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WHEN three Oregon State students signed up for a project in the university’s new humanitarian engineering program, the first question was, Have any of you made soap? Nervous laughter broke out when each one said “no.”
“Ok, this will be fun,” Brianna Goodwin recalls thinking.
But a year and hundreds of bars of goat-milk soap later, Goodwin, one of the students and a mechanical engineering graduate from Seattle, and her teammates — Grace Burleson of Beaverton and Brian Butcher of Portola Valley, California — took their expertise and curiosity to Africa, where they learned how the act of making this simple product can smooth the way for social justice and empowerment.
EnlargeAkello Loy lives in Ogweto Village in the Amuria district of Uganda. She suffered paralysis and a fistula while giving birth to her fourth child. Oregon State students and faculty are working with TERREWODE to learn from and to empower women like Loy.
Under the guidance of professor Kendra Sharp, the Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor of Humanitarian Engineering, the students completed their capstone project for their degrees by working with a nonprofit organization, TERREWODE in Uganda. Last summer, they travelled to the East African country to conduct additional field research on a soap-making operation.
As engineers, they focus on process, technology and cultural communication. But their efforts are part of a larger relationship between Oregon State and TERREWODE. In 2011, Bonnie Ruder, a midwife from Eugene and now an Oregon State Ph.D. student in medical anthropology, met Alice Emasu, the group’s founder. Ruder traveled to Uganda that fall, and others followed: Lauren Caruso (then Lauren Baur) in public health in 2012 and students in the College of Business in 2015 and 2016.
Based in Soroti, Uganda, TERREWODE aims to improve the lives of women suffering from a medical condition known as obstetric fistula. This devastating problem occurs when, during prolonged childbirth and without adequate medical care, tissue in the birth canal is damaged. The resulting fistula, or hole, allows urine or feces to leak uncontrollably. Victims may be shunned by family members and reduced to a life of poverty and isolation.
Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 2 million women live with untreated obstetric fistula, most of them in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Fortunately, effective medical treatment is available.
With support from the Worldwide Fistula Fund, TERREWODE educates women about the risks and raises money for medical care, which is often out of reach in rural areas. In the course of several trips to Uganda, Ruder interviewed health-care providers, fistula survivors and representatives of the Uganda Ministry of Health. In 2014, she created the nonprofit Uganda Fistula Fund for TERREWODE to raise money for a new fistula hospital in Soroti.
For her Ph.D. in medical anthropology, Ruder is delving into more complex and persistent problems in fistula treatment — residual incontinence after surgery. “There are estimates that between 7 and 60 percent of women suffer from ongoing urinary incontinence even after a successful fistula repair, but the problem has not been well studied,” she says.
While grants and donations can help women rebuild their lives, Ruder and TERREWODE aim to establish a source of income for the women that is sustainable. “Women who have suffered from fistula need meaningful, locally appropriate work that can lift them out of the circumstances they have endured,” she says.
Through their work with TERREWODE, Oregon State students are learning first-hand about the strength and determination it takes to recover from such a life-changing medical condition. In return, they are working side-by-side with fistula survivors to prevent other women from suffering the same fate. They strive to improve health-care access, to understand women’s needs and to create sustainable, locally based businesses.
When they visited Uganda in 2015 and 2016, students and faculty in the OSU College of Business aimed to learn more about TERREWODE and contribute to its success. They met with survivors and with Emasu and her colleagues and asked them what would be most useful in assisting the Ugandan women’s endeavors to become financially independent.
With the help of generous gifts from alumni, the College of Business has provided support through a student group, 16xOSU, a social venture club that provides start-up funds for student-led businesses. In an academic program known as Innovation Nation, first-year students create their own businesses and contribute the profits to a shared fund that is managed by the student community to benefit humanitarian organizations like TERREWODE.
That approach to social entrepreneurship resonated with Taryn Lowes, a business student from the Douglas County town of Yoncalla. She has traveled twice to Uganda and was inspired by the positive energy shown by many of the women she talked to. “A lot of them have gone through so much — their heartbreaking stories, their past. But they are so happy and excited, they didn’t let it get them down. They are working with TERREWODE and getting their lives back on track.”
As students, Lowes and her peers had started their own businesses and contributed funds to the microloan program. On her own initiative, Lowes continued to run her home-cleaning business and raised enough money to pay her way to Uganda.
Trip to Soroti
Last June, after a 48-hour trip from Seattle via Dubai, the three OSU engineering students — Goodwin, Burleson and Butcher — arrived at Entebbe, Uganda’s largest airport, where they were met by a TERREWODE representative. The road trip to Kampala, the capital, had its anxious moments as drivers “like playing ‘chicken,’” Goodwin wrote in her blog. “There are cars, people, and bota botas (motorcycle taxis) on the road, all trying to get to different places as fast as possible.”
The students had come to Uganda to learn more about what it would take for TERREWODE to help fistula survivors launch a goat-milk soap business. The initiative had begun a year or so before, when Oregon photographer Joni Kabana visited Uganda. She devotes part of her creative work to humanitarian organizations such as Oregon-based Mercy Corps and had come to Uganda to take photos for TERREWODE. In her luggage, she had brought a gift of soap made by a friend in Spray, Oregon. Alice Emasu, the director, wondered if local women could also make the soap as a commercial product.McKinsey Starguard, a homesteader in Spray, Oregon, makes goat-milk soap in her kitchen. Starguard’s recipe and bars of soap were gifted to the TERREWODE women and inspired the soap-making project. (Photo: Joni Kabana)
One problem that had to be overcome was a source of milk. Goats in Uganda are typically raised for their meat and do not produce much milk, so Emasu worked with Heifer International to bring Saanen goats from Ireland and to instruct fistula survivors in taking care of them.
The students had three objectives for their stay in Africa: identify a practical, local source of electricity so soap makers wouldn’t have to worry about periodic interruptions to Uganda’s power grid; find ways to improve efficiency and scale-up the soap-making process; determine if enough locally available ingredients were available to increase soap production.
“The more the soap is made by the women with local ingredients, the more sellable it will be as a humanitarian product,” says Burleson.
The previous year, back in Corvallis, as they first pondered their task, the students assumed they would need to create a device to make soap. “We didn’t understand at first how the cultural context would affect our design process, but it’s relevant with anything you’re designing,” Goodwin says. “We had to understand who we’re designing for. The cultural context is huge. You can’t just bring something from America and expect them to use it.”
To put themselves into the shoes of soap makers in Uganda, the students decided they had to make goat-milk soap. They interviewed Ruder and got instructions from Kabana and her colleague Dardi Troen, soap-making trainer during a pilot project in Uganda and now the packaging and branding coordinator. The students bought goat milk and fragrances at the local food co-op and other supplies online — shea butter (made from nuts produced by the African shea tree), sunflower oil, lye.Grace Burleson, left, and Brian Butcher test a soap mixture in preparation for their trip to Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Briana Goodwin)
One cold November night, outside Butcher’s garage, they hunched over two small cook stoves, the kinds commonly used in households in developing countries, and set to work mixing and heating the ingredients. In the light of their headlamps, they watched for the liquid to reach a critical stage at which it gains a consistency like whipped cream. The frothy liquid could then be poured into molds and aged for about two months, but the students wanted to speed things up. By keeping the soap mixture at a constant temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours, they could cut the aging process to one day.
“We sat outside for about three hours collecting temperature data to decide if it would work,” Burleson says. “But in the end, we decided that was impossible.”
In subsequent trials, they refined their approach, experimented with other mixing methods and even hooked up a mixer to a solar-charged battery. Solar panels are available in Uganda, they reasoned, and might provide the solution for a sustainable source of power.
They produced a lot of soap. While only some of it was useable, they chalked up the rest to experience. But more importantly, they understood what it might take to produce a product with commercial potential.
Learning on the Ground
As they learned how TERREWODE operates and what it takes for a new business in rural Uganda to succeed, the Oregon State business and engineering students fulfilled their own educational goals. Each student is committed to making a positive difference in the world. Working with TERREWODE “allows me to do what I love but have an impact on peoples’ lives,” says Goodwin.
Burleson lived in Egypt for five years and studied drinking water treatment in Uganda for her undergraduate thesis in mechanical engineering. She worked briefly with TERREWODE in 2015 during an internship with an Oregon-based nonprofit, MAPLE Microdevelopment of Eugene, which was co-founded by Ron Severson, an instructor at the University of Oregon. She entered Oregon State’s mechanical engineering master’s program this fall with a humanitarian emphasis.
Before attending Oregon State, Butcher traveled to Bolivia and Chile where he volunteered for community organizations. Last summer, after he returned from Uganda, the mechanical engineering graduate interned with the firm CH2M.
Goodwin aims to combine engineering with biology. She wants to develop biomechanical systems that can assist people with practical, everyday tasks and is starting her master’s at the University of Washington this fall.
“Our program aims to inspire students to do work that they feel makes an impact on society,” says Kendra Sharp, a leader in developing Oregon State’s humanitarian engineering program. “We stress the importance of learning collaboratively in community to solve real-world problems. This is a skill these students will take away no matter where their careers take them.”In 2015, when OSU students visited TERREWODE, our video crew rode along. See their report.
Students also take away lasting memories of the people. “When you see TERREWODE interact with the fistula survivors, it’s pretty incredible,” says Caruso. “We would come to a village and pull up to a field under a tree, and there would be this group of people who would start singing and dancing when we arrive.”
When Taryn Lowes returned to Uganda last summer, a friend she had met the previous year traveled an hour by bota bota to greet her. “Seeing everyone’s smiling faces and embracing them with hugs really let me know the impact of our partnership,” she adds. “I’ll never forget the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made.”
TERREWODE is in the process of seeking government certification as a soap-making business and has a commitment from one customer. Through MAPLE Microdevelopment, the Portland-based vacation home rental company Vacasa (vacasa.com) has agreed to buy 1,000 bars of goat-milk soap for distribution through its homes in Italy.
Editor’s Note: Students interested in doing an internship with TERREWODE can contact Bonnie Ruder, firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Amy Grotta and Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources ExtensionGroup mortality of Douglas-fir in May 2015. Douglas-fir beetle was found in all these trees. Photo Kara Shaw
We have certainly experienced some significant drought conditions lately. Stressed and dying trees are showing up all around the Willamette Valley, with concern that this could lead to beetle outbreaks and still more trees killed. Is it time to throw in the towel, cut your losses (so to speak) and just salvage everything that is looking poorly? Maybe, maybe not. The decision needs to be considered carefully, weighing individual sites and stand conditions along with your objectives for your property. Anybody considering a salvage harvest needs to look before they leap.
As we’ve discussed several times over the past few years, 2013-2015 were hard drought years and we continue to see the cumulative effects on our trees. Many trees, conifers in particular, have dead tops or have died outright. Since drought symptoms typically take a season or two to be expressed, what showed up this year is a result of damage from 2015. So far 2016 is proving to be a more normal year, though it remains to be seen how the fall and winter will play out. If we continue to get decent rainfall then we should start to see new damage taper off, but it’s too early to tell.
Beetles are a concern and both Extension and ODF have been getting plenty of calls about this. Yes, bark beetles have been more active in the Valley this year in drought-stressed stands. We expect this since beetles make their living off of dying trees, and are often seen more as a symptom than a cause of problems. Having drought stressed trees does not automatically mean bark beetles will come find them. And there are several types of bark beetles, some more damaging than others.Reddish frass in bark crevices is a sign of Douglas-fir beetle. Photo: B. Withrow-Robinson
That said, if you have trees that suffered partial damage a year or two ago, and then died completely this year, it is worth taking a closer look on these and surrounding live trees for signs and symptoms of bark beetles such as pitch streams, frass, and fading crowns on live trees. Fact sheets from the Oregon Department of Forestry on the Douglas-fir beetle and the fir engraver will help you. If you see something of concern you can contact the ODF Forest Health experts or your OSU Extension Agent for help (for backyard trees, call a certified arborist). Where there are significant numbers of beetles, landowners will be looking to sanitize their stands by removing infested trees before new adults emerge next spring.
This is where you want to exercise caution and be wary of door knockers.
Regrettably there is a history of shady operators approaching landowners telling them one story or another about their trees dying or markets disappearing and encouraging them to harvest trees “before it is too late”. It is invariably tied to an offer to take care of the problem for them. Unfortunately, the landscape is littered with stories of folks who have accepted those offers and sold off some timber they had not otherwise intended to sell, often for much less than it was worth.
We are aware of a number of small woodland owners in the Valley having received unsolicited offers to buy their timber as a way to mitigate drought damage. The “buyers” warn of all the trees damaged by drought being killed by beetles and being lost unless harvested, and encouraging people to sell and get some value before everything dies.
Unsolicited offers to buy timber are nothing new to small woodland owners, and we always advise to be wary of them. But this seems like a time to be particularly cautious.
An unsolicited buyer offering to assess the health of your trees for you is a clear conflict of interest and a definite red flag. One outcome could be the buyer exaggerating the potential for future loss, thereby convincing you to sell healthy trees you had no intention to log or to accept a lower price for the timber than you’d like (claiming that it’s “better than nothing”). Have a third party help you evaluate damage and if you think you want to proceed with salvage or sanitation harvest, move ahead as recommended with any harvest and seek bids from different operators.
You should realize that nobody knows the fate of these trees with any certainty. Drought conditions may be winding down, or may stick around for a while yet. Both choices – wait and see or do some preemptive salvage – involve risks that you need weigh. Don’t be driven by speculative claims about the trees dying, and do not panic. One or two beetle-killed trees in a stand is not an uncommon event and not a certain epidemic in the making. The decision to salvage needs to be well-timed and well-planned. Starting the job and then not finishing before beetles emerge in spring, or not properly dealing with slash, can make matters worse instead of better. Applying pheromone caps is another option to protect healthy trees if beetle-infested material cannot be removed in a timely manner.
So, suppose that you’ve done your homework and decide that salvaging drought-damaged or insect-damaged trees is in your best interest and meets your property objectives. You still have some due diligence to take care of. Get bids and ask the logger for references, go see his past jobs and talk with people who worked with him. Contact ODF to find out if there are any past violations, or the Association of Oregon Loggers for information on their credentials. Finally, insist on a written contract. Consult these publications for more guidance: Small Scale Harvesting for Woodland Owners and Contracts for Woodland Owners.
A final note, landowners in Linn, Benton and Lane Counties can sign up receive Emergency Forest Restoration Funds to remove drought-killed trees through the Farm Services Agency. More info here (scroll down). Folks in the northern Valley counties can get in touch with their local FSA to check on the availability of funds.
We participate in the Oregon State U Food Science Camp for middle school students.
Part of the STEM [science technology engineering math] Academies@OSU Camps.
We teach about bread fermentations, yeast converting sugars to CO2 and ethanol, lactobacillus converting sugar to lactic and acetic acids, how the gluten in wheat can form films to trap the gas and allow the dough to rise. On the way we teach about flour composition, bread ingredients and their chemical functionalities, hydration, the relationships between enzymes and substrates [amylases on starch to produce maltose for the fermentation organisms]; gluten development, the gas laws and CO2′s declining solubility in the aqueous phase during baking which expands the gas bubbles and leads to the oven spring at the beginning of baking; and the effect of pH on Maillard browning using soft pretzels that they get to shape themselves..
All this is illustrated by hands on [in] activities: they experience the hydration and the increasing cohesiveness of the dough as they mix it with their own hands, they see their own hand mixed dough taken through to well-risen bread. They get to experience dough/gluten development in a different context with the pasta extruder, and more and more.
A great way to introduce kids to the relevance of science to their day to day lives: in our case chemistry physics biochemistry and biology in cereal food processing.
We were also fortunate to have Erik Fooladi from Volda University College in Norway to observe the fun: http://www.fooducation.org/
If you have not read his blog and you like what we do here: you should!
pH, colloidal calcium phosphate, aging, proteolysis, emulsification or its loss and their interactions lead to optimum melting qualities for cheeses. A module in this year’s food systems chemistry class.
This module was informed by this beautiful article “The beauty of milk at high magnification“ by Miloslav Kalab, which is available on the Royal Microscopical Society website.
Of course accompanied by real sourdough wholegrain bread baked in out own research bakery.
“The Science of a Grilled Cheese Sandwich.”
by: Jennifer Kimmel
in: The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking
Edited by Cesar Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van der Linden
I’m back from maternity leave and getting resettled into some new responsibilities. We had a staff member leave us, so Glenda and I are having to pick up the work load until we find someone new, or our responsibilites change. Being a new mom is lots of work too, so I’ve gone part time (24 hours aweek) but am still trying to get everything done… that being said, we’ve decided to put our nutrition education volunteering on hold, until I have a managable workload.
We look forward to being able to start things back up in the summer or fall of 2011. Thanks so much and since a few of you have been asking, here’s a photo of our boy. He is 5 months old today!