Day 4: A Day in Dolatpura!

Hey Everyone! This is Erica. I am pretty excited to be back in Gujarat. I’ve missed the food, the colors, and the noise. I think I can even say that the heat (108 degrees F today!) is bearable.

Today was our first day in Dolatpura. We spent a couple hours in the morning seeing all of our old friends and partners. It was exciting for me to see familiar faces (both at the factory and in Dolatpura). I even remembered some names! We wandered around Dolatpura visiting some houses and waving at people. All of the girls remembered me drawing the animals and made me get out my notebook.


One cool thing we saw were some monkeys (“vandro”) running through the village, jumping on the roofs, and drinking out of people’s water buckets. People threw rocks to keep them from stealing water. When the monkeys ran on the corrugated metal roofs, they made loud banging noises. At this point we were visiting Jenabhai’s family. His son told us that sometimes the monkeys damage the houses. I started to imagine the effect of having squirrels the size of small children running around and climbing trees in Michigan. I bet Michigan Squirrel Club would love that!


We also visited the woman who builds stoves, Sumitraben. She told us that she is planning on building a stove for her own house sometime soon; she said that we could watch. When we asked if we could help, everyone in the room laughed. We’ll see! Everyone in Dolatpura was excited because Sumitraben’s daughter is getting married this week. The wedding will last three days. Preparations were being made and music was playing in the streets. It is so exciting to be around at such a festive time!

I sat in on a talk about dreams with some of the girls in the village while the rest of the group played cricket outside in the street. Then, they dragged me out and made me play too. I felt super awkward with a cricket bat, but all the boys love to teach us how to play and don’t care that I am a beginner.


After visiting Dolatpura, we went back to the factory for a meal in the canteen. We quenched our thirst with Maaza mango juice and Thums Up cola. Yay for delicious Gujarati food!



Day 3: Serenading Setco

Hi friends, this is Kaylla, the token India first timer of the team! Our trip so far has been a series of traveling, but we have finally reached our destination after a four hour train ride from Mumbai to Baroda last night!


We’ve settled into the guesthouse, and are still waiting on Zoha’s arrival later this evening. This morning, we awoke to fresh chai and homemade poha topped with ketchup (apparently you can eat anything in India with ketchup…) and drove amongst cows and rickshaws to the Setco factory in Kalol.


I think the most exciting part of our 1 hour drive was observing the names of hotels along the road, ranging from “Hotel Decent” to “Hotel Great” though I was disappointed to not find a “Hotel Best” in the mix. After arriving at the Setco factory, we were introduced to the Setco foundation team whom we have been working with including Rajesh who joined recently, and Salma, who manages the logistics of the Setco foundation in Kalol. After presenting our plans, progress and goals to the team, we sat down to plan the rest of our week, as well as our visit to Dolatpura tomorrow. The rest of the afternoon was spent stumbling over Gujurati phrases with the help of Riya, who is staying with us at the guesthouse while she is gaining insight from the Setco Foundation’s work to expand her own NGO which gives Mumbai street children educational activities, food, and other resources to help their well-being. Looking forward to more great food!! (my favorite part of India thus far) – Kaylla

Namaste Mumbai! Namaste Baroda! Namaste Kalol!

Hey Everyone!

We made it! Three of us have landed and have taken refuge at a hotel in Mumbai. Shilpen came in last night and Erica and I came in at 5 AM on Monday. Kaylla landed Tuesday night. Today, we prepared our presentation for Urja. We are excited to update SETCO about our plans and go to Gujarat to meet everyone at the factory!

Addendum: We met with Urja and updated her about the progress we have made and our goals for the trip. We have arrived in Baroda! The train ride was amazing! We met Viral at the train station and arrived at the guest house and was welcomed by our caretaker Ramesh.

Progress Review Video!

Hi Everyone!

One of our awesome multi-media chairs (Kaylla!) made us an awesome video for the BLUElab Panel Review next month. We wanted to share it with you all. It details our progress over the last two semesters and has interviews with some of our team members! We’re pretty excited.

Here’s the youtube link!!

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.07.01 PM



T-19 Days Until Our Feasibility Site Visit

Hey, all! This is Rachel, toilets subteam co-lead.

Both subteams have been doing well in regards to keeping in touch with their respective partner families. Each week sees 2-4 calls made by BLUElab India as a whole. Having several Gujarati speakers has been a huge asset during these phone calls and we are so grateful to have our members contributing so much to the cross-cultural communication process. The calls have been great sources of information as well as good practice for how to interview individuals.

The stoves subteam has been progressing nicely towards building a stove as similar as possible to those currently seen in Dolatpura. They will then modify it in order to make it more efficient and decrease the amount of smoke. During weekly meetings the stoves subteam can be seen covering the blackboard with all kinds of different design ideas. Several members of this subteam (with Mike, too) had the opportunity to see one of the stoves built by Art and Design faculty member Professor Joe Trumpey. They also spent some time talking with Professor Trumpey about our progress as a team. His insights along with all of the awesome ideas the stoves subteam has been throwing around have made this a really exciting and productive time with lots of new developments on their way soon.

The toilets subteam continues to stay in contact with several community members of Dolatpura, especially our partner family. While it has been difficult to avoid miscommunications during translation, we are moving towards having a solid list of design requirements together, hopefully in the next week or so. Because we carried out a literature review on toilet/septic technologies at the beginning of the school year, we will have a ton of information to draw from to get us from design requirements to designs on paper pretty quickly.

Ultimately, our goal is to go to India with at least one design each for the toilet and stove projects. With our flight taking off in less than three weeks, we’re feeling the time crunch, but we are all making steady progress and are hopeful that spring break will be a huge opportunity to learn about the feasibility of our designs.

We also had the chance to enjoy a Bollywood movie a couple weeks ago at Mike’s place. There wasn’t a huge turnout, but the movie was awesome and it was nice to kick back and relax with fellow BLUElabbers.

The newest subteam of BLUElab India was recently created. It focuses on culture and aims to educate members on all aspects of Indian life. It currently has two members and their first presentation this past Thursday focused on religion in India, specifically Hinduism and Islam. It was really informative and interesting. I think we all look forward to learning more about the culture of Gujarat and India on the whole.

PS – We are happy to welcome our new members! We are hosting an official orientation for them tomorrow and look forward to sharing more of our team’s story with them.

Making Progress

Mike checking in with an update on all things BLUElab India.

Our two technical sub-teams (stoves and toilets) are deep into this semester’s work. Both sub-teams are preparing for the Spring Break feasibility assessment trip (2/27 – 3/8) and the May implementation trip (whole month), made possible by a $15000 grant award from the DOW Sustainability Fellows Program. More on those trips later; first, a quick summary of the progress of each sub-team.

On the stoves side, the team is progressing nicely. Since establishing phone contact with their family partner in Dolatpura (now calling 1-2 times weekly), the team has gathered a lot of important information, and drafted a list of design requirements with the family. Information gathered includes family schedule, materials, problems with current stoves, and more. The process of learning exactly what kinds of qualities the family is looking for is an important part of “co-design”. Since then, the sub-team has had two rounds of concept generation: brainstorming ideas for different designs. Concept generation will eventually lead to the selection of a few designs to focus on, including an “alpha design” (the primary design from which to iterate). Once the team picks an alpha design, they will begin to build and prototype in the Wilson Center (build area). In the meantime, the team is in the process of replicating the current stove design used by the family partner to get a sense of the current situation. This replication will also give the sub-team experience with the needed materials and tools.

On the toilets side (the sub-team I am on), the team is still in the information and design requirement phase. We have a family partner, but communication has been difficult due to conflicting schedules and limited modes of contact. Currently we are using Google Voice for outgoing calls, but have not found a viable option for incoming calls. In addition, the local government in Dolatpura recently committed to providing toilets to every household in the town. This is wonderful, however, it makes our project complicated; we now need to find out everything we can about this project, including: are the government toilets effective? Are people using them? When will the project be completed (if it will be completed)? To find this information, we are in continuous talks with Setco and other people in Dolatpura to gain multiple perspectives. Expect a big breakthrough in the next couple weeks!

In regards to the trips to Dolatpura in Spring Break and May, we still have more planning to do. However, we have outlines for what we want to accomplish. During Spring Break, the primary purpose is to use the face-to-face time to get concentrated feedback on the stoves (and potentially toilet) designs and iterate them accordingly. It may even be possible to build rough prototypes with our family partners while abroad. The work over Spring Break will help set us up for a successful implementation in May, and help us determine if implementation in May is even feasible. Other goals for Spring Break include strengthening relationships with family partners, acquiring more contacts within the local government (Nagar Palika), filling in information gaps, giving a presentation about our progress and goals, and put on a community workshop (such as cooking or science) to boost presence and relationships and share aspects of culture.

In other BLI news, we are preparing to welcome in a group of new members. New Member orientation is coming up in a week and we’re excited to see new faces. We took on a lot of people at the start of last semester, and we now have a solid foundation for growth. It’s no longer going to be doomsday when the first batch of seniors leaves this year (but sad nonetheless). As people get to know each other, team chemistry is definitely improving as well (I.e. people will actually eat the food at meetings now)!

– Mike

P.S. Check out just one example (of many) of a stove design in the worksKaylla Cantilina - 2b

The First Week Back

Hey all, Haresh here with the second blog post of the year.  I am a new member of BLUElab India, having joined just last semester.  Overall, it has been a great time working with the people in BLUElab India, as well as meeting people within the organization as a whole.  This upcoming semester looks like a great opportunity for our team to work with the community in India.

For our first week back, the stoves sub team focused on looking through the BLUElab gate process, and making sure that we are up to speed in terms of each gate before prototyping.  While going through the review, we had some questions arise when we looked back at Gate two, defining the project.  We decided that it would be best to clear up these questions through a phone conversation with the family, and we plan to get in contact with them on Monday morning.

In addition to analyzing our progress, we brainstormed the specific goals and needs of our project and how we might implement those goals into our actual design.  We came up with a myriad of different ideas for each need.  Once the meeting was over, we decided that each member should bring a basic stove drawing for the next meeting.  Overall, the stove sub team’s  goals for this semester would be to start selecting and building some designs in the Wilson center that we might use once we go to India during spring and summer.

For our toilet systems sub team, we are currently around gate two.  We have ran into a couple of issues in terms of government action.  To elaborate the government is planning attempting to build toilets for everyone in Dolutpura.  For the next meetings, the toilet systems sub team is planning on finding out more about the government project, and see where they can go from there.

Overall, this new semester’s opportunities look promising.

Looking Back on Our Semester

Hi everyone, many apologies for the long hiatus of blog posts, but our first semester back has been full of exciting decisions and developments. Not only have we focused our project to two specific issues and one village (two families), but our team has grown in size as well! As winter break comes to a close, this coming semester we will be solidifying designs and prototyping in preparation for travel in both the spring, and summer.

After coming back from a needs assessment trip last summer and evaluating the tons of valuable data, the team decided on two issues to focus on: the unhealthy amounts of smoke women inhale while cooking over burning stoves, and the lack of inexpensive septic tanks/toilet systems.

The most common stoves the travel team saw in India burn fuel (commonly wood) and have poor or no ventilation systems. Women usually spend a majority of their day cooking, inherently breathing in a significant amount of smoke leading to difficulty breathing, and long-term health issues. This semester the team did research on all kinds of low budget clean stove designs including seeking some advice from Professor Joe Trumpey who has an ongoing stove project in Tanzania. As we continue to design, we have been in contact with a family in Gujarat who is willing to work with us. Some things to continue to consider are cost, cooking technique (how will flavor change depending on stove type?), space in the home, and sustainability. Things are looking great and we hope to start building in the Wilson Center soon!

On the flip side, the septic sub team has done a similar literature review, looking at several different types of toilet campaigns and systems. India has an extreme lack of local sanitary toilets, leading to sickness, poor hygiene, and a perpetuating problem. Though India is currently trying to alleviate the issue through building state funded outhouses for numerous families, many of these outhouses remain unused because families must build septic tanks themselves. Unfortunately, these tanks are expensive and unaffordable. The goal this semester was to evaluate methods for low cost tank designs, how and whether or not to redesign the toilet itself, and how to sustainably implement it at an affordable price. Like the stoves sub-team, septic has been making regular calls to the family they are working with, and continue to hone designs for prototyping.

Other than the usual business of brainstorming, meeting, and working on our project, we’ve started a more social side to BLUElab India: grabbing meals, having office hours, and just hanging out to get to know each other. Members have also been attending seminars and workshops to learn better ways to develop projects and plan overseas trips; we’ve been learning some useful information!

The new semester is looking exciting with all kinds of builds, experiments, and trip planning happening. Stay tuned for pictures as we start the prototyping process!

– Kaylla

Day 27: Until Next Time

I (Mitchell) am a bit behind on the blog post because of all the travel we have been doing. We started packing up our things to move out of the apartment and then we started traveling to Mumbai and next thing you know we are behind on the blog (again).

Anyway, our last day started out as usually with a nice breakfast at home and then running out the door at 8 to get to the factory. Once we got there we did some office work and talked about our plans for our last visit to Dolatpura. We started the day off shorthanded. Mike stayed back because he was feeling ill and Viral was also absent because he had other work to do for the foundation. I was very upset to hear Viral was not going to be with us on our last day! However, we got to see him later and we still managed to say goodbye to the community through broken Hinglish.

We got to Dolatpura around 10:30 am. Our plan was to all meet with the old Surpanch, take water tests, find Jaydeep Bhai, and have the women of the team conduct one last interview. It turned out that we got the water samples at Jena Bhai’s house and then went to talk to the old Surpanch for a little while. Our talk with Leela went very well. We learned a little bit about the politics of the village and other projects that have been completed in the past few years.

While we were talking with Leeta, Jon began to feel a bit worse and he decided to go back to the factory. We wrapped up our talk and then went back to the anganwadi. The ladies of the group waited for the older women they wanted to interview with Gayatri.

Meanwhile, I was left without Jon, Michael, and Viral. So I talked to some villagers and played frisbee. I eventually made it out the fields and was playing catch when I was called back because it was time to leave. It was quite difficult to say goodbye, partly because I know so little Gujarati, but mostly because I am really going to miss all the people we say good bye and gave our friend Gohbo Bhai my frisbee and instructed him that it was for Dolatpura.

We went back to the factory and gave Gayatri her gift and had lunch. After lunch we said our goodbyes and headed home for a nap. We then got ready for Dinner with Salma. We had an awesome dinner and presented Salma with her gift. We finished up the night by getting taking a wild drive through Baroda and ended the night with some ice cream.

We had an incredible experience and we would like to thank the Setco Foundation, Setco Automotive, Dr. Krishna, and all the people we worked with for their support and insight into everything we did. We look forward for the coming year and stay tuned for an update on our project.

धन्यवाद – dhanyavād – thank you.

Day 26: We’ve Come a Long Way

Hi all, Mike here with Day 26. Today we drove to Dolatpura and split into two groups. Erica, Brianna, and Zoha gave a formal interview to Sumeetra ben. Mitchell, Jon, and I walked around the village and mapped out the drainage system in the town. We also noted major landmarks and the locations of the houses of people that we’ve gotten to know.

 From mapping, and learning about drainage over the past week, we’ve learned valuable information. Firstly, government-maintained drainage ditches cover only a small portion of the town. As a result, many people run excess water straight into the street or farm. Secondly, the drainage system that does exist is ineffective. There are pools of standing water throughout the visible portion of the drainage line, caused by uneven gradient and blockages (trash, sediment, etc.). Standing water is a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. We also walked along the pipe that is supposed to bring the runoff water out of town and discovered that the pipe was completely blocked with mud and rocks. A couple villagers told us that the owners of the adjacent farm had purposely blocked the line and redirected the flow into their property in order to help water their crops. Drainage is certainly on our radar in terms of potential project.

 Later on, we played Frisbee with kids and a few adults. It was really encouraging to realize that we are remembering lots of names, and that people in the village are remembering our names. That simple name connection works wonders for building rapport. After heading back to Setco, we went to Setco employee Pharat Cala bhai’s house for lunch. We were served a wonderful lunch, along with ice cream.

 After work, we went to Priyank’s house to say our goodbyes before heading back to America. Priyank is studying for exams and will be graduating college in the coming weeks. He was absolutely crucial for our project, and really helped us gather information and build a bond with the community. I will miss his witty sense of humor and honest feedback about our project.

 Later that night, we began working on our final presentation that we will be giving to Setco in Mumbai. When we started laying out our story on the slides, I realized just how far we have come since flying in on May 2nd. We have several needs and problems that we are considering, including an ineffective drainage system, stoves that hurt the eyes and throats of the cooks, lack of accessible and sustainable toilets, unclean drinking water, and a shortage of electricity for farm work and pumping water. In the coming months, we will compile our information and choose an area to work in for the coming year. I look forward to the challenge!