balls (like meatballs but fish), vegetables, and rice. After, we had oranges and tea. We are all doing well! 

 

4 Jan 2013:  Last night after Emily's email we had Ataya, a really strong and sugary tea which was tasty and took an hour at least.  One of the locals sung and danced for us while he made the tea which was … entertaining?

 

Today, Jan. 4th, was an eventful day.  We got up around 8:00 this morning to leave the compound by 8:30 and make it to the college by 10 for a meeting with Dr. Momodou Jain and the Physics students at the University of The Gambia (UTG).  We took a geleh geleh (crowded African taxi van) into Brikama and walked through the market on our way to the college.  We grabbed some tapalapa bread in the market for breakfast which was some of the tastiest bread I [Nick] have put in my mouth.  We eventually made it to the college and met with the students and Dr. Jain which was SO MUCH FUN.  We talked a little about the project first, showed them what we brought, tested some things, and we hit the streets and the Brikama market and got acquainted with everyone.  We came back and brainstormed and collaborated; it was pretty cool to hear their perspective.  We had lunch at a new restaurant called The Canteena, the owner was a friend of Dr. DeGoede's.  We had casaba and beans which was really good.  We met some more of Dr. DeGoede's friends on the way back to the carport aka Grand Central Station, and took a geleh geleh back to the compound.  Everyone relaxed and we eventually had dinner which was Domoda, rice with a mixture of some sort of meat, green tomato, HOT peppers, cooked in a peanut sauce.  Very tasty as well.

 

5 Jan 2013:  Today was another exciting day in The Gambia.  Though we weren’t as busy as yesterday, we had a lot of new experiences.  We started by waking up before sun up to walk to the forest for bird watching. It was actually very cold this morning, it was certainly a surprise.  One of the local villagers guided us through the forest pointing out different types of birds, which ranged from a typical dove to birds of paradise.  After finishing our bird watching expedition we had tapalapa bread with dega (freshly made and very delicious peanut butter).

 

Later Nick, a local villager and myself [Josh] went looking for snakes.  While looking for snakes we learned some Mandinka from our friend. Don’t worry mom, ma sa je (I didn’t see any snakes).  Then our friend showed us the fruits that grew on the trees in the compound. They are called talo and tamba fruits.  Although they look gross, they actually weren't that bad.  For dinner we had benechin, which consisted of fried rice, seasoned fish, green tomatoes and peppers. It was very delicious!

 

Tonight, we are going to a fund raising concert in the village.  The funds will support the local school and community.  I'm not really sure what to expect, but I’m sure it will be interesting.

 

6 Jan 2013:   Where Josh left us we were headed to a concert fundraiser for the local community and school. He was not wrong in his assumption that the night would turn out interesting, although, I [Elly] would describe it as a slight understatement. The concert was set to start at 9:00pm, but we were running a little late and headed over closer to 10:00pm. When we walked in to the big open area we had seen our first tour, the whole area had been transformed. Plastic lawn chairs lined the area and on one wall there were big comfy chairs, which Sidi called the "V.I.P" section. You need an invite to sit there. The stage was full with all sorts of instruments we knew and many we had never seen. There was a drumset, electric guitar, electric bass, a kora (which is similar to a sitar), and djumbe drums. We thought we were going to be late, but the concert was running on GMT (Gambian Maybe Time according to the Gambians). The music didn't start until closer to 10:30pm and the large amount of people did not arrive until closer to 11:30pm. We sat through one or two songs, which I would describe as a combination of Ragae and Salsa with a West African twist, before the truly interesting part of the night got started. Sidi convinced Nick and Josh to get up and start dancing during the next song and tried to teach them how to dance. I couldn't stop laughing the entire time. Emily and I described Nick's dancing as a whole bunch of hip shaking and Josh as a robot. When they sat down they informed us that we were next. We all got up and dance not once, not twice, but three times. I would say our attempt at dancing was just that, an attempt, but we had a blast doing it. At 12:00am the concert was officially started and we stayed on more song before heading out. One of the men at the concert told us that Jen won our dancing competition.

 

We woke up this morning early, and Binta and Lamaan, our friends from Brikama, headed over for a visit. We had a breakfast of tapalapa bread, dega (peanut butter), and papaya (brought from Binta). We also had a surprise visit for breakfast from Kata, an old friend of Dr. DeGoede's from his previous visit. Lamaan taught how to peel the oranges and grapefruit the Gambian way and to even make glasses out of the peels. When Dr. DeGoede walked Kata back to the Gele-Gele stop, the rest of us headed around the back of the compound to the sand football field. Lamaan is supposed to be one of the best soccer players in Brikama. There were around 10-15 local village kids playing with a wound up sock as their ball so when we came they were happy to join in with a real ball. Josh, Nick and I played with everyone for a little while and we all held our own, although we were playing with kids no older than 10 or 12. After a while both Nick and Josh had to stop because we all brilliantly decided to play barefoot and they each cut their big toe. I fortunately got through unscathed, but the boys had to clean their cuts out with hand sanitizer, which HURT, but they did so like such men. We then headed back into Brikama with Binta and Lamaan in tow. I think we took the longest route we could possibly take as we walked through the village to get to the Geleh-Geleh drop-off point and the Geleh-Geleh drove back through the village past our compound picking up people. It then headed to the next village over, in the wrong direction, before actually getting to Brikama. We grabbed another Geleh-Geleh to Farato to meet with a member of the Peace Corps, Saiku Njai. He picked us and all 6 of us piled precariously into his car, sitting five in the back, as the law in Gambia is that the front seats must be buckled but all others are free game. The meeting with Saiku was very informative and we learned a lot in terms of taxes and business concerns. He also gave us some great contacts. His wife Ida gave us some soda and we were on our way again. We headed to the Brikama Wood Carvers market for what you could call window shopping. Dr. DeGoede met up with his old drum instructor, Abdou, and I decided wholeheartedly on buying a drum for myself. We headed back to the compound and weren't there to long before another Binta, Ana's daughter (the woman who cooks our dinner), stopped by. She brought our dinner and stayed with throughout, but did not eat, I think she just enjoyed the company. Josh and Nick took a turn out peeling their grapefruits the Gambian way. Sidi, Musa, and another friend of theirs stopped by to play "cards" or crazy eights again. Hopefully we will be headed to bed soon because I am tired, but I think we will still have one last meeting on the project.

 

We hope to have another update tomorrow as we are headed to the Serrakunda Market with the UTG students and hope to get a better handle on the solar panel market.

 

7 Jan 2013:  Here is yet another exciting update from all of us here in the Gam. We met Dr. Jain and his group of UTG students once again on campus to discuss developing product details. They have been of tremendous help to us as we continue to further the design of our project. Dr. Jain has also arranged for us to meet a member of the Department of Justice in Banjul on Thursday to discuss details of our upcoming business registration. This advice will be vital to our business and a huge step for our project.

 

Today we went to Serrekunda with Dr. Jain and the UTG students in search for local materials that may potentially used to produce the designed product. First we made a stop at Gambia Technical Trade Institute (GTTI) to speak with both students and professors there about the project and raided their closets of tech materials a bit in search of those similar to what we are looking for. They were excited about our project and gave us some of their own advice and opinions. Then we started searching in some local stores for materials, including a glass shop and a plastic company. The available plastic in the area might be something we want to use as a backing support to the solar panel. Finally, we stopped at a solar energy store. Seku, the peace core member we spoke to yesterday, gave us the name of the owner in hope he could provide us with some information regarding importing and available solar panels. The owner proved very helpful, providing us his own advice regarding business registration.

 

After stopping at a cafe for a few drinks, we are now back at MEHDA finishing dinner relaxing for the night. {Jen}

 

8 Jan 2013:  Today was a nice relaxing day with beautiful weather. The main item on today's agenda was testing our solar panels and trying to charge Nick's phone. Our testing consisted of taking voltage and current measurements every hour from 8 AM to 6 PM. Between 12 and 2 we took measurements every 15 minutes to get accurate data around the strongest sun hours of the day. While we were waiting for time to pass, we played cards and snacked on the tapalapa bread that we bought today. Around 2 some UTG students came to our compound to see how our testing was going and spend some time with us. Around 6:30 we walked to the home of our village's Member of Parliament. We explained our reasons for being in The Gambia and other goals we have. It was a rather short visit. We came back to MEDHA and had dinner.

   

Dinner tonight was domoda with fishballs. This is the 5th night we had fish of some sort, which is great … if you like fish and/or fish ground up in the form of balls. Here is a hint, only 2 of us were happy with tonight's dinner. After dinner, Neyamo had a nice treat for us. We had baubau juice which comes from the baubau tree which is one of the most useful trees in The Gambia. It had a lot of added sugar, so we diluted it with water. It was very tasty.

   

Tomorrow we have more testing on the agenda, so it should be another relaxing day! Hope all is well back in the Western Hemisphere. {Emily}

 

9 Jan 2013:  Today was another pretty relaxing day.  Scheduled for today was testing and meeting the women who work for 'My Sister's Company,' which is a business run out of MEHDA where local women come and make African souvenir type items such as knot bags, tye-dye clothes/clothes, and jewelry which they sell locally and in PA.  Emily played solitaire on my [Nick] phone for a while yesterday to kill my phone battery, so we could charge my phone again as well as Dr. DeGoede's.  Dr. DeGoede's phone is a small Nokia which, so far, seems to be the most prevalent phone for our target market.  My phone was so dead that it wouldn't charge, but Dr. DeGoede's phone charged wonderfully!  Jen and Elly helped the women make jewelry today while Josh, Emily and I did the testing and enjoyed Ataya with Grandpa, Niamo, Ansou, and a few other locals we met today.  I haven't read these emails, so if Grandpa hasn't been introduced yet, he is Niamo's brother-in-law.  Niamo and Grandpa are both extremely active in the community, and I personally admire their work.  Ansou is a local woodcarver from Pirang who offered to make us a woodcarving of our choice for very cheap.  Dr. DeGoede and Elly joined us for Ataya.

   

Sometime during the long Ataya process, Dr.DeGoede, Josh, Emily, and I took a geleh-geleh into Brikama to run a few errands.  We exchanged some money for our upcoming trip to Bakou, an African craft market recommended by Dr. DeGoede.  We then went to the college/university so Dr. DeGoede could meet with Dr. Jain and a friend of Dr. DeGoede's, Baboucarr.  Baboucarr was an extremely enthusiastic, 3rd year biology student who listed some impressive projects.  Baboucarr really seems to know what he's doing in life.  We all agreed he was really driven.  He actually invented his own mosquito cream.  We headed back towards town and stopped and met another one of Dr. DeGoede's old friends, Brewer.  Brewer was a business man who spoke great English and gave us a good idea for distributing our product.  We headed back to the main road and got picked up by yet ANOTHER one of Dr.DeGoede's old friends and taxi driver, Muhammad.  He gave us a ride back and stayed and talked for a while.

   

In the meantime, Elly and Jen hung out in their room.  Jen wasn't feeling well today so she opted out of leaving the compound.  She's feeling better though :)

   

Niamo showed up for dinner which was benechen.  This time, the benechen wasn't Talapia.  It was fishballs. There were sweet potatoes and green tomatoes with the fried rice.  Despite the common notion of fishball meals not being the best, everyone was really satisfied except Elly I think.  She said it was okay though.  We picked up chocolate spread today as well as some bananas.  I don't like chocolate, but everyone really liked it; Emily in particular.

   

We're having a meeting to discuss tomorrow's plans.  Hopefully the power doesn't go out for the third night in a row.  Last night we did the dishes by flashlight.

 

10 Jan 2013:  Sorry we couldn't send out an update yesterday! We ran out of internet credit and couldn't pick up more until today. So, I'm going to send out an update regarding yesterday's endeavors, and in a bit Elly is going to send out another about today's activities.

 

Yesterday morning Emily wasn't feeling very well, so she and Elly stayed in MEHDA for the day while the rest of us traveled into Serrekunda to meet Dr. Jain. First we had a meeting with the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Higher Education. He encouraged us to register the organization within the education system, thus listing us as a sustainable non-profit and waiving taxes/fees. Next we met with a number of individuals from the Ministry of Energy. They seemed particularly interested in our project, describing their own current initiatives designed to increase accessible power within rural regions of the Gambia. Like the ministry of education, they encouraged to work strongly with the University of the Gambia to further our project efforts. Lastly, we met with the Ministry of Justice in Banjul. It was great to finally get a glimpse of the nation’s capital. Unfortunately, however, we were unable to meet with the individual who dealt specifically with business registration who we were scheduled to discuss our project. Instead we met with a professor at the law school who gave us his contact information in hopes to work with us in the future.

 

Overall, we made some great contacts aside advice that will help in furthering our efforts. {Jen}

 

11 Jan 2013:  I'm [Josh] taking over the task of writing about today's update, as Elly is in an intense game of crazy 8's right now. I don't know if we mentioned it but crazy 8's is the most popular card game here.  Anyway, today was more of a tourist agenda. We started by going to the monkey park in Bakau. There were monkeys EVERYWHERE, and most were not shy. They would run right up to us to see if we had food. After strolling through the monkey park we headed to the crocodile pool. There were a lot of crocodiles, and we even got to pet some. Later we made some purchases in the Bakau craft market.

 

Our attempt to find dinner was kind of difficult, the first two places we went to were closed. When we finally found a place it didn't take long for us to eat all of our food as everyone was tired and hungry from the day’s journey.

 

12 Jan 2013:  Hey guys, don't worry I [Elly] was able to step away from crazy 8's to send out the update tonight.

 

This morning started out as a slow morning, but the day turned out to be filled with trips all over the place. We started with the women for My Sister's Company coming by to do some "Tye and Dye". Josh, Emily, and I all ended up dying some of our shirts and I also had my hat dyed. Jen, Josh, and I helped to make some beautiful pieces of fabrics and I learned a lot of new techniques. After a while we all headed into Brikama to the wood carvers market. All of us bought a few things here and there that we would all like to keep as a surprise. We stopped by the home of Binta, Lamin, and Yeniba as Binta had told Dr. DeGoede she had a present. When we arrived they had dresses for the girls and shirts for the boys all in the matching material that they had hand-made over the week. We had a heart wrenching goodbye for all of us and headed back. Finally for dinner, we DID NOT HAVE FISH, but Chicken Benechin and it was delicious. Jen just came in and informed us that she unfortunately locked the keys to our room in the room so we we’ll see what happens. Wish us luck!

 

13 Jan 2013:  This is the last update as we are leaving tomorrow night on our long journey home. We are all very sad to leave and not excited to start classes. But we can’t wait to see all of you!!!!

 

Today was an amazing end to an awesome trip. Today was our day to go to the beach! We were supposed to leave at about 11:30 but some things came up that were out of our control and we ended up leaving at 1:45. It took us about 45 min to an hour to get to the beach. When we arrived at the beach we had lunch which was fish and chips (plus 2 orders of chicken and chips for Nick and Elly). The fish came with a salsa type sauce. Everything was delicious. After lunch, Jen, Nick, Josh, & Dr. DeGoede walked down to the fishing village about a half mile down the beach. I [Emily] immediately went in the ocean. Elly wrote in her journal and read. Later, we made attayah (traditional Gambian tea), and Jen and Elly tried their hand at pouring the attayah, which can be explained more visually when we get home. We left the beach around 6:30 and had a relatively smooth ride back to MEDHA. Now, we are relaxing in the main building of MEDHA, playing cards. Overall today was a great last full day in The Gambia.

 

Tomorrow morning we are going to UTG to see the students one last time. After that Neyamo and Pa are making a surprise lunch for us. We will then do some last minute packing, and head to the airport!

 

See you very soon!

Kayira (Peace) out,

 

Team Gamb

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Previous updates and my weekly blog from the 2010-11 academic year (as a visiting professor at UTG) are available here:

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.