Day 7… 8, 9: Planes and Trains

Hey everyone! Rachel here again! Sorry for the (very long) delay in posting the final blog entry of our trip… Our last day on the ground started with a long, productive meeting with Setco that included a lot of discussion about our plans for the upcoming months.

After this meeting regarding logistics and short-term goals, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Harish Sheth, the founder and CEO of Setco Automotive. Harish had some very good thoughts regarding project implementation that we will be discussing with the rest of the team as soon as we’re back on campus. During this sit-down he also asked us about our experience so far in terms of what sites we had seen and food we had eaten. When we replied that we had mostly been working, he said we should go sightseeing in the afternoon which Salma was kind enough to arrange.

Before we did that, though, we still needed to visit Dolatpura to test the two-burner stove and say “goodbye”. When we arrived at Sumitraben’s we got out the Maggi noodles we had bought for the occasion.


When she lit the fire and set the pot on it, we saw some smoke coming out where the pot met the stove which Shilpen pointed out was likely due to the fact that a different pot was used to shape the stove surfaces. The majority of the smoke, however, was coming out of the top of the chimney. The water in the pot quickly came to a boil and then the noodles were added. Overall, I think we were pretty satisfied with how the stove was working.

While Maggi was being made, most of our team was chatting with Sumitraben’s family and neighbors. We were also distributing photos that we had printed. Of course, the picture-taking never stops, so we were still snapping new pictures, including one of a woman with Garima on one side of her and a cow on the other. We said one last round of “thank you” and “namasté” to Sumitraben and her family before heading to the Anganwadi. We thanked Sangeetaben for her help and said goodbye before we piled in the car to head back to Setco one last time.

When we returned to the office we did a bit of work and then grabbed lunch. We said a few goodbyes to the Foundation employees who had helped us so much over the past week and headed out to go sightseeing with Viral leading the way. Our driver took us to Pavagadh, a very tall plateau that we passed every day on the way to and from Kalol.

We drove the winding road up the mountain as far as it reached. After that, we got out of the car and walked to the elevated tram system where we got into 2 cars that were suspended fromIMG_1971.jpg a large cord that ascended the mountain. Following that was quite a few steps – but a very small fraction of the 999 steps that span the whole mountain. Viral led the pack at a vertical jog, followed closely by the guys, then the girls, with me bringing up the rear. When we reached the top, we paused for a few minutes to let a school group get most of the way through the Hindu temple before we followed. The building, like the steps, was showing its 900-year-old age. But inside was a beautiful shrine that looked bright and new.

After passing through the temple, we descended back to the bottom of the mountain to find our driver who took us to Baroda. Although we didn’t have time to see the palace that Harish had mentioned, we really enjoyed the glimpse of Gujarat history that we got at Pavagadh.

Before leaving the office, we had been invited to dinner with Salmaben at 7. So before that time came, Rohil and I headed to the mall for one last time since we wanted to get a few more snacks and a bag to bring them back in. When we returned, it was time to depart for the restaurant. We were greeted by Viral and Rajesh followed by Salma and Sonam. We enjoyed a great meal together and then said our final goodbyes.

This was when it started to hit me that we would be leaving the country in the next few hours. And it was very sad.

The trip back to the hotel was followed by a nap for me, then packing and hustling out to the cars – one for our luggage and one for our team members. We signed some paperwork to check out of the hotel and we were off. Most of us knocked out for the long drive to the Ahmedabad airport.

IMG_1619The following 36 hours were a blur of airports, airplanes, naps, fast food, crying babies, security lines, customs forms, and passport checks. Our two flights (Ahmedabad to Dubai and Dubai to Chicago) were followed by home (in Chicago) for two of us, while the other 4 hustled to catch our train to Ann Arbor. My dad was nice enough to pick us up at the Amtrak station when we finally arrived at 11:30 pm Saturday night. While I can only speak for myself, the time since the train has been groggy and hungry for Indian food that’s no longer just an elevator ride away. My jet lag is very real and my “home” sickness for India is practically tangible.

Overall, this trip was very productive and eye-opening. I am so grateful to all of the people at Setco, our sponsoring organizations, and our partners in Dolatpura who made this amazing experience possible. Until next time, namasté, India!

Day 6: Play and Display

Hey ya’ll, Rushil here! The skies were cloudy and there was a slight breeze in the warm March morning. We knew we had a long, busy day ahead of us. Of course, the best way to start to any day was with a good natured game of Frisbee. We threw the Frisbee around with some of the kids in Dolatpura while waiting for Chatrisinh Bhai to return for our meeting. From Garima’s Kodak catches, Viral’s underrated skills, and the all girls nearly being hit in the head with the Frisbee, it made for quite a warm up. DSCN2779After that, we discussed the details of the outhouse in Chatrisinh’s backyard and tied up some loose ends. We determined that there were two options that he was open to – either rebuilding an outhouse or altering the one that is currently on his property. We also learned that water and electricity are generally available.


Soon after the meeting with Chatrisinh, we moved to the anganwadi in preparation for our focus group meeting with the villagers. Despite some delays in starting the meeting, we were met with a pleasant surprise as a toddler of one of the villagers captured everyone’s attention with her adorable antics. IMG_1917.JPGOnce the men and women had all congregated inside, Viral started discussing the background and goals of the team and our project. As he delved into the discussion about toilets, we obtained some valuable insight. It sounded like the villagers were receptive to the composting design and was optimistic about being able to use the recycled byproducts for future use. Everyone expressed that they had enough space for toilet infrastructure on their property. They also said that they were willing to use a toilet that was above ground level. Viral also went over the stoves process and how the team was progressing with the two-burner system. He explained that we were building one in Sumitraben’s backyard and the results of that build would be seen tomorrow.


After the long and fruitful meeting, we departed back to the Setco factory for a well deserved lunch. The aloo-gobi was a major hit! Following our break, we dove into another meeting with members of Setco to discuss our progress so far. The meeting went very well and everyone seemed to be on the same page. Finally, the last meeting of the day was with a civil engineer at Setco Factory. The meeting provided very valuable input into the manufacturing process of toilet infrastructure and what materials would be best suited for usage based on the resources that are available. And that was it folks. We all huddled around the table and let out a collective sigh of relief. We headed back home, awaiting a well deserved nap.

Day 5: Meeting and Completing

Hi everyone, Rachel here! Today started off with a call to our team members back in the US. It was great to hear familiar voices and update them on what’s been happening here in India. We also generated quite a few questions to ask of our partner families and ideas for how to conduct the focus group session we are planning for tomorrow.

After the meeting and some time spent in the office, we headed to Dolatpura to finish the two-burner stove with Sumitraben.

We combined cow dung and red dirt and then spread the mixture, called lapedo, over the stove. Then, the finishing touch was to smooth the fresh coating with water to even everything out.


We were joking with Sumitraben and her family about what to cook on the stove when it’s done drying. Maggi noodles, the Indian Ramen, sounded like a good idea. We grabbed some while we were out shopping last night but we will have to wait and see if the stove is dry in time for us to try cooking before we leave on Friday.


We returned to Setco for lunch after our work on the stove was done. After that, we talked over an initial plan for our community meeting tomorrow. During this conversation, I saw someone I thought I recognized walk into the office – this someone turned out to be Harish Sheth, the founder and CEO of Setco Automotive. The team got to say “hello” and shake hands with him. From the sounds of it, we will also be sitting down with him over chai on Friday to chat about the team’s progress and plans.


After Harish left the area of the office we use (to return to his many meetings), we finalized the list of toilet materials that we wanted to find and price-check in Kalol that afternoon. Viral was very helpful and accompanied us to a hardware store that had nearly everything we needed to look at – mostly different types of pipe and pipe connections as well as brickwork materials. Then we made our way to a metalworking shop that said they would be able to custom make a hinged closure for the bins of our structure. An accurate price estimate will have to wait until tomorrow when the shop owner has had time to go to his supplier in Baroda and see how much aluminum, which would be the most durable metal, will cost.

Overall, we had a very productive day, and it looks like tomorrow will be as well!


Day 4: Build and Chilled

Hey all, Shilpen here! Just checking in from India. The office was somewhat quiet today with most of the Setco employees relaxing at home on their day off (the typical work week goes from Wednesday-Monday). We still kept to our schedule and had a productive day in Dolatpura. We worked with our family partner, Sumitraben, to build our newest stove prototype.


The new prototype we built today had features similar to our previous prototypes, however, the newest iteration included two cook surfaces venting through the same chimney.


The two-surface design was developed in Michigan after getting feedback from our family partners from our regular communications. The process of building the stove as always was an enjoyable experience because we finally got to see our design take shape in its intended location. The build drew some attention from some of the distant family members and allowed for team members who were not as involved with the build to work on developing our relationships with the community and partners.


After the build we moved to some of the shaded areas and engaged the younger kids with Frisbees and cricket so Garima and Gayatriben could have a more serious conversation with Sumitraben about the costs associated with the stove and the logistical problems she has with getting the material to build the stoves.

IMG_1836Discovering these issues are exactly what we hoped to uncover in our trip as face-to-face communication is extremely effective and helpful in progressing our projects. Garima also had a great learning experience as she assumed the role of lead female translator during her interview with Sumitraben. The chain of translation had a third dimension during the interview as Garima would talk to Gayatriben in Hindi who would translate it to Gujaratri to Sumitraben after which Gayatriben would translate Sumitraben’s response to Hindi for Garima who would finally take notes in English. Kudos to Garima for taking on this ornate process for translation and coming out with a clear report of the interview for the team.

After a long morning in Dolatpura we returned to the seemingly ghost office of the Setco Foundation and got a chance to catch a breath after our exciting and tiring stove build. In the afternoon we planned for our video call with the full team back in the US tomorrow and reevaluated and refocused our goals and plans for the remainder of the trip. We also were able to open a more forward communication route as we broke through some of the awkwardness that comes with bring a team of five new travelers to Dolatpura. Personally, I saw our partners engage more directly with other team members as they began to feel more comfortable with the new faces. Of course, I receive tons of inquiries about Erica, Kaylla, Sai, John, Mitchell, Zoha, and other past travelers. All said, the shorter trip has led to significantly longer days but I feel both sub-teams are making good progress towards achieving our goals.