Pottery Project Ready to Reignite!

Raphael was keen to jump in and start work. He is most interested in the pottery project that we started here – we are aiming to make clay filter pots. I have to say for the last few months I have been too busy to lay any focus on this part of MSABI. It is great to have Raphael here to share the load for the next month or so. Also, Raphael is Swiss and he will be able to work with our Swiss friend George, who is living in Ifakara with his wife (who is doing skin culture research). George is an experienced potter and you may remember he helped design and build the kiln for us here. So, with Raphael we visited the local potters and discussed ideas and options for moving forward. We have decided to aim for an early January refiring of the kiln – with the aim to fire 40 experimental pots – testing 4 different clay/rice husk mix ratios. We are close to success, but need somebody to drive the project. Hopefully Raphael can do this - though it will be a big stretch for him, as he will be the only volunteer/manager for MSABI when I leave.

George has created an excellent mould for making the filter pots.  It was made from gypsum and is designed to suck out the moisture from the clay - such that a pot can be inlaid into the mould and pulled out 10 minutes later.  Unfortunately, the gypsum quality available in Tanzania is poor and contains too much chalk or another impurity - resulting in the mould not absorbing moisture.  Hence, we have to adapt the mould and will now use  a plastic liner.

What we have also discovered is that this project has the potential to significantly improve the economic status of the local women potters.  Their main source of income is making "jikos" or clay oven pots fired by charcoal.  They sell them for TSH500 each.  They pay TSH500 for a bucket of clay and can produce 5 Jikos per bucket per day.  So their income is around TSH2000 per day which is around $2 per day.  This is less than half of the average basic labour wage for this region.  They tell us the filter pots are easier to produce, use less clay and they will be paid TSH1500 per pot.  With George's mould design we hope they can produce more than 10 pots each per day.  We will see!!!

A key difference I noticed this visit is that the local potters are now onboard and can see the potential of what we are trying to do.  The lead potter lady, Mama Modestus, has started using her own filter pot!!!  This is without us even suggesting she do so – as we are still in test stages.  She showed us how good the prototype filters are working.  She took filthy water from a shallow well and put it into the filter pot.  Whilst it took a long time to filter, the water came out the other side crystal clear.  Wow! I was impressed.  Mind you this does not prove the filter removes bacteria – but it does show it removes at worst colloidal clays, which would contain a large proportion of bacteria adhered to the clay particles (the unfiltered water is a greyish colour and contains colloidal clays).   The unfiltered water also had a strong pungent organic odour.  The filtered water still had an organic odour but significantly less than the unfiltered water.  So we are looking forward to lab testing for faecal coliforms.  We finally have all the lab testing equipment here in Ifakara – so we are ready to rock n roll!  

Raphael (l) talks to George (c) and Mama Modestus about the filter pot project.  Raphael and George are sitting on the MSABI kiln.

Raphael holds one of the prototype filter pots. George is discussing technical issues with him.

George demonstrating his gypsum pot mould.

Mama Modestus shows us where she sometimes if forced to take drinking water from when the local pump is broken.

The unfiltered water from the above location.

Unfiltered (l) and filtered (r).  Wow!  I was impressed.  Visually a big difference, though let us wait for lab results before we get too excited.  What pleases me is that Mama Modestus did this experiment on her own initiative.  She has been quietly using her own filter pot for a few months now.  She says she has many requests for the pots already, but has to tell the local people to wait.