January 9, 2014 - Why we are doing this project... from Kurt
Danny will send out a update soon - we had a wonderful trip out to Berefet today (the village leaders and the large crowd we attracted we clearly excited about the charger - they have to walk 6 km out to the main road to charge their mobiles for 10D a time (they have to leave their phones and are sometimes taken advantage of by people swapping their good batteries for poor ones). They asked many questions with Saikou translating. I'll let Danny tell you more, but the people from the village were clearly moved offering their prayers of blessing on us and our work, it was very powerful.
The college also posted a story about out trip at: http://now.etown.edu/index.php/2014/01/07/elizabethtown-students-recharge-over-winter-break-in-west-africa/
January 9, 2014 - Danny's Update
Today, we traveled to Berefet, a remote village in the rural area in The Gambia. The road from the highway to the village was unpaved and bumpy. The houses were scattered, and there was no one on the road except us. It took us half an hour to reach the village from the highway. The villagers lived in compounds; each compound was a group of houses surrounding a communal open space. In the middle of the yard sat a large bench. We were greeted by the head of the compound where Saikou stayed when he was working in Berefet. He invited us to the living room in his house. The walls of the room were covered with new paint, and the floor was covered with new tiles. There were sofas for guests in one side of the room, the other side was an open space. I realized that was the nicest place of the compound since when I returned to bid the head of the compound farewell, I was led to a bedroom of six beds in which there was no light, and the roof had multiple holes.
We presented the solar panel charger to the villagers with the help of Saikou, who acted as an interpreter between us and the villagers, at the compound of the leader of the village. Standing in the yard in the compound, I could feel the intensity of the sun since my body was heated as though it was put in the oven. The villagers were not bothered by the sun since they were engrossed by the presentation about the charger by Dr. DeGoede. With the solar panel charger, the villagers will not have to travel long distance to charge their phones, and be able to prevent their phone batteries stolen by fraudulent people at the charging stations. After listening to concerns of the villagers regarding our charger, we decided to redesign our product to make it more user-friendly without increasing cost. The Berefeters' interest in our product was an auspicious sign for our project.
I was moved by the act of the leader of the village when we said farewell to the people in Berefet. He said, “We appreciate your effort to help the people of my village. We do not have anything for you, but we will pray for your success with this project and any endeavors in the future.” His act reminded me that, somewhere in the world, pure love still existed.
In the afternoon, we visited the house of a woodcarver who was a friend of Dr. DeGoede. His house was comprised of two rooms of equal size, living room and bedroom. In the living room sat one long bench that could fit three people and a short and small chair which also served as a table. In the bedroom, there was a blanket and a pillow on the floor, which was sleeping space. They were the only things I observed in his house. After leaving the woodcarver's house, we went to another house of Dr. DeGoede's friend. She was a woman of high pitch voice and among the most friendly people I had ever encountered in The Gambia. When learning that we did not have any Gambian names, she named Anthony Backary, Dani Kadija, and me Abdoulie. Her family of eighteen people were sitting with us in the living room. There were all happy and excited to see us. We had such a good time at her house.
Duc Truyen Dam (Danny) International Business Major, Class of 2014
January 8, 2014 - Update from Anthony...becoming more than a school project
Greetings from The Gambia! Anthony here!
I can only imagine what it is like to be cold again haha, I don't think it has been less than 85 degrees here. I'm starting to forget what snow looks like haha.
Today we visited a few of the ministries of The Gambia, and also a sustainable energy organization to discuss our project. I was blown away with how excited the individuals we talked to became after explaining what we are doing, and seeing the product that we are developing. We talked for hours with the ministries of energy, research and development, and education about our project, and they made it very clear how special it is for the people of their country, and how this is the beginning of something that can really change the lives of the people of The Gambia, and this got me very excited. For me, this project no longer feels like a school project that is given a grade for, but rather a project that truly benefits individuals.Something that some people only dream of doing.
Well, I have talked long enough, and my eyes hurt from typing to candle light. Wish me luck tonight at cards, last night did not go so well, maybe tonight is my night! See ya!
January 7, 2014 - More good work and progress
Today we continued our discussion with the students and professors at UTG again. After today's meeting, we had better ideas about the structure of our business, and the project is moving on smoothly. The meeting lasted approximately 6 hours, so we were tired and did not do more activities afterwards. At dinner, we ate chicken and casava, which was the present from yesterday, with peanut sauce. Casava tastes like sweet potato, but it contains more fiber. The food was very delicious as always, and everyone enjoyed it. Now, everyone is resting after dinner. They are chatting and drinking tea. I think we'll play cards after I'm done with this journal.
Thank you for taking time to read the journals every day :)
January 6, 2014 - Updates from Danny (Productive First Day of Work)
I hope you had an enjoyable weekend and a great start of the week. I am very glad to announce that we had a very productive first day of work. We were in a three-hour long meeting about the project with Dr. Jain and his students at The University of Gambia (UTG).The business team acquired imperative information regarding target customers, promotion, and distribution channels. The UTG students agreed to assist us to conduct market survey to further our understanding of the customers' habits, based on which we could tailor our product to better serve our customers' needs. The technical team demonstrated the product to the UTG students and created a preliminary survey in order to keep track the function of the product. Tomorrow, we will return to UTG and have a meeting with Dr. Jain and Saikou, the field placement coordinator for the Peace Corps in The Gambia, to discuss the structure and operation of the organization that will manufacture our product. We are also hopeful that we will have a chance to research the availability of necessary materials for our product in the local market.
Besides the project, we visited a few friends of Dr. DeGoede's. They were very friendly and hospitable. I am impressed by the hospitality of the Gambians. People greet us with a big smile even though they never met us before. Now, I understood why The Gambia is called “the smiling coast.” The sights that I have seen resemble my country's, which makes me a little homesick. I have been troubled by the kids asking for things from us. I found out that they acquired that habit because the tourists here usually fed them with things. It is no one's fault, but it makes me think of the old saying about the fish and the fishing rod and the main purpose of economic development and poverty reduction. What could we do to make the economic development process quick and sustainable?
Wish you have a good week!
Duc Truyen Dam (Danny)
International Business Major, Class of 2014
January 6, 2014 - Things are going great!
January 5, 2014 - Anthony's Update
Heeeeey everyone! This is Anthony/Tony, and its my turn to send the email. I hope everyone is enjoying the snow/whatever weather you are encountering right now. Our winter high here was a chilly 90 degrees, too bad I forgot my coat. We woke up early today to prepare for our hike. We really like the fruit here, especially the oranges. We began our hike to the woods at 7:30, and returned back to the compound around 1:30. The forest was filled with tropical birds and massive trees. We walked through the forest for a while and then walked through a town and arrived at probably the largest tree that I have ever seen. While walking there we were followed by the children of the village, all yelling "Tubab". After visiting the tree, we then walked to the edge of the Gambian River and watched the birds and animals that live around the river. After that we walked back to the compound. During our walk back, we ran into a herd of cattle that we ended up walking through. When we arrived back at the compound, we discussed the project more, to prepare for the week to come. We then had tea with a lot of the people (mostly the kids) from the village. They must of enjoyed seeing us, since one of the kids was petting my arm until the kids ran away to play soccer (football). Tonight will be another fun night of cards with everyone. Wish me luck!
btw, it was really hard to get a good picture of the birds from far away, so I hope some blurry pictures are ok :)
January 4, 2014 - Danni's Update - just arrived
Hello everyone,This is Danni :) We just had dinner: shrimp with beans. While I'm writing this email, Dr. DeGoede is making his tea, Anthony is helping clean the dishes, and Danny is chilling. Everyone is doing very well, and nobody has any bad reactions to the food or weather. So don't worry about us :)In the morning, we watched the people in the village make tie-dye fabric and t-shirts. We had a tour around the village, and then we went to a market in Brikama to buy some stuff, like flash lights and flip-flops. We took a van with other local people, which was really cool. I sat next to a Gambian, who was really friendly and insisted on taking a picture with me so I could remember him in the future. He gave me his phone number and email address. People here are really friendly, and they always say hi to us. Kids in the village call us "Tuba", which means the white person. Even though Danny and I are not very "white", we are Tubas in their eyes. When Anthony was drinking a coke in a little store, many kids watched him and laughed. I guess they rarely see foreigners here, so they feel really curious.Three little fun facts: 1. A frog appeared in my toilet in the morning when I flush the toilet. It disappeared after ten minutes, but reappeared when I came back from the market. I think the frog is living in the water tank o.O2. Anthony broke his bed. The wooden piece underneath the mattress was broken. But he got a new bed now!3. Electric is really limited here. During the night, the whole village is completely dark. You cannot even see your own hand. But because of no power, the stars are very shinning, like diamonds on black velvet. We are going to do a little hiking tomorrow, and we'll keep you undated. Again, don't worry about us :)Danni
January 14, 2014 - Last Day in Pirang
Today was the last day we stayed in Pirang. Dr. DeGoede, Danni, and Anthony went to Brikama to bid farewell to a few friends, while I stayed at home fixing lunch. I fried white rice with butter, tomatoes, scallions, and eggs. Due to an estimation mistake, I added more salt to the dish than necessary, and consequently,water consumption surged during lunch. I felt disappointed at the turn-out of the food and sorry for all the people at lunch.
In the afternoon, we spent time with the village's children. After a while, Anthony followed the kids to herd cows. Then, he and I attended a soccer game at the elementary school's field. I expected to see the players playing on grass field, but it turned out that the soccer game occurred on a sand field, which had a small bleacher section that could accommodate ten or twenty people. Most fans stood on the sides of the field, dancing and cheering for their teams. The soccer game was one-sided with one team dominated the other, and that team eventually won.
Tonight is the last time we spend time with our Pirang friends. I hope it will be a memorable night.
Duc Truyen Dam (Danny)
International Business Major, Class of 2014
January 13, 2014 - Coming home soon...
Hello guys, It's Danni's turn!
Sorry for the lateness. The Internet was very slow last night, so I couldn't send the email.
Today we wrapped up our project with the students at UTG. We made sure that all the panels and surveys were ready for the testing over the next six months. Anthony showed the UTG students how to make the panel, and they were able to build the chargers on their own. We also met one professor from Ghana who was interested in our project. Today's meeting was a little longer than we than we thought, but fortunately we could get all the things done before leaving.
Today is my last time writing the journal, which means we are coming back in two days ;) Thank you for taking time reading my journals, and hope you have a nice day!
January 12, 2014 - Suday Update from Anthony
Whats up guys! Its Anthony again, coming to you live from The Gambia!
Today was a nice day of going to the beach and eating at a nice seafood restaurant. We took the Gelli's as far as we could to the coast, and then hired a taxi to drive the rest of the way. We have grown so used to these cramped, beat-up, refurbished vans for transportation that its going to be weird traveling any other way at home haha. The beach was really nice, and the water was beautiful. I was in the water the entire time, while everyone else came in and out to relax on the beach. I couldn't get over that I was swimming in the ocean in the middle of January. The ocean was on the other side of what I was used to as well haha. The restaurant we ate at fish and chips, which were very delicious. All in all, today was a very nice day, but we are slowly winding down to a close for this trip. In three days we will begin our trek back to the States. This project/trip has been an eye opening and moving experience that I will never forget.
Well, time to play some cards, talk to you guys...well, when we come home haha.
January 11, 2014 - Weekend Updates from Anthony and Danny
Gooooooooooooooooooooood Afternoon Everyone!!! Anthony here, enjoying the end to a very relaxing day. Today's agenda included writing in my journal, playing some cards, taking a quick nap, and even reading a few chapters in my book. A good way to spend a Saturday :). Danny actually cooked lunch for us today, and had a little experience of his own haha. He is gonna say more. Hope all is well at home!
Hello everyone, Because today was a relaxing day, I decided to cook Vietnamese food for my group. Dr. DeGoede and I made an expedition to the local market to purchase grocery. The market was packed with people, and thus, it took us a considerable amount of time to gather the ingredients for my dish. We ventured into the sections of the market that not many tourists went to, especially the fish section. That was a large area with many rows of small tables full with various kinds of fish. We were almost hit by people who carried big trays of fish between rows of tables for several times. We did not put into use our haggling skills throughout our shopping spree since the prices were inexpensive. While I was cooking, the hose connecting the gas tank with the stove melted, and the gas leaked out, which made the fire out of control. Dr. DeGoede and I were startled as the fire grew larger and larger. Fortunately, our host came into the kitchen just in time to subdue the fire. At the end, my soup, which included lady fish, scallions, tomatoes, and mint, turned out fine, and everyone had a delicious lunch. The rest of the day were leisurely activities, such as reading and playing card games. Tomorrow, we will make an excursion to the beach. Wish everyone an enjoyable weekend!
Sincerely, Duc Truyen Dam (Danny)
International Business Major, Class of 2014
January 10, 2014 - The end of a busy week... update from Danni
Good afternoon everyone, It's Danni again :)
I hope everyone is doing well! Well, our original plan for today was to have a very relaxing day after all the busy days. However, it wasn't so relaxing o.O We woke up early in the morning in order to go visiting Banjul. We couldn't find a driver, so we end up using public transportation. No direct gali gali goes from Pirang to Banjul, so we had to took two different galis. It took about two hours for us to arrive at Banjul.
On the way, we saw the president's car passing by on the other side of the road. There were many cars and soldiers guarding the president. We also saw the beach and the sea. Since there is no big production factories in the Gambia, pollutions are minimal. The sky and the sea was blue and clear, which was very pretty.
At Banjul, we visited the local market and the wood carving market. The capital city is much busier than the rural areas. After visiting Banjul, we planned to visit Dr. DeGoede's friend, Bill. We first took a gali gali and then walked to his place. Unfortunately, we walked towards the wrong direction. It took us about one hour to find Bill. Walking under the sun for one hour was somewhat desperate. Everyone was exhausted.
The food that Bill prepared for us was definitely a big reward after the long journey. We had a very pleasant lunch and conversation with Bill. After the visit, we took three different gali gali and finally got home. It was a long and tiring day, but everyone had fun!
It has been over one week since we arrived. We all accommodate very well. It is really nice to stay away from our phones and laptops (except writing the journals). No electricity makes us communicate with others much more than if we can use the Internet. We play cards every night. We chat, joke, and laugh. I go back to sleep with the squirrels' noises on my roof. Every morning around 6am I'm woken up by the prayers from the nearby Mosque. I go back to sleep after the prayer is finished and wake up later by the birds singing. This trip provides all of us a great chance to slow down in our busy lives, and we all love it!
Thank you for reading this long journal, and hope you have a great day :) Danni
December 9, 2013 - End of the Semester
This week the students are completing work on their fall semester. For this project the students are completing their final semester reports and preparing for the trip. The engineering students are finalizing fabrication of the 12 test units that we will deploy in January. The business students carefully framing the issues we need to resolve before launching a social business in The Gambia.
December 24, 2013 - Merry Christmas
Over the weekend I had a chance to talk to Nick - one of the students on last year's team and it was great to remember our travels together. I have greatly enjoyed seeing how this work has played out in the lives of these young professionals. The students have stayed closely connected with our work. Jen has been very active as a mentor to the business students. Josh now a graduate student at Case Western is heading out to Burma this spring as a participant in a peer learning program with students there. Jill and Julia are both off working on their Fulbright projects, although I was able to email back and forth with Jill this fall regarding this project. It was good to hear how well she is doing in that work. Emily reflected on her experience with the project at the Baccalaureate service last spring, you can see a recording of her speech at https://etown.digication.com/degoede/Blog
December 20, 2013 - CPBJ Story Published Today
You can find the story on-line at http://www.cpbj.com/article/20131220/CPBJ01/312199997/Elizabethtown-students-solving-Gambian-cellphone-problem
December 18, 2013 - More Trip Plans
It is always hard to schedule details well ahead of time in West Africa, it is definitely a culture of "go with the flow." Something this [Kurt] type A planner had to come to terms with quickly when starting my year at UTG in 2010. That said, I am very excited to include the the following messages from Momodou Jain (UTG) and Saikou Njai (USPC) as they are lining up several contacts for us. It looks like it should be a very productive visit.
I am also due to start my vacation on Jan. 2. I will work with you in making arrangements with the Brefet CBO and contacting an attorney. However, I cannot commit tp official involvement by the Peace Corps on the project. We will have to discuss that with The Country director. Peace Corps volunteers who choose to participate in the testing phase of project can do so without formal approval, and we can discuss that. The other questions raised my Danny can be answered as we meet relevant people and gather more information. My best regards to you all. Thanks, Saikou.
Thanks for your mail with the list of questions. We look forward to your coming with the respective students. UTG students are also doing some work here regarding casing for the charger so although your stay may be short, it should also be useful. For CBOs, there is an office responsible for them. The Ministry of Energy now have a center for renewable energy with a director. We can meet them also, plus many more. Warmest Regards. Momodou
December 17, 2013 - Etown Student Outcomes
This work is clearly have a strong effect on the UTG students who have launched some of their own parallel community service projects. When we travel in January we will be bringing over damaged PV cells (a waste product of the US PV module industry) to be used by these students in developing a platform for women working in community gardens to assemble modules for powering irrigation pumps.
December 16, 2013 - Trip goals
Now that the semester is over we are all focusing on the upcoming trip. Our travel itinerary is sketched out - while in The Gambia the students plan to
- gain a better appreciation of life in West Africa
- get to know their peers at UTG
- meet with the staff at the NGO based out of the community center where we will be staying
- meet with UTG students and alumni to explore possible business structures and their participation in a social business
- train UTG students on fabrication of PV phone chargers
- research locally available materials for future product development
- meet with Saikou (Peace Corps) regarding roll out of long-term prototype testing
- meet with a Gambian attorney to discuss CBO structures and other legal concerns
- travel to Brefet to meet with community leaders to explore a partnership as the potential CBO site
- market research with UTG students in Pirang, Brikama and Brefet.
Although the students have a full daily itinerary laid out we will need to go with the flow as we work to achieve as many of these goals as we can, while also taking advantage of the other opportunities will emerge.
December 11, 2013 - Interview
Today the engineering students made a presentation to the department on their work to date on the project. They did a great job. Afterwords Michael Sadowski from the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal dropped by to interview the four students. So, you should be seeing a story on the project there before too long.