Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back in Canada

I've been back in Canada for about a week now. Unpacked and recovered.

My last day in Malawi I spent hanging out with the other EWB volunteers, reflecting all our different experiences. There had been ups and downs, challenges and joys. Some how I managed to get through the whole summer in great health. But I spoke too soon. The night before we flew out I fell ill. Fever, chills, headache, body aches, and nausea; all symptoms of Malaria. I started treatment right away and hoped I would get better before the flight. The next morning I felt a lot better and boarded the plan for Johannesburg, South Africa. But by the time I got there I was feeling pretty sick again. All I wanted was to get home, so I got on the plane to London. It was the worst nine hours of my life. By the time I got to London I had a fever over 39 C and could barely walk. My fellow EWBers were amazing at sorting everything out for me as I lay in the sick room at Heathrow airport. I went to the nearest hospital and stayed the night in London to recover. The next day I was well enough to get back on a plane thanks to the Malaria meds and rest. I have never been so happy to come home. I cried in relief as the plane landed in Toronto.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Nkhotakota or BUST!

Me and Elius after dinner

Playing around with the grading mask at the Masinda Factory

The coolest goat in the world, check out that mohawk

I have left Katimba village where I was working at the Masinda Cassava Starch Factory. I spent some time working on the designs in Lilongwe and Mzuzu. I am now back in Lilongwe and fly out tomorrow. What a long strange journey its been. I will add a couple more posts and pictures when I get back to Canada.

Poem from Amos


When you came here
Stories you could hear
Are of the programmes
Implemented here
And of the people
Who were here
Stories that brought joy
And fear
You nearly dropped a tear
That was in May
Long last you opened your way

Then came June
Together we have done evaluation
Together we have crossed rivers
Together we have inhaled dust
Something we shan’t do together in August

Then the globe turned July
Your months stay counted three
You were as free
As a bird in a tree
This proved your unique

Soon you are going back to Canada
You shall not inhale dust again
But hopefully,
You will always remember Malawi
The warm heart of Africa

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wildlife of Malawi

I haven't seen any lions, hippos, or zebras here in Malawi, but I have seen lots of bugs and lizards. These ones are not so bad, as they don't give you Malaria like the mosquitoes, or bite you like the fire ants.

Chance Kawiya

Age: 27
Occupation: Vice-assistant manager at the Masinda Starch Factory
Family: Newly married and expecting his first child

Chance was not only my co-worker at the Masinda Starch Factory, but I also lived with him and his wife Elius, in Katimba Village. Chance is one of few people in the village that speaks English very well. When I asked him way this was, he explained that he, unlike most people in the area, had completed secondary school. Here are the answers to some questions I asked Chance:

Q: For you, what are the three most import things in your life?
Chance first listed: To have food, to have a good house, the have gardens, a good family, and then to be God fearing. When I asked him to rank these he indentified God as number one, followed by family, then having food.

Q: For you, what are the best things about Malawi?
A: Good education, many rivers, lagoons, and hot springs, small villages, farming, and a lake near by

Q: What are the worst things about Malawi?
A: Poverty and corruption

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of poverty?
A: The lack of employment.

Q: What are the some of the biggest differences between urban and rural lives in Malawi?
A: Finding money in the villages is much more difficult. There are more jobs in the city. You can always find work, even if it is just temp work.

When I asked what were some the advantages of living in the rural area, he couldn’t think of any at that time. There must be some, or people would not live there, but I found it interesting that he could not think of any, even though he has always lived in a rural environment.

Q: What role do you think people from the West should play in Malawi? In what way can they have the most positive impact?
A: To bring jobs to Malawi by starting businesses and factories.

When talking to Chance there was a definite theme job security being a huge importance to him and development in Malawi in general.

Friday, August 3, 2007

My First Day in Masinda

Monday was my first full day in Masinda. The day started at 5am as the sky was just starting to change from night to day. The bike taxi arrived at 5:30am to transport me and my luggage to the cassava starch plant. We got off to a bumpy start as the weight of me and my pack on the back of the bike raised the front off of the ground. So, an extra bike had to be hired; one for me, and one for my bag. It was my first trip on a bike taxi, and it was pretty fun, even though we wiped out once going down a sandy hill.

I spent the morning at the plant gathering information and trying to think of possible solutions for the wastewater issue. At lunch I got to see my new home for the first time. I am staying in a fairly typical rural Malawian household. There are four houses clustered together. Everyone is related in someway, so it is really one big family. I am staying with a newly married couple, Chance and Elius. I have a 7’x7’ room to myself which consists of a wire to hang clothes on and a reed mat to sleep on.

The first night I was there the moon was so bright you could read by it. Signing and clapping could be heard in the distance. I was told it was to announce the up coming circumcision ceremony. The women in my compound formed a circle and started dancing and singing songs of their own. They laughed, but welcomed me as I joined in. The voices in the distance got closer, and a group of about 20 boys emerged from the bushes into the clearing of the compound. They formed a line and we one opposite to them. The dance party began with everyone clapping and singing song after song. A group of women and girls arrived and joined our side. In twos or threes dancers from one side dance across and pick a partner to come out and dance, then return to their place. I was having so much fun; despite having a bad headache. I figured I was either dehydrated or getting Malaria; both very realistic possibilities.

The Starch Factory and Wastewater Project

This post is mainly intended for my chapter back in Guelph, but also for anyone else who is interested in more of the technical aspects of my experience.

The Masinda Starch plant is a small scale processing plant located in a fairly isolated rural area. Cassava is collected by ox-cart from the surrounding farmers and transported to the plant. It is then weighed, washed, and grated. After it has been grated into a thick pulp like substance, water is added and the starch is separated from the fibers by sieving. The water starch solution then passes through a sedimentation channel. After the channel is drained there remains a layer of starch at the bottom which is removed and dried. Once it is dry, it is milled and packaged.

Click on image to see full size

The main issue with the wastewater, which contains mainly water and starch, is its high BOD (biological oxygen demand). If the water is directly discharged to the near by river, the decomposition of the organic matter (starch) will use up the oxygen in the water killing aquatic life. Another major issue is that the current wastewater system was designed for production rates of two tons of fresh cassava per day and the plant is currently running at about 8 tones of fresh cassava per day. What further aggravates the situation is that the currently system is also heavily clogged with solids. Oh, it also smells pretty bad from the fermination going on.

As a temporary solution we have begun to build a berm 15m from the river to contain the overflow. The water flow through 15m of soil should adequately clean the infiltrated wastewater before it enters the stream. We have also directed overflowing pits to a large recently dug dirt pit (see picture above).

After meeting with one of the people from IITA who was involved with designing the original system, the preliminary long term solution that we came up with was:

1. Develop a maintenance plan for regularly cleaning out the system, including composting pits for waste organic matter
2. Use screens to prevent larger debris from entering and clogging the system
3. Add power made from the Moringa tree into the large pits to act as a coagulant (enabling more solids to be removed)
4. Add limestone powder to smaller pits to neutralize the acidity of the water
5. Direct water to adjacent cassava field after smaller pits
6. Direct overflow from cassava field to a low lying vegetated areaThis vegetated area can also be enhanced with plantings of water purifying and absorbing plants. A berm should also be created downstream of the vegetated area to prevent potential contamination of hand dug well.

Click on image to see full size

I am currently in Lilongwe researching the details of this plan. The other thing I wanted to look into was the viability of using the biogas created from the settling pit. Any comments, questions or suggestions are welcome.

Team Malawi 2007

Team Malawi 2007
The Malawi team meets for the first time in Calgary during the EWB National Conference