Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Why I am called to help

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Ron Christenson, CTI Board Member and Former Chair

All of us are called to help others. As a CTI donor and board member, I’ve been working to help families in Senegal for many years. But it wasn’t until I recently visited the country that I saw the powerful and lasting impact we can have on poverty with simple tools and a little compassion.

Senegal is a place with a lot of need and a lot to be proud of. Much of the population earns less than $2 per day. The people are friendly and care deeply about building their country. The government is stable and effective.

CTI is working side-by-side with farmers, women’s groups, and artisans in Senegal to equip communities with grain threshing tools so they can produce and sell more food. This gives people the power to improve their own lives.

I recently had the opportunity to join our Senegalese staff for the delivery of a thresher. The joy of the villagers was palpable. It was very fun to witness firsthand. With more time and higher earnings from the additional production provided by CTI tools, this village now has the opportunity to break the subsistence cycle.

Think about what this means for so many children. Often, we read about the child mortality rate in the developing countries and wonder what we can do. Providing these tools is a wonderful first step.

CTI's focus on helping families with post-harvest food production in select countries is resulting in progress. CTI’s threshers are currently being used by close to 200 villages, and we are delivering 150 more this year – reaching more than 40,000 people.

We are making progress by collaborating with many partners. We’re working with government partners to place the tools where they can have the most impact. We have a Senegalese leader of CTI Senegal who is just outstanding. And CTI's executive director, Alexandra Spieldoch, is providing strong leadership. She has a passion for West Africa and is very fluent in French.

CTI has an uncommon series of forces and events coming together to provide for very effective progress in coming years to have a significant impact on poverty in Senegal. Philanthropy through CTI is helping others. And this is very fun and wonderful to see in person. I feel I am helping others in a significant way by supporting CTI!

 

Ron L. Christenson retired from his position as Corporate VP and CTO at Cargill in 2009 after 38 years of service. During his career with Cargill he lived in Argentina and Canada and several locations within the USA while engineering, building and operating food processing plants. He had been responsible for Plant Operations, Food safety and Environment, Health and Safety and Engineering.

Ron has an interest in continuing to help people in the developing world through technology and education. He is supporter of Engineers without Borders. Ron also chairs the Dean's Advisory Board for the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota. He has supported the University through scholarships, fellowships and by endowing a chair in renewable energy. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1972. He is a registered professional engineer.

Ron is a member of the Board of Trustees of Science Museum of Minnesota. An avid outdoorsman, he owns a small woodland that he stewards for wildlife.

SteveWebCTI has collaborated with skilled volunteers since we were founded in 1981 by engineers and scientists who sought to use their expertise to fight global hunger. On our design team, you’ll a find a creative and quirky bunch of seasoned experts in a variety of fields. Take Steve Clough, a metallurgist and a top notch welder who helps CTI with equipment design and prototyping.

How does a kid from Detroit grow up to be a world record holder in motorcycle land speed racing and PHD metallurgist who helps fight global hunger in his spare time? Read on to find out:

Where did your creative spark came from?


I was born and raised in the Detroit area until 6th grade when we moved to a small farm 50 miles outside of Detroit. When you’re a farmer, you get involved in fixing and making things.

My whole life, I’ve liked building things.

When I was a little kid my dad had a pile of wood in the corner of the garage and some hand tools that I was always free to use. As a teenager, I was into building hot rods and drag racing motorcycles.

Where did your life take you?


After high school, I enlisted in the Air Force to keep from getting drafted during the Vietnam War. I spent four years in the Air force before getting into Michigan Technological University in 1970. I worked straight through the summers and got my PHD in metallurgical engineering in just about six years. I spent much of my career in surface analysis, which is an analytic technique to look at the surface, chemistry, and metallurgy of materials. Eventually, I started my own company, and then retired in 2011.

I’ve got two vintage 1955 Indian motorcycles, one of which I race — land speed racing in Utah. I established land speed record for my class of motorcycle in 2013 and raised the record in 2016. I’ll be going back this summer to attempt to break my record again.

So, I have hobbies that I’m deeply involved in, but after retirement, I was looking for something to do, not only fill time, but to feel like I’m paying back.

My wife is a registered nurse at the retirement community where the founder of CTI, George Ewing, was living. She and George had become good friends and he was always showing her his latest inventions. One day she came home and said, “George is going to be on TV tonight and we have to watch.” I watched the story on George, and looked at the CTI website and knew wanted to get involved, even if it just meant sweeping the floors.

What inspires you?


I enjoy doing something for somebody who’s not going to be doing anything back for me.

I never knew of efforts like CTI’s to work with very poor farmers. I was more aware of what you read in the news of big programs using automated equipment, but none of it helps the small individual farmer. I probably never even realized how many people are farming on 1, 2, or 3 acres and producing barely enough to feed themselves. I think CTI’s approach is having a big impact by taking these complex machines that we take for granted and turning them into simple machines that are affordable and reliable.

The volunteers I work with primarily are Don and Vern. I think the world of both guys. They’re able to contribute something I’m not and I contribute something they’re not. So, it’s a team effort to try to solve a problem and create a solution that’s lasting and valuable.
Friday, 03 March 2017

Engineering for Peace

Written by
Bridget ShopHello, my name is Bridget. I’m an engineering undergraduate student at University of St. Thomas and have the great fortune of being an engineering intern at Compatible Technology International (CTI) for this spring and summer term. CTI works with primarily women farmers who are experiencing poverty to increase their efficiency, decrease the drudgery, and collaboratively create pathways out of hunger through technology. The internship is for credit in my program "Peace Engineering," but more so it is an opportunity to be involved in the field of engineering I’ve always wanted to do. I believe engineering can change the world – not just by creating cool gadgets, but by meaningfully changing lives as CTI does.

We are taught in engineering how to look at the big picture and account for all effects on a system. Often this is constrained to physical products (bridges, cars, computers, etc), but engineers have the potential to see the whole system: the social system. Seeing the contextual social, economic, and environmental factors allows for more sustainable and personal design. More importantly it allows for humble and respectful service of designing with those economically disadvantaged. This is what I view my purpose in studying engineering to be, service. Service to respect and respond to the dignity of all persons. Service that works together with farmers to design what is best for them through collaboration. Service that aims at greater justice and empowerment for women which will result in a more peaceful world. I’m excited to work with CTI because I have seen how they use engineering design, data, and theory to touch lives and empower communities.

Now I know that we can’t give all the credit to engineering. The work CTI does requires gender specialists, financial supporters, manufacturing partners, and more! But I hope to share with you the engineering side of the story here on my blog. How we design for the worker and the community. How we improve for sustainability during a day’s work. And other reflections of technical work impacting life in very human ways: medically, socially, economically, etc. Engineering doesn’t have to be cold, anti-social, and analytical as is often the stereotype in media and society. Engineering can be personal and contemplative to bring life, justice, and peace.

While at CTI, I look forward to being involved in a number of diverse tasks. I will be a resource for the engineering team for computer drafting of designs in Solidworks. I will do research for best practices and existing designs for new challenges as well as assist in the fabrication of prototypes. Right now, I am analyzing data for the crank handle tools for my first project. But no matter what I’m working on, I always want to keep it in the context that the work will serve others, and I hope you will join me.

You can find the latest updates from Bridget here. 

bridgetthumbBridget is an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in the Peace Engineering program, and an engineering intern at Compatible Technology. She has a life-long passion for service, social justice and fighting poverty and hunger. When she found another passion in engineering, creativity and design, she became inspired to combine them. Now, she is grateful of the opportunities at UST and CTI to develop the social and technical skills to pursue her passions.
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The millet harvest just ended in Senegal and families across the country are preparing for one of the busiest times of the year. In a few weeks, women and girls will gather to start processing their millet into edible grain. Usually, this is backbreaking work done almost entirely by hand. 

But this year, we’re delivering CTI's Pearl Millet Threshers to 150 villages in Senegal, and these communities are ushering in the millet season with singing, dancing, and celebrations. Last week our staff traveled by truck, by boat, and by horse to deliver a thresher to a small seaside community in Western Senegal. Members of this community had previously tested a prototype of the thresher and were grateful to see that that their input had influenced the thresher design.

 

“We are glad that you really listened to us and included our feedback in the thresher design. It’s really easy to turn the crank and we can see it’s producing high-quality grain,” Awa told our staff. “We’re looking forward to using the thresher to create an income for our community.” 

 
IMG 1808It would be difficult to overstate the importance of millet in Senegal, and the opportunities that this technology represents. Millet is the most widely grown crop in the country and it’s a vital source of nutrition for families. With access to CTI’s thresher, families can produce more food with less effort. Now, moms and their daughters will have more time to go to school, sell the
ir crops at market, and enjoy life. 

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be delivering threshers across the country. The thresher is now being built by a fabricator in Senegal, so farmers will have a place to turn to for repairs and spare parts. Local manufacturing means that expensive shipping costs are eliminated so more donor dollars go directly towards helping farmers and their communities. 

What would you do if you were on your own, with six kids to care for, and fighting for your life?

If you’re like Joyce, you get to work.

A few years ago, Joyce was in bad shape. Like 10% of Malawians, Joyce had HIV. Her weight had dropped to 85 pounds and no one expected her to live much longer. But she was a fighter. Joyce and others with HIV in her community began growing peanuts. They got their hands on a CTI grinder and started making peanut butter. Before long, everything changed.

Eating peanut butter helped Joyce and her friends gain weight. With better nutrition, their HIV medication started to kick in. Now Joyce is strong, healthy, and is selling peanut butter to help put her kids through school.

“Since this grinder was introduced to me, I have seen a big change in my health. Even my children cannot believe how much my health has changed,” said Joyce. "People can’t believe that I have HIV.” ” 

This project was made possible by the suport of Earthen Vessels, click here to learn more. 

nutritionMalawi is one of the most malnourished countries in the world. In this small southeast African country, about the size of Ohio, malnutrition typically starts during childhood as a result of micronutrient deficiencies, a diet comprised of mostly cereals, and food shortages. Chronic malnutrition causes stunting in children, and those who survive it often deal with lifelong health and cognitive development challenges. The lasting effects of undernutrition impacts 60% of Malawi’s adults and cost the economy millions of dollars each year.

But that’s only a part of Malawi’s story. In recent years, Malawi has made major strides in reducing child mortality (down 80% since 1990) and the prevalence of HIV. Malawi is nicknamed “the warm heart of Africa” and it’s full of incredibly resilient communities working together to improve life for everyone. And it’s paying off.

At CTI, we’re equipping communities with tools that will help them produce more peanuts—one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. And we’re partnering with farmer co-ops and researchers in Malawi so families have nutritious, high-yielding seed varieties. Together, and with the support of our donors, we are helping communities boost their yields and diversify their diets so families are healthier and kids can look forward to brighter futures.

5 Things You Should Know about Child Nutrition in Malawi 

1) 23% percent of all child mortality cases in Malawi are associated with undernutrition

2) Today, 1.4 million or almost half of the children in Malawi are stunted

3) 66% of the adult population engaged in manual activities were stunted as children, representing an annual loss of US$ 67 million

4) Of all school year repetitions, 18 percent are associated with stunting

5) The total annual costs associated with child undernutrition are estimated at US$ 597 million, equivalent to 10.3% of GDP

Aflatoxins are the most toxic naturally occurring carcinogens known.

Aflatoxins are poisonous, cancer-causing chemicals that develop from mold and fungus, often as a result of improper storage and mishandled food. In many parts of Africa, aflatoxin contamination poses a serious risk to the health of rural communities. It’s also a major barrier to their ability to market their crops and earn a profit. 

Engineers at CTI are working in partnership with crop researchers at ICRISAT to develop a testing kit to help farmers and researchers identify aflatoxin in peanuts. ICRISAT has created a simple strip test that develops an easy to read black line to indicate if the peanuts are safe to eat.  CTI is researching simple, low cost technologies that can be adapted to chop the peanuts into a suitable sample size for testing. With a low-cost, field- testing kit, farmers can identify aflatoxin contamination at its source, in minutes, and mitigate a major threat to rural health and incomes.

milletstalks

With food trends, what’s old has become new again. Ancient grains like quinoa, farro, and freekeh have all had their turns in the spotlight. Many of these foods have been around for millennia, sustaining generation after generation. Now, they’re catching on around the world.

Here, three traditional foods gaining new popularity and how CTI is making them more accessible.

1. Millet

While new to American diets, this ancient grain has been around for over 7,500 years. Originating in north China, millet is now a dietary staple for over 90 million people across Africa and Asia.

Millet holds an obvious appeal. Able to grow in Africa’s most famine-prone regions, millet produces reliable yields in hot, dry climates with poor soil quality. Some varieties of pearl millet can withstand temperatures as high as 147 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also a nutritious grain—rich in iron, easily digestible protein, and three times the calcium as milk.

In Senegal, pearl millet is primarily produced at the subsistence level and hand-processed by women and girls. Though pearl millet is a major source of nutrition for the rural poor, it is very labor-intensive to harvest and process—something CTI is working to change. This fall, we’re distributing 150 threshers to farmers’ organizations across Senegal, with the potential to impact tens of thousands of people.

2. Peanuts

Did you know that peanuts are as rich in antioxidants as most berries? One of the most nutritious foods on the planet, peanuts are also high in protein and healthy fats. Like millet, peanuts grow well in hot, dry climates. And the plant is hailed for its nitrogen-fixing properties, which improve soil quality.

While the peanut originated in South America, today nearly 92 percent of the world’s peanuts are produced in Asia and Africa. Because of the plant’s high nutrient content and increasing global demand, African countries like Malawi see peanuts as a growing priority. An agricultural country, Malawi historically relied on tobacco as its top export crop. With the fall of tobacco, the government is embracing peanuts as a valuable alternative—encouraging farmers to increase peanut production through seed subsidies and other initiatives.

Across Africa, peanuts are seen as a women’s crop. This means that women carry out the majority of the harvesting and processing of the nuts, which is both time-consuming and difficult. CTI’s peanut tools help women harvest and process more nuts, faster. Because it is easier to grow more peanuts, farmers are able to sell more of their crop at market—increasing their income in the process.

3. Moringa

Moringa has risen in popularity as a nutritional superstar, joining the ranks of up-and-coming superfoods like goji berries, acai, and spirulina. With “seven times the amount of Vitamin C of oranges and three times as much potassium as bananas,” it’s easy to see why. Native to India, Pakistan, and Nepal, Moringa has been used for centuries to treat and prevent a multitude of diseases—from acne to diabetes. Because of its ability to thrive in harsh conditions Moringa is now grown around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, to combat malnutrition.

Typically, the leaves are eaten raw or sautéed with food. The leaves can also be ground into a powder, which can be used as a supplement. In Haiti, a woman named Sonja started a business selling Moringa powder. Sonja dries the nutrient-rich leaves in a solar dryer and grinds the dried leaves into powder using a CTI grinder. She sells the powder to a local nutrition clinic, where nurses distribute it to pregnant and nursing mothers and malnourished children.

Clinic staff reported that “the number of severe malnutrition cases has dropped from 130 per day to less than 4 [cases] in the community.”

In all three examples, these foods have stood the test of time. CTI is dedicated to working with indigenous crops that are highly nutritious, easy to grow, and able to thrive in our changing climate.

If you're interested in supporting that work, you can donate here.

AngelaKuan profile“My Life has been difficult, but all the work I have done for my community has been worth it,” says 71-year-old Angela Kuan. This woman has led numerous projects that have built schools, roads, and water systems in Siares, a rural community in the mountains of Nicaragua.

Her latest project? Guaranteeing that every family in her village is drinking clean, safe water.

Angela is the Coordinator of her village’s Water and Sanitation Committee. She mobilized her community to purchase CTI’s Water Chlorinator in an effort to prevent the diarrhea and disease that frequently occurred from drinking untreated water. This inexpensive system attaches to a village water tank and uses chlorine tablets to disinfect an entire community’s drinking water source.

Angela and her neighbors shared the $200 (USD) cost of purchasing the chlorinator, and CTI staff trained Angela and other community volunteers to assemble and operate the system. Families in the community chip in a few cents each month to buy new chlorine tablets, and the system is regularly maintained by the local Water and Sanitation Committee.

Angela’s community of 1,500 now has clean drinking water.

What does this mean for Siares? Angela explains, “Before the chlorinator, you would see up to 2 children being buried because of diarrhea [each year]. Now the chlorinator has decreased sickness in our community, it has changed the lives of our people. I am happy to see the impact, children are being raised in a better environment.”AngelaKuan interview

Angela stresses that this success wouldn’t be possible without the support of CTI. She explains that prior to installing CTI’s Chlorinator, Siares tried other water treatment systems—but none of them stuck. Unlike the CTI Chlorinator, other technologies frequently rely on power sources that aren’t practical in rural communities, and they did not constantly clean the water. Because of its simplicity and effectiveness, rural villages can maintain and operate CTI’s Chlorinator with ease—which explains why CTI’s clean water project in Siares has thrived where others failed.

“I will die satisfied with the work I have done,” Angela stated proudly, “It has been an honor to do what I have done for my community,”

Angela’s passion and generosity have improved the lives of hundreds of men, women, and children in her village. And thanks to dedicated community members and support from CTI donors, more than 400,000 people across Nicaragua are drinking clean safe, water.


AdrianDiaz


Adrian Diaz graduated from Northland College in May 2016. He double majored in Sustainable Community Development and Sociology with a Social Justice Emphasis. After finishing his internship with CTI, Adrian plans on applying to law school in the Twin Cities area, and becoming a human rights or immigration attorney.

 

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