Participating in a project like this has proven to be extremely enriching to both of us in the sense of life experience. While we had a really fun time in India and both fell in love with its nature and its people, we learned even more from the setbacks.
We left for India with the goal of accomplishing the following things:
- Optimization of the prototype through experiments
- Train the villagers, provide them with a step-by-step guide
- Generate ideas of new products with lemongrass, how to make and test them
- Market research: find potential customers
- Review & update the business plan
Now, at the end of the project, we can say many of these things haven’t been achieved. Our main goal, the optimization of the process, couldn’t be reached because it turned out the distillation unit wasn’t working properly yet and still had to undergo repairs and adjustments.
The second goal has partly been achieved: we made the step-by-step guide, however we decided not to train the villagers before the unit was in the production stage, as we wouldn’t be able to provide information on what temperatures and pressures to use, which would end up coming across as vague and just confuse them.
For the third deliverable; we did do research on derived products, however with no oil we couldn’t actually try making these products yet.
For the fourth point, we think we did rather well. We’ve made contact with the first potential clients, which will be a given once the lemongrass oil production is running smoothly.
The last goal has been achieved as well, however when it comes to numbers, we still had to make estimations, since we couldn’t do the experiments and determine the exact oil yield.
All in all, the experiments should’ve been the “backbone” of our project since its results would have influenced or facilitated the rest of our goals. It was thus a large disappointment that we didn’t get around to doing any experiments while we were there. However, does this mean the project failed?
In our eyes, the answer is no. First of all, it is normal in all chemical and industrial processes that a machine doesn’t immediately work after installation. There is a phase in which it needs to be tested and, if necessary, adjusted or repaired before it is ready for use. Even if it wasn’t our initial goal, we feel we delivered something important by completing this phase, getting the unit to work properly and leaving it behind in a state that is ready for use.
Of course, there were things that the participants of the project could’ve done differently prior to our arrival in India that could’ve avoided certain problems, for example in the design or installation phase. However, this is one of the consequences of working with developing countries and to us, this is exactly what a minor project like this is all about: there are many things we would do differently instinctively and it is good to analyse these differences. We can help the locals by making suggestions, while at the same time trying to understand their culture and work ethic. In the end, we can learn a lot from each other.
We both agree on the fact that it is a beautiful project, and that it can definitely succeed and improve the lives of the tribes in Valaramkunnu. However, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made before it can actually contribute something to the community. We hope that everyone involved in the project will continue putting hard work into it and take the suggestions we have listed into consideration. Once the experiments that we initially hoped to complete have been done, the business side needs to be tackled in order for it to run smoothly and become profitable. When this succeeds, the project can hopefully be handed over to the villagers so that the people of Valaramkunnu can once again make and sell their very own high-quality lemongrass oil.