My Arrival To India

Pretty much everything started going wrong. It could have been worse, but it definitely was a real introduction.

This past week I started my first real international development research project, arriving in India. I had had two overnight flights with a day layover in Paris finally landing in Mumbai’s international airport. It was especially exciting as this was my first time outside the US, Mexico, and England. I arrived in India thankfully in the morning, and the plan was to catch another flight across India to Chennai to meet up with other MIT students.

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Mind, Hand, and Heart

MIT’s motto Mens et Manus means Mind and Hand, and at first glance this sounds like a good thing. This motto implies that we not only think about great things, but we also do great things. As engineers we build things and as scientists we conduct experiments. However, this past semester showed me that MIT needs a slightly different motto: Mens Manus et Corde or Mind, Hand, and Heart. I think MIT could use a step up, and I think iHouse offers some hope.

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Our September Speaker Series

It was great to have Dr. Sujata K. Bhatia from Harvard join us for our September speaker series this past Tuesday! She shared an interesting way of how she has been involved in international development. She started by explaining how for her work in biomedical engineering she is encouraging the use of biopolymers made from natural (agricultural) materials for medical applications. The rationale is that natural polymers and substances react best with natural people!

So how is this related to international development? Well, one of her *undergraduates* a few years back wrote a thesis about how developing nations are filled with the agricultural potential to be powerhouses for high-end medicine projection. This inspired Dr. Sujata and others at Harvard who are now offering workshops targeted towards the brightest minds in developing countries to realize the potential of natural agricultural products in medicine. Continue reading

Conquering Concrete

In America concrete is an exact science. Every quantity of material is weighed exactly and mixes are specifically designed for certain jobs. When hand-mixing concrete in rural Uganda, concrete is more of an art. We initially planned to make a 1:2:4 mix of concrete with one part cement, two parts sand and four parts aggregate or gravel. However, the gravel we found was too large so we had to adjust the mix to 1:2:2. It worked out well after a bit of trial and error. We also had to compromise between the Ugandan method of making concrete with lots of water and the American method with minimal water. We ended up with a decent mix of concrete that was not too wet or too dry. Mixing the concrete and pouring it was a lot of labor. We were especially sad that Valerie and Lawrence had to leave in the middle of the day so we lost two laborers. Some local teenagers in the village helped out but everyone was exhausted by the end of the day. We did successfully finish one concrete lid! Only four more to go. We will definitely enlist more local labor to help out or bring Ivan, Mrs. Muwanika’s grandson, with us everywhere.


(This blog post is also posted on the EWB-MIT’s blog site:

Also, farewell to Valerie and Lawrence!

We are all sad that two of our teammates had to leave to go back to their jobs. Valerie, our mentor for the first part of the trip, is reluctantly going back to work in Boston. Lawrence, a Ugandan student and friend of EWB-MIT Daphne, heads back to job training in northern Uganda. We are sad to see them go but we are happy that Valerie will finally get to read all about the royal baby and get a real shower.

Lots of Progress!

Sorry for the delay in blogging! We have made good progress despite some minor illnesses and injuries. Noam and Valerie had colds but are feeling much better and Marisa (me) sprained her ankle but it is also much better. Everyone is enjoying the weather and food in Ddegeya.

We are replacing the existing wooden lids with concrete lids and currently most of the formwork, wood to support the concrete, is complete. Many of our team members are now experts with saws. We also worked with the community to clean the tanks before we pour the new lids. Most people were eager to clean out their tanks. A few tanks had lizards but most of the contamination was dirt. Hopefully the concrete lids will be more secure.

We’ve also began work to fix some of the gutters that were placed in the wrong direction. Removing the existing gutters is a lot of work because they are nailed in tightly. Undoing the work from last year has been tough so far since everything is built so solidly. We’ve also put the new pumps together but the small screws went missing so we need to buy more. Scott, Leone and I are in Masaka today to pick up some more materials. Now that everyone is healthy construction should proceed smoothly.


(This blog post is also posted on the EWB-MIT’s blog site:

Reaching Ddegeya

On Wednesday Noam, Scott and I (Marisa) got up around 5am to get ready to pick up Valerie from the airport. Unfortunately our driver was late and instead of leaving at 6am we left around 6:45am. Valerie had to wait a bit but we made it. We then went back into Kampala to pick up Sarah and Leone, the students assisting us from Makerere University. We were glad to have a private van and not the public taxi, especially with all of our luggage. We had a tasty lunch at the equator and took pictures we will upload when we get faster internet. We finally reached Ddegeya around 2pm. After a bit of settling in the girls, Valerie, Leone, Sarah, and me went out to Kinoni, a nearby town to buy food and supplies. Upon our return we visited each tank.

The main problems we found were:
1. Pumps were not working, mostly because of broken valves. There were also broken T-joints and broken handles.
2. Lids were cracked and warped and rotting in some cases.
3. People must stand on the lid because the pump is too far in.
4. The gutters are overflowing. Each gutter has a long edge and a short edge and in some cases the short edge is on the outside. Schematic to come if we get faster internet!

Our solutions:
1. Replace wood valves with rubber.
2. Replace wooden lids with concrete.
3. Move pumps closer to edge to reduce stress on T-joints, possibly build stairs to reach the pump handles
4. Secure handles with joints, not just drilling holes
5. Replace gutters to get long edges on the outside in all cases and increase gutter supports to prevent bending.

After our long day of travel and visiting tanks we had a delicious dinner of potatoes, onions and tomatoes with tea. We all enjoyed it but most of us could not finish it all.

Everyone slept well on Wednesday night and we then set out to buy supplies and repair the tanks! We are currently in Masaka buying supplies. Stay tuned for more updates!


(This blog post is also posted on the EWB-MIT’s blog site:


Scott and I (Marisa) have arrived safely in Uganda after many hours of flying late last night. We are excited to pick up Noam later this evening and to get Valerie tomorrow and head to Ddegeya.

This morning we slept in to make up for the pains of traveling. We are staying at Red Chilli’s hostel with many other travelers. Most of them got up early to go on trips so we had the place mostly to ourselves at breakfast. We shared the dining room with the resident dog and cat. Three years ago Shavi and I called the dog “Dug” after the dog in up, but I learned that his name is actually Nero. I think Dug suits him better.

After sleeping in we have been busy in Kampala running errands. We now have phones and can call people! We also met with Leone to discuss how we will meet with the Makerere students and get to Ddegeya tomorrow. We plan to hire a private car and pick up Valerie en route to Ddegeya. We also purchased mosquito nets and explored the supermarket, which is similar to Target.


 (This blog post is also posted on the EWB-MIT’s blog site: