During their senior year at OSU, mechanical engineers, Brianna, Brian, and Grace, worked with TERREWODE, a Ugandan NGO and other partners in Oregon to enhance an income generating soap-making operation to benefit women in Uganda who suffer from obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula is a horrific condition that can occur during childbirth and is preventable with maternal medical care and intervention services. TERREWODE is not only working to treat these women, but also give them skills to to generate income and empower them.
This project is especially exciting because the idea to make soap actually came from TERREWODE’s founder, Alice Emasu. Joni Kabana, a photographer from Portland, Oregon, brought a gift of goat milk soap made near her home in Eastern Oregon to TERREWODE. The women receiving the gift were extremely excited and Alice had the idea that they could make this soap and use it as a way to make an income.
So how do OSU engineering students fit in to this project? Brianna, Brian, and Grace were asked to apply engineering design principles and methods to test and evaluate potential soap-making process improvements and determine scalability. Through the course of their senior year at OSU, the team made numerous batches of soap, employing various techniques and strategies to not only create the best output, but also the best process which would be easy to reproduce in rural Uganda.
One of the most interesting aspects of this project was designing for the people and culture where this process will be used. Although rural Uganda does have electricity it can be very inconsistent. The team made it a goal to find a way to make the process functional off-grid and built a prototype solar paneled system using resources available in the US.
The team set off for Uganda during the summer of 2016, days after their graduation ceremony at OSU. They spent three weeks working with TERREWODE and the women they support. During their stay, the team researched soap-making ingredient sourcing, available solar solutions, process enhancements, and potential fragrances.
While the women at TERREWODE made over 200 bars of soap, the team observed and analyzed the process to provide engineering feedback. Some adjustments to the soap-making process included the change in batch size, creation of templates for cutting the bars evenly, and recommendations for cooling/storage racks. As a final deliverable, the team provided TERREWODE with an extensive written report regarding all the process adjustments and recommendations, suggestions for scalability, and solar solution recommendations.
Overall, the team had an incredible experience in Uganda! They want to thank the many OSU faculty and donors for the amazing opportunity.
NOTE: No photos of the TERREWODE obstetric fistula survivors were posted to respect their privacy.