Table of Contents

Esther – Growing Pains

June 24, 2011

Nick at work in the SHEEP office. My desk is immediately to his left.

The title of this post may puzzle you. You may be asking yourself, “Is Esther going through a growth spurt? Who is having growing pains?!”

I am not going through a growth spurt; the ceramic water filter project in Indonesia is!  Along the way we’re encountering what Nick aptly called “growing pains.”  Nick and I document questions and assumptions about many aspects of the work, e.g. design specifications: What shape is best for the filters in terms of distribution of pressure? Contact time? Throughput? There’s a lot to process and test and consider.  Living and working in Indonesia is very different than doing so in the U.S. due to contrasting pricing of materials, availability of materials, living accommodations, language barriers, supply of electricity, and more.  In this time of rapid growth and adjustment, the growing pains are numerous: Where do we get reliable raw materials? Which lab supplies are most cost-effective and useful for the bacteria we’ll be working with? How much will it cost to upgrade the office’s electrical supply so we can run an electric kiln?  What role should an interested Microbiology professor in Jogja play?  How do we get the community excited about and involved in the production of water filters?

Left hand photo: Our microbiology lab room two weeks ago Right hand photo: Our microbiology lab room today

Growing pains in children happen during a period of unusually rapid growth, and we’re taking these challenges in our work as a good sign of our growth and the growth of the project. We have many resources at our disposal to help answer the above questions. We’ve settled into our living spaces, are nailing down the budget, and are buying all sorts of good tools for the microbio lab: glassware, pH strips, culture media, an electric scale, a pressure cooker, and a FRIDGE!  In Indonesia it’s rare to have a refrigerator to keep food in, much less in which to store culture media and toxic bacteria. We’re refurbishing the ceramic lab by repairing the tools already in SHEEP‘s possession (ceramic press, ceramic mixer, etc.).  Language classes facilitate communication and improve our comfort levels in the office and the city.  A SHEEP pharmacist named Hari will be working on the filters full-time and is a fantastic addition to our group. Mbak Rina, the other Indonesian filter team member, continues to be organized, cheerful, and hard-working.

All of these growing pains are natural and healthy, and we’re lucky to be working in an environment as supportive, compassionate, and professional as SHEEP’s. Lunch is served for us everyday in the office! SHEEP pays Ibu Pri (a fantastic cook and my neighbor) to make lunch so no one in the office has to worry about bringing food. At an executive board meeting about the filters, after many questions about the design timeline and business details, we were asked, “Is there anything you need to make you happier and more comfortable?” I was startled to hear that from an employer! The emphasis is so often on what you give to your employer, not what they give to you.

The SHEEP sign on the front of the office building. It reads: "Foundation Sheep Indonesia: Society for Health, Education, Environment and Peace"

SHEEP gives us so much, including motivation. When Nick asked their end goal for the filters the answer was in-depth, encouraging, and selfless. The main topics addressed were disaster relief, public health, energy and food security, and combating privatization of water, with income from the filters as a side note and the least important item on the list.

The capacities we’re building with this organization and the knowledge we’re gaining are immense.  The network we’re creating is growing and the problem-solving that happens each day is exciting.  I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress!

All the best,

Esther Buckwalter

Ceramic Water Filter Researcher