This is a page for a more in-depth interview from our most recent guest poster.
September 2013: These are our questions for the lovely Miss Rachel Schmidt!
- What is next for PureMadi?
PureMadi is 100% committed to the Mukondeni Pottery and the Venda women we’ve been working with for the last few years. We will continue to support Mukondeni with help from our partners such as the University of Venda and the International Rotary Club. PureMadi is continuously lab and field testing our filters, and now the MadiDrops! These look like a thick drink coaster that will be dropped into a bucket and release nanoparticles to disinfect water. We are also working on our upcoming fundraiser in Charlottesville, and transitioning into a full blown non-profit!
- Why were clay water filters selected specifically for this program?
Professor Jim Smith at UVA has worked closely with two other international nonprofits who work to develop similar ceramic filters around the world. Professor Smith researched the filters and worked to alter the silver nanoparticle application in hopes of finding a more economical approach. Meanwhile, our collaboration with the University of Venda continued to grow, and they proved to be a great local resource with strong support systems and mutually beneficial ideas.
Traditional ceramic artistry is very popular in the Venda region of South Africa. UniVen helped identify Mukondeni Pottery – a local Pottery of women who have created ceramic pots and artwork for the last 30 years! The women were excited to collaborate with the Universities to revive their Pottery by selling a new product, physically develop the filter business, and help educate their community on the dangers and prevention of water borne disease. I believe the collaboration has been extremely beneficial to all three parties through the mutually beneficial and knowledge-sharing platform we’ve developed.
- From your work with slow-sand water filters, what are the main differences between those and clay filters in terms of construction and use?
Great question! For starters, both systems are reasonably fragile. If the clay filter falls and breaks, or the sand filter is tipped over – the system is pretty much donezo. Unharmed, sand filters have a longer life time (~10 years?), compared to about 3 years for ceramic filters. Ceramic filters are cheaper at around $20 US to sand filters at around $70 US. Ceramic filters are easier to clean – simply rinse with boiling water and scrub the inside with a coarse brush if necessary. Sand filters require a bit more finesse to carefully clean without disrupting the bacteria blanket. Finally, the ceramic filters can be produced using locally available materials, which is not necessarily the case in sand filters.
- Will the factory be able to produce the silver nanoparticles?
That said, the factory cannot produce silver nanoparticles. The clay, sawdust, and water are all available directly on, or very close to site. The nanoparticles came from the US – however, each filter requires very little silver since it’s highly diluted. The silver supply that Mukondeni currently holds will produce thousands of filters. PureMadi will be easily available in the future (through direct links, UniVen, and Rotary) so they will not run out of silver! Additional materials like electronic machinery, buckets, stickers and packaging materials are all produced in South Africa.
- What’s your favorite Tshivendan word?
Probably “kaladzi” (carr-odd-zi) which technically means “sister” or “brother,” but it’s used as a greeting between good friends. Once I was being called “kaladzi,” I knew I was in the club! Plus it’s just easy and fun to say!
- What is one of your biggest lessons learned in starting a small business such as this factory?
This is a great question – and to be honest, something that I’m still discovering as I look back on this experience. Right now, I would have to say how difficult it is to manage people. I knew there would be logistical issues to figure out – in terms of technical filter production, planning training sessions, developing a marketing strategy, implementing successful business practices, etc. I was not prepared to work and live so closely with a completely different culture, where seemingly simple things (saying hello) have completely different expectations and implications. It’s difficult to be effective and efficient when you have so many basics to learn and understand!
- What are you up to now?
I’m now working as a Water Resource Engineer for Arcadis in Denver! I’m only about 2 weeks in… so I’m definitely still finding my footing. So far, my team is great, the project is super interesting, and I’m loving Denver!
- How are you so cool?! (But seriously)
How are YOU so cool? But seriously – it’s interesting to see which ways we’ve both gone (after both starting with sand filters at UVA!)… hopefully we can meet in the middle some day! Thanks again for letting me tell my story on H2dayO – you guys are doing a great job here!