The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Friday, May 31, 2013


While we in Iowa are most familiar with the farming of corn, the most common crop in this part of Brazil is cacau.  We spent the majority of the day at a unique cacau farm.  Not only do they have mass (or "commodity") production, but they are also completing research on how to grow cacau that makes the finest chocolate possible.  It was very interesting to see all of the different components of the process and just how they can be manipulated and researched to get the perfect cocoa for chocolate.  The researcher/farmer that was leading us was very enthusiastic and wanted to talk a lot about everything, but he did not speak English, so poor Marcelo had to try to keep up with translation.  It's amazing, though, how scientific words are so close between English and Portuguese, so that if you were to pay attention very closely, you could get the main ideas without even having translations.

We got to try a lot of different things at the farm.  We started with drinking juice from the cacau blended with ice.  It was DELICIOUS!  We also had juice from the cupuoacu (also blended with ice).  It was different, but also good.  The farmer told us how they are trying to use every part of the cacau fruit for something.  The shells are ground up and used in the fermentation process, the milk is used for juice and for sweetening things, and of course the beans for making chocolate.  Another part of the cacau that they are utilizing is called the placenta.  This is the stringy part that holds the beans together inside the fruit.  They are sweetening it with the cacau honey and drying it to make what they call a candy.  We got to try it too, and it was very good...much like dried fruit.  We told them if they ever market it in America, though, they should definitely not call it placenta :)

We saw everything involved in the process from the shucking of the beans, to drying, fermenting, grinding, mixing, molding, and wrapping.  At this farm they process the "commodity" beans (lower quality) through the drying phase and then sell them.  They use their highest quality beans for experimenting to make the best chocolate possible.  They treat this process very carefully, and require everyone to wear protective gear!

Finally, we got to try the experimental chocolate, and it was fantastic!  We were able to purchase some (they don't sell it ANYWHERE!) to take home.  They also gave me three giant eggs as gifts!  I think it was a great experience for our students, as well as the UESC professors that accompanied us.  I think they have made a new connection that may lead to great opportunities (internships, projects) for their students!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our Sister City, Ilheus, Bahia, Brazil

Today we learned more about Davenport's Sister City, Ilheus.  We started our tour at the iconic cathedral at the center of town.  Our terrific tour guide, Marcello (Professor of Communications at UESC) told us all about the 30-year renovation that occurred at the cathedral and the three priests who were involved with the process (and showed us their tombs, right inside the cathedral!).

Then we walked down the main pedestrian street as he pointed out and discussed historic building such as Jorge Amado's (famous writer) home that is now a cultural center, the Town Hall, first church, etc.  It was an extremely interesting experience because it is a holiday and there were NO people on the streets.  If anyone has ever been to Ilheus, you can imagine my disbelief!  The streets are usually packed and bustling with people shopping or going about their business, but there was none of that today.

The students also got their first experience at the Artisan market.  Many students, with the help of our new UESC engineering student friends, bargained for some great souvenirs and gifts like hammocks, purses, and casacha.

The most interesting part of the day for me, however, was when we visited the Bataclan.  The Bataclan was a Brothel in the early colonial days, and is now a beautiful restaurant with a museum.  Marcelo told us an interesting story about how the cacao farmers used to pay the priests to have long masses on Sundays.  The farmers would send their wives to mass and say they were going to take care of business at the bar.  They would then sneak through a secret passageway to the Bataclan to hang out with the girls while their wives were at the bar.  The priests would signal the mass was close to ending with the church bells, so the men would quickly sneak back to the bar to await their wives.  We also got to hear a storyteller talk about the history of cacao and cacao farmers and their involvement with the Bataclan.  Very interesting!

We ended the day by relaxing at the beach.  We have a great group of students with us and many great hosts and friends from UESC.  It's really great to see the entire group really enjoying each others' company! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Today we had an early start to learn all we could about Brazil, Brazilian culture, Universidad Estadual de Santa Cruz (UESC), and some cool things they do in Engineering at UESC. 

Brazil and Brazilian Culture

I think we all learned a lot of really cool things today about the place we are visiting, its heritage, and people. Here are a few key things that I wrote down and thought I'd share.

  • Brazil is the 5th largest country.  And it is nearly a square (although not really in shape).  It is approximately 4,700 miles from north to south, as well as east to west!  The population is somewhere around 109 million people, and it has 26 states that they break up into 5 regions.  We are in the state of Bahia in the Northeast region.    They are also the 8th largest economy in the world (and growing!).
  • The Brazilian government has changed significantly in the last century, from being a dictatorship, to a democracy, to a dictatorship again (military this time), and then back to a democracy.  Throughout these changes, they have always had a strong congress, which I found to be very interesting.  They have been a democracy now for 30 years and are hoping to keep it that way.  It is interesting to note, too, that all of their laws are Federal laws.  States can make their own laws, but Federal always trumps State, and no one can "escape" to another state to avoid prosecution of a certain law.
  • Their culture is beautifully mixed and enriched with a deep heritage.  Their culture is a meshing of Portuguese, Native Indian, African, European, and even Asian cultures that have settled here.  They actually do not really even classify people by race or culture, but just embrace everyone as "Brazilian" because everything is so mixed and accepted.  It's really quite extraordinary.
  • There is an area (maybe even a "town") in/near Sao Paolo called "Americana" that was settled by Confederates from America who were not happy with the result of the Civil War.  I thought that was funny.
  • There is a city called Minas Gerias in the Southeast region that is recognized by the United Nations and the entire world as a historic landmark.  Yes, the ENTIRE city.  There is no development or change allowed to the city indefinitely.
Engineering at UESC

We had a great time getting a tour of the university from students in their "Production Engineering" program (comparable to an Industrial Engineering program in the US), as well as having lunch with them, and hearing more about what they do.  They have a very interesting program they have started called "Junior Enterprise" that would be a good consideration for our students back at SAU!  They are a club, but more than a club, that does consulting-type projects, as well as outreach events, for companies in the area.  Some examples they gave are that they had a round-table discussion with alumni who are working in industry and UESC students, a course in how to use Excel, and Kaizen training.  Check them out at www.optimusejr.com.br

They best part of the day was seeing our students interact and engage with the UESC students so well.  I think they are really enjoying getting to know each other!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

We have arrived!

We are now relaxing in the cool breeze of our beautiful hotel, Praia do Sol, in Ilehus, Brazil.  The trip was relatively uneventful.  We had an absurdly short layover in Detroit to make it to our international flight to Sao Paolo (40 minutes), so I was a bit nervous about that.  Turns out, my nerves were correct.  Because of weather and construction on the runway in Detroit, they had us in a holding pattern for 20 minutes, announcing that we might have to divert to Flint, MI!  Luckily, we ended up landing, albeit a few minutes late, and SPRINTED to our gate (on the opposite side of the airport).  We made it JUST in time, and my lungs are still recovering.

Most of the trip was uneventful.  Something strange happened in the brief stop between Sao Paulo and Ilheus in Belo Horizonte.  The flight attended said that the airport was "closed" and no one knew what was going on.  We were there between 1.5 and 2 hours.  We were late getting into Ilheus because of that, but since it was our final destination it was no big deal.  And we are only missing 2 bags!

Tomorrow we will be leaving the hotel at 7AM and going to UESC to learn about Brazilian culture and language and their engineering programs. 

Good night!