We just returned from two days in the field. The weather is brutally hot and humid, and our work extended from early in the morning until 10 in the evening. We learned an amazing amount, though! The first day was spent meeting with three different groups and following up with a two-hour session to identify strategies for addressing the problems brought forward by community members. The second day involved pursuing recommendations made by community members for collectives doing similar work and then setting up the mold press.
Our initial meeting was with the Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP). SWAP is a non-governmental organization dedicated to preventing water-related diseases, improving the health of individuals with HIV, and generating income for HIV-positive women and support groups. One of their initiatives is a pottery project which engages local merchants in the distribution of clay pots for safe water storage. The team was there to examine mold designs and provide information on how to produce the pots more efficiently. It became clear that of the three components of water safety: (1) water treatment, (2) water storage, and (3) hygiene education and behavior change, the latter is the most challenging and complex. While water treatment and storage is relatively easy and inexpensive using tablets and plastic containers, community members want to use traditional clay pots.
After our meeting with SWAP, we went on to visit a women’s collective called “Taya” (Light). The community members produce clay pots through “grass firing.” The women demonstrated clay harvesting, shaping and firing with millet husks, and drying the pots. There was remarkable consistency in the size and shape of the pottery despite the fact that they were done by hand, without the use of molds or potters’ wheels. The engineering students were in awe of the fact that the artisans were able to place the pots at the right angle for firing and determine the exact amount of vegetation for firing by pressing their bodies against the mounds. Lou mentioned that it would take his engineering students about two months of modeling to implement the same techniques that were applied.
Our final visit was a fish farm that was being established. The students will assist with the design of both a dam and mechanisms for transporting fingerlings. It was useful to have visited a second fish farm later today in Kakamega today that is already harvesting fish.
Today also included a visit to the Iseli Pottery Group who are supplying the pots to SWAP. Their kiln is in need of improvement, so we took clay samples to find the right mixture with sawdust. We have a variety of projects to bring back to our students and are very much looking forward to collaborating throughout the academic year.
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