Desire to innovate pulls Canadian volunteer to Senegal

ceso2Isaac Newton’s supposed “A-ha” moment happened when an apple fell on his head – he discovered gravity, the force that brought the apple down was also the same force that stops the moon from falling into the earth and stops the earth from falling into the sun.

Gravity fuelled Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO) volunteer Pierre Rivard’s “A-ha” moment, too, when he figured out how to improve the functioning of salt iodization equipment in Senegal.

CESO is a volunteer-sending agency that matches Canadian experts in their professions to small businesses and partner institutions in developing countries with the goal of improving capacity.

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Senegal is the largest producer of salt in West Africa, making it an important exporter throughout the region. The Micronutrient Initiative (MI) has been supporting salt iodization efforts in the country for many years, working with small-scale salt processors to not only improve the quality of their salt but also to ensure that the salt is adequately iodized to protect against mental impairment. This salt is often sold, bartered or traded to people most vulnerable to iodine deficiency disorders, making these iodization efforts a matter of great importance.

A mechanical engineer, Rivard had never been to Senegal when he signed up as a CESO volunteer, but knew he had skills to offer and MI had a need for those skills. Mobile machines that add potassium iodate to salt have been used by processors for many years but are prone to mechanical breakdown.

That can mean days of lost work or salt not being adequately iodized because a pump or piece was broken. Helping processors to find practicable mechanical solutions was exactly the skill-set Rivard knew he could provide.

Instead of using an unreliable pump to dispense the potassium iodate solution, Rivard set to work figuring out how gravity could help. He elevated the potassium iodate reservoir on the machine, making sure it was higher than the hopper; gravity would do the work of dispensing the solution. He then installed a ball valve to ensure a steady flow of salt onto the screw conveyor, which pulverizes the salt and adds the iodate solution in a consistent manner.

One of Rivard’s goals in travelling to Senegal was to experience community life close-up, and his work with MI allowed him to do just that. He provided support to communities throughout Senegal, collaborating directly with families who had been working in salt for generations. He spent a lot of time with various processors, figuring out with them what was going wrong with the machines and how to improve them.

Processors received training through MI on the use of the modified machines, including how to maintain and fix them should they break down. Through a unique Canadian partnership, CESO and MI found solutions to help people in Senegal. This Canadian engineer’s own “A-ha” moment will resonate throughout an entire region and for years to come.

See more images from Pierre Rivard´s work in Senegal on Flickr.