We’re Finally Here! But First, Our Path to Banda…

2013-06-14 12.01.16

Muraho! Hello!

I’m Shinri Kamei, a ’16 and a prospective electrical engineer from Japan. I’m a part of hydro’s travel team to Rwanda this summer, along with Joey Anthony ’12, June Shangguan ’13, Max Sloan ’13, Alison Polton-Simon ’14, and Sophie Sheeline ’16.

We’ve been in Rwanda for almost a week now, and we’re currently in Banda, where we’ll be spending most of our summer. In 2008, DHE’s hydro team set up two hydropower sites at waterfalls each about a thirty minute walk away from the village. Most villagers use car batteries as their source of electricity, and these can be carried to the sites and recharged. Previously, the only source of electricity had been a micro grid, six hours away by foot.

The path to the hydro sites is like a scenic hiking trail, and after finally meeting our local partners, I know that the next two months will be amazing. Our house is pitch black at night, and a small battery, charged by one of the hydropower sites, lights up the kitchen that we cook dinner in. I learned to say 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 in Kinyarwanda, the native language, and our contractor and foreman, Pete, now knows the same in Japanese. Our toilet, a hole in the ground more than thirty feet deep, feels charming, and the freezing shower is refreshing. The next two months will be amazing.

But our trip didn’t start a week ago when we got on our plane at JFK. Let me step back and walk you through what we’ve been up to.

In the two weeks between Dartmouth graduation and our departure to Rwanda, they hydro team split up into sections. June, Max, Alison, and I stayed on campus and spent upwards of fifteen hours a day in Thayer, working through an electrical intensive with Prof. Charles Sullivan, one of DHE’s advisors. We got a chance to thoroughly test and understand the electrical system implemented by previous trips and identified its limitations. We spent so much time together that we all shared the same cold. We huddled in Thayer’s otherwise deserted Advanced Design Laboratory with tea, honey, and popcorn. We somehow made it out alive.

 

June led the charge on the intensive. She’s a computer engineer that just graduated from Dartmouth with her B.E. and is headed to Michigan in the fall for a Master’s in engineering. Prior to the intensive, she’d been the only one in the group with electrical expertise in the system. She quickly caught us up to speed and started presenting us with different design diagrams. Our questions would lead to changes in the design, and once we had our new design for the day, she’d respond with her trademark “good,” complete with the extended o-sound. The next day, we’d present our design to Sullivan, and his critique would inform further alterations.

Max is the other ’13 on the team. Being a mechanical engineer, electricals were completely new to him, but by the end of the two weeks, he could answer any of my questions about dump load sizing, charge control, and anything else I was unclear on.

Alison, a ’14, is a NYC native and the past year’s DHE president. She spent her spring term away at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and returned at the beginning of summer for our electrical intensive. Alison is a fiercely organized computer engineer and is a lover of lists and Greek yogurt. During those two weeks, she juggled communication with Joey, who was already in Rwanda, documentation, finances, logistics, and of course, electricals, with a sage-like wisdom.

At the end of the two weeks, June, Max, Alison, and I finally came up with a new system design that we were happy with.

 

A lot of our work was defined by Joey’s work in Rwanda, which was going on at the same time. Joey, a member of the 11X travel team had worked in Banda two years ago, and was project leader of hydro in the terms that followed. The Monday that our intensive officially started, he got on a plane from Tokyo and departed for Rwanda alone. In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, he hired a contractor and interpreter. Upon arriving in Banda a few days later, he visited the sites we’d been working at and discovered that not only had storage batteries, crucial buffers for the system voltage, had been removed from both sites, and one site had zero circuit breakers.

These situations made sense. The storage battery could be sold for profit to new customers. Circuit breakers, if designed to trip at low current levels, made the system safer but could be a nuisance. These current levels were higher than those expected during normal operation, small but harmless spikes could trip the breakers and cut the circuit. They could also break on their own and were difficult for the villagers to replace.

These revelations informed our design of the system, and we were able to come to Banda better prepared.

Meanwhile, Sophie Sheeline ’16 prepared material for Impact Analysis from California. An engineering major with a focus on applying engineering to global health and development, Sophie had been working all term on preparing surveys and surveying methods for the summer, so that DHE can better understand the impacts of our sites on the people in Banda, and how we can make our impact bigger and more positive in the future. In the weeks leading up to our departure for Rwanda, Sophie finalized survey documents and plans with the help of previous travelers and Peace Corps volunteers that spent their last two years in Banda.

Thank you so much to everyone, both inside and outside DHE, that helped us along the way. We’ll make you proud!

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