Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Puerto Rico Asset Value -- Fishing with Andy and Yamil

Fishing with Andy and Yamil
James Cox

The early bird gets the worm!
Paulina and I started our day early, meeting at Andy’s house at
5:30 am. Both Andy and Yamil were fast-paced and eager to get their equipment situated aboard the boat so we could get to the boat ramp.

The boat is powered by a 4 stroke Yamaha 115hp motor. We were surprised to see a 4 stroke motor because they are more expensive than their 2 stroke counterpart. Andy explained that he received a discount on his motor because he is a commercial fisherman. In talking with other fisherman, the general consensus on which kind of motor is better still seems to be cloudy. It seems much like a religion and personal preference as to which motor a fisherman prefers over the other. The jury is still out on this one.

There was a few heavy items like the yellow scuba tanks that
required two people to safely load and unload from the boat. The wooden speargun rests on a custom rack on the port side gunwale (left side of the boat). The a long line, attached to the diver, is also attached to the orange buoy which is thrown in the water and acts as a visual surface marker while the diver is beneath the surface. Rubber mats on the deck help secure these items while we were underway.

This ankle bracelet repels sharks from the area by use of magnets. The strong force emitted from the band overloads the shark’s senses and repels them away, keeping the diver safe. Among sharks, Andy mentioned the constant interactions with other large marine life such as whales and dolphins, which put the diver at risk of getting his lines entangled.

Andy was first in the water, staying submerged for about 45 minutes. Once he returned to the surface with a heavy catch bag, Yamil assisted him in pulling aboard both the fish and the heavy scuba tank. It was amazing how they performed all day without much talking, simply working off of each others body language and simple gestures. They were truly operating as if it was second nature.

Paulina and I were impressed with the amount of fish and lobster Andy and Yamil caught. Amidst the hot Puerto Rican climate, Yamil stayed cool and protected from the sun by wearing a hat and special breathable face mask. Also, though a long shirt may seem counterproductive at first thought, we learned that the water soaked nylon shirts keep the diver cool onced surfaced. It is amazing that they are out in sun so intense for up to 6 days a week, vulnerable without cover. Some boats had a canvas top to provide shade; however, Andy’s did not.

IMG_0500.JPGThe fish are gutted and cleaned while out at sea, however; the remnants cannot be tossed into the water because the blood will attract sharks. Instead of keeping the waste, Frigate birds come to the rescue, scooping up every fragment tossed at them. It was amazing to see humans working in such a symbiotic way with other forms of life. The birds got a free meal, and we got free trash removal!

With such a great day of fishing, Andy needed to remember the coordinates of the spot we were on. To plot and keep track of his best spots, Andy uses a Garmin GPSmap 527 unit to mark his tracks. The unit is permanently fixed to the boat and monitors water depth, boat position, and allows for storage of information to refer to in the future. This unit proved invaluable for both safety and productivity.

With a great day’s catch, it was time for us to head back to the dock, hall the boat and bring the fish home so that a buyer could come to pick it up.

Puerto Rico Asset Value -- Learning about Ornamental Fishing

Learning about Ornamental Fishing
Meg Lidrbauch

While Oscar, Mika, Anna, and Cesar were living it up on Mickey's boat, Becca, Paulina, Jamey and I drove up to Rincón to speak with Gary, an ornamental fisherman. The main difference between ornamental fishing, where fish are sent to pet stores for aquariums, and consumption fishing is that the catch has to be kept alive. This means that Gary can't touch the fish, as that would remove their protective slime coating and expose them to infection, and needs to ascend slowly giving them enough time to acclimate to the change in pressure. Gary and his partner are the only people in the Rincón area who SCUBA dive, with the others using lines.

Gary was clearly infatuated with his job, and enjoyed explaining to us how his system of tanks and filters worked, and how he ships the fish to his buyers in the mainland. A native of New Jersey, it was refreshing to talk with someone where language was not a barrier at all, and all of us walked away with as many pages of notes from the single visit as the past day and a half combined. He asked if we would be back, and seemed eager to remain a part of the project.  

Puerto Rico Asset Value -- Going on the Boat with Mickey

Going on the Boat with Mickey
Anna Knapp

This afternoon a subset of our team (Cesar, Mika, Oscar, and I) went back to the Villa Pesquera (the gathering spot for the fishermen near the dock) with the intention of observing what happens when the fishermen come back from a day of fishing with their catch. One of the SCUBA fishermen, Mickey, showed us his catch for the day - spiny lobster. Somehow this ended up with Mika and Cesar piloting Mickey's boat out to look at the famous lighthouse of Cabo Rojo. Oscar did not get seasick (as he threatened he would many times before the trip) and ended up surprising us with his seafaring skills (apparently he learned to sail on the Charles River while at MIT). Despite all of the fun we were having, we did manage to get some work done. Oscar and Mika recorded the motor sound to use as a comparison for motor vibrations. We are grateful to Mickey who was so kind to take extra time after his day of fishing to take us out on the boat. He seemed to get a kick out of the voyage and is eager to continue working with us.

Cesar and Mika posing with Mickey's catch

Team member's Mika and Cesar learning new skills. Thank's Mickey for sharing with us!.

Puerto Rico Asset Value--Conociendo Panas

First Blog Post! Getting acquainted with our users in Puerto Rico

Visiting Andy's house

Anna Knapp

This morning we visited the home of one of our users - Andy.

He let us come to his house to see his setup for filling SCUBA tanks. We were immediately struck by his organization and expertise but mostly the giant tortoise (also named Andy) in his backyard. He also had a goose and a smaller turtle named Mia who was the cutest thing until she peed all over me.
We got to see and hear about his compressor, equipment and special certifications regarding filling the SCUBA tanks. He demonstrated how he made special mixtures of enriched oxygen to help with the long dives required by commercial SCUBA fishermen, who dive to depths of up to 110 feet to catch lobster and conch, among other species. We also took the opportunity to take vibration data from his compressor using the piezoelectric sensor from the demo we brought.

Andy explaining us how his compressor system works

Mika collecting vibration data with the piezoelectric sensor 
Our team with Andy and Andy the turtle
Andy shared some of his stories about dealing with the health effects of scuba diving. He told us about the bends incidents that he has had and how he thinks it is responsible for his progressive vision loss. He also shared more tragic and vivid stories about fellow divers, including his best friend, who experienced air embolisms and collapsed on the boat and died. These stories were echoed by many other SCUBA fishermen including another user who lost his nephew in the same way.

In spite of losing friends and his vision to diving, Andy was very excited to be teaching us about his work and was curious about the work we are doing. He left us with a very special gift - seven lionfish he had caught. The lionfish is an invasive species so it is new to the cuisine of Puerto Rico. We were very lucky to have it prepared for us by a small family restaurant right around the corner from our apartment. The chef, Walter, was very excited to make it for us because it was the first time he had ever cooked it. It was a new experience for all of us and we really enjoyed it! 

A wonderful dinner. Thanks Andy and Walter!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Ghana Food Processing---Our last days in Ghana!

May 21, 2016
This last week of work was challenged by the two significant power outages on Tuesday and Wednesday---the last and most critical days at the shop. Not having electricity not only meant that we couldn’t use our power tools, but after our computer, phone, and electronic batteries died, we were left without our personal tools as well.

The next two days involved visiting our stakeholders, traveling between cities, and finally being tourists in Ghana. Because of this, after my computer died Wednesday, I wasn’t able to revive it until just now.

On Thursday we woke up bright and early since we had to visit three stakeholders in three separate towns before noon. Our visits had to operate with "military precision" because we needed to make it to the Road to 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Accra by 3pm. The drive to Accra takes around three hours, so we needed to be efficient during our visits if we wanted to make it on time to the summit. Our goal for the three stakeholder visits was to walk through the safety features of the graters to the two women receiving their machines, and then talk about finances to the third stakeholder who would be receiving her machine next week.

Abigail and her new machines (press and grater)

Hawa and her two machines
Talking finances with Dora

Once we arrived in Accra, we went straight to the summit. After the summit we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner; after eating traditional Ghanaian food for two weeks, we were ready for stir-fried vegetables and guac! We called it a night once we arrived to the place where we would be staying for the next two nights. Tomorrow we would wake up bright and early to Cape Coast to see the castles where many slaves were imprisoned before being shipped to the Americas during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Friday morning we arrived at the Cape Coast castle at 9am and toured the grounds for two hours with a tour guide. We saw the male and female dungeons where Ghanaians were kept for up to 3 months before being filed onto a ship. This castle operated from 1665 to 1833 and housed millions of Ghanaians. This trip was really historically significant to us and we are glad we made time for it because it’s one thing to read about the Transatlantic Slave Trade in history class, and then another experience entirely to actually walk and see the dungeons. 

On the drive back home, we saw quite the scene: a large snake being carried by several men! We had to stop and take a picture.

Cape Coast

The "Door of No Return"
Boa constrictor!

Today, Saturday, we finally slept in for the first time in two weeks! But our bodies are so used to waking up before 6 am that most of us woke up without an alarm before 7am. Since then we’ve leisurely had breakfast and packed our bags. We catch a flight to the States tonight and arrive Sunday. This has been an amazing trip that none of us will ever forget—and hopefully some of us will be back sometime in the near future!

The most valuable experience for many of us has been to meet the women whom we design and build machines our for. To finally have met them makes it so that we have a better understanding of our product direction, as well as to have the motivation to work until we produce the machines that will create the biggest social impact. We are going back to the States with so much clarity and drive to continue fine-tuning our machines during our pilot program. We all look forward to scaling up and making this venture into a self-sustaining company in the next years.

Ghana Food Processing---Today’s the day to push!

May 17, 2016

Today is Bench’s last day of work before he starts his journey back to the States tomorrow, so today is the day to accomplish the maximum work possible. The team has talked about finding a balance between focusing our last days on producing machines or on teaching others to build machines. We decided that the old proverb stands true for us today: give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. The balance we found for our project is to build machines and have the workers at ITTU build them with us. By the end of the day, we hope to collectively finish last week’s two Graters, plus an additional new Grater.

Yesterday the Tech Subteam discovered that ITTU has the very machines we depend on to build our Graters. We have been hiring out tasks to other businesses that have those machines; now that we know that we have the ability to do these tasks, we can internalize most of the production process. This is GREAT news!


After I wrote the above comments, the electricity cut out and did not return until 5pm. This absolutely changed our plans for the day since we rely heavily on power tools to build our machines. This is also the reason why the blog posts are late.

As soon as the power went out, we reformed and began working on anything that did not require electricity. We aligned and prepped machines so that as soon as the power returned, we would have everything ready to cut, weld, and assemble. The day actually resulted in being incredibly productive since we accomplished enough work to have 5 Graters completed as soon as we had our power tools. We were able to accomplish so much because the workers at ITTU all became involved in the process. This means that we accomplished both our goals with a perfect balance: we built machines and transferred knowledge!

We called it a night early with the intent of coming to the shop earlier than normal tomorrow and finish the machines with our power tools. What an oddly productive day!

May 18, 2016

This morning we left Bench at the airport---half of our Tech Subteam is now gone! We will miss everything that he contributed to this team: knowledge, hard work, kindness, and friendship. We look forward to seeing him as soon as possible!

Bench's Goodbye Hug!

When we arrived to the shop early this morning, we IMMEDIATELY got to work since we had no idea for how long we would have power. We were in the middle of welding the machines when the power cut out in the late morning. This time, we had nothing left to prepare while waiting for the electricity to come back, so we bought a generator and brought it to the shop. Unfortunately, the generator didn’t work! Just as we were trying to problem solve the generator, the power came back! We all very clearly understood that we needed to work as efficiently as possible to finish the machines on this last day. We worked well past normal work hours and by the end of the day, we had two finished graters ready to sell and three graters in their last phases of assembly. We will take the two finished graters to the villages tomorrow and sell them to the two women on the top of our list. We will also visit the women who are scheduled to receive their machines in the coming weeks.

Figuring out what to do without power

Trying to fix the generator

We worked into the night to finish our machines

By the time we got back to our Guest House, we were all exhausted! We still needed to pack our personal bags since this is our last night in Kumasi. Tomorrow we head out to sell our machines and then continue onward to Accra where we will stay until we head back to the States on Saturday.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ghana Food Processing—Weekend Trip to Visit our Stakeholders

This weekend we went to visit our stakeholders, seven women total, who live in four different towns about an hour and a half from Kumasi. Our goal for this trip was to take these women the two Graters and three Presses that we built last week. Because we did not feel that the Graters were completely finished, we decided not to sell the Graters to the women on this trip, but instead demonstrated them and then brought them back with us to ITTU to fine tune until our next trip on Thursday.

Saturday, May 14th 2016

When we came back to home base on Friday we continued working on the machines until 2 am. At that point, the Tech Subteam and Ben decided to call it a night and to take our machines in their current, almost-finished state to our stakeholders. We would not be selling the machines now, but just demonstrating them. When we return to the towns on Thursday, we will take the completed machines to the women.

Our first visit on Saturday was to see Hawa and Abigail in Adumkrom. We took a new Press to Hawa and demonstrated the new Grater to Abigail.

Hawa using her new press

Abigail looking at her new grater

After showing the new Press to Hawa and having her use it, she said that she likes this design most since it is not tedious and is easy to use---just what we like to hear! When we demonstrated the new Grater to Abigail, she gave us the feedback that she would like the grater to also grate different vegetables—this is something common we hear: the woman want the machine to do more, and more, and more. We take this as a compliment since it means that the machine grates so well that the women would like to use it for as many things as possible.

Our next stop was Akosua in Pekyerekye (PKK). She already has a Grater (a previous prototype with a slightly different design), but we are giving her a new Grater for 5 months as a trial run.

Luke performing a demo of the new grater for Akosua

Peeling cassava

We spoke with Akosua, her husband, and brothers about finances and machine features for a while before heading out. She was upset that we weren’t leaving the Grater with her, but we assured her that we were coming back Thursday with the finished machine. Although many men like to become involved in the process, we have to keep everyone focused that our project is focused on women for a women-led market. Although the men have many ideas and become very passionate about what else the machine could do, we always bring the conversation back to the woman and ask her what she thinks and wants.

Akosua, her husband (far left), and brothers

Right before leaving Akosua’s, I snapped this picture of Bench and just had to share it.

Bench the Gentle Giant

Just these two visits filled up all of Saturday! After visiting our stakeholders we went to our guesthouse to set up camp and have dinner. We helped grind “agushie” and also ate many mangos!

Luke grinding agushie

Eating mangos before dinner

After dinner we called it an early night (at 9pm!) so that we could have an early start (6pm) the next day.

Sunday, May 15th 2016

We started our Sunday at Akosua’s to continue our visit. When we arrived she was frying the gari. Our visit was brief, but we were able to meet a new Stakeholder, Dora Ali, who is interested in both a Grater and a Press. We will be building these machines in the next weeks. When we left, Akosua gave Ben a huge handshake--she was really happy with her new machine!

Akosua frying cassava

Selfie after saying good-bye


Next we went to see Rebecca in Akutuase. We wanted to check-in on the new Press that she received last week. As soon as we arrived we saw one of the biggest bags being pressed with her new machine—she is definitely using it to its potential! Rebecca told us that she has been able to process more cassava since receiving the machines, which has given her more a higher income as well as more time. She is also happy that the machines make it so that she doesn’t have to ask anyone for help as she processes. She even said that she completely abandoned her previous methods of processing cassava by hand!

Rebecca and her new press

Our last stop was at Flaustina’s house in Wioso. Flaustina has ordered both machines and has gone through the bank to acquire a loan to pay for her machines. When we arrived, they were very happy to finally have us there. While we showed her how to use both the Grater and the Press, more and more people from the town became interested in what was happening, and before we knew it, there were more than 70 people surrounding us. It was quite the experience!

Flaustina grating cassava with her new machine 

She's already taking great care of her machines! 

We suddenly had an audience!

These children followed us to the van so we asked them to pose for a picture

After leaving Flaustina’s, we had dinner and drove back to Kumasi. We learned a lot from this trip and have every motivation to work hard this coming week to make as many machines as possible for these women. The women we met are driven, clever, hard working, and grateful for this opportunity to increase their productivity. What inspirational women!