From Villanova’s Engineering Service Learning Team

By VESL Team on May 26, 2015

 

After travelling dozens of hours and thousands of miles we arrived in Bangalore to the hustle and bustle of early morning rush hour; we witnessed families starting their days as Sabhir, our driver, weaved in and out of traffic on our way to Wayanad. The next day, the four of us stepped foot in Prashanthagiri, and the beautiful rural community seemed like a world away from the busy city. We were eager to learn about this new culture and to grow as engineering students through our work with biogas and water quality, but we never could have anticipated bonding so profoundly with the community members of Prashanthagiri.

 

Tyler Casteel, a Villanova engineering alum and a Profugo field fellow, was an integral part of our experience and helped to add a cultural perspective to our engineering work through his involvement with the community. He was equal parts a mentor, tour guide, and friend, and we learned so much about Prashanthagiri through the way he interacted with the members of the village.

During the construction of one of the biogas digesters, it was amazing to see how skillfully the steel rebar for the dome was measured and how quickly the bars were bent, both precisely and without wr3 LRitten plans. We will always remember how Binoy, the mason for the project, let all of us try our hand at bending and cutting the steel, and encouraged us with smiles and laughter (even when our attempts were less than up to par). We loved seeing the progression of the digesters in the village, and how families worked together to complete the project. A memorable event was the inauguration of the first digesters in Prashanthagiri. Many village members gathered to support the three beneficiary families and to celebrate the first lighting of the gas. We ate a traditional Kerala breakfast, surrounded by all the warm faces of those involved in the project.
Additionally, the four of us held a water quality testing seminar for a group of Prashanthagiri teenagers. This program was designed to promote young leaders in the community, and to inspire the youth to continue their interests in STEM fields. We held a hands-on lab to teach the teens about the tests that they could perform to determine if their water was safe to drink. We loved seeing their excitement in learning something new. The program allowed us to get to know the children; we shared some of our experiences and culture and in return they gave us a great insight to Indian schooling, home life, and just the simple similarities and differences between our cultures.

In our spare moments over the cwellourse of our days in Prashanthagiri, we assisted the community by working on smaller design projects using local materials. We completed a water distiller and an incubator for water testing. Another of our projects included a water level indicator that would provide a warning if the water level got too high, preventing harmful overflows.

Above all, we loved getting to know the kind and welcoming people of Prashanthagiri. We played with the local children every evening as the sun set on another day of work, waiting for our jeep ride home. Their joy and laughter was always contagious, even while they accompanied us on hikes and errands around the village. In working with a translator (and a few hand gestures), we worked through the language barrier and got to know the digester benefactors and learn about their digester use. One of our favorite things, however, was getting to know everyone over chai. Such a simple gesture of welcoming us into their homes was one way that we were immersed into the beautiful Indian culture. Working in the Prashanthagiri area with Profugo was a wonderful experience that will stay with us forever.