Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mwamgongo Stoves

Finally, we made it back to town (and internet access) and we are slowly reacquainting ourselves with running water, refrigerated drinks and a diet that consists of foods other than rice and beans. It’s hard to believe we've been in Mwamgongo for only 3 weeks; the days move slowly but the weeks blur together. We're slowly becoming accepted members of the community as opposed to the pale skinned "freaks" that make small children cry. We're making friends both old and young, and we're beginning to feel comfortable there.

The trips into town on the “water taxi” are always eventful. The water taxi is the easiest way to reach Mwamgongo from Kigoma, and consists of a 3-3.5 hour ride on a leaky wooden boat that is packed shoulder to shoulder with people, animals and cargo. Being the only Wazungu (Swahili for Europeans) on the boat, we were the topic of almost every conversation. We know just enough Swahili to know that we were being talked about but not enough to know exactly what was said or how to respond.

This trip into town is very special as Revocatus Emmanuel, our translator offered to let us stay at his house, a beautiful compound overlooking Kigoma.

We’ve been enjoying the home comforts and the fact that there are no roosters J. In Mwamgongo, two roosters herald the new day directly outside of our window starting around 5 AM. Aaron and Mitch have cultivated a particularly intense hatred for one of these animate alarm clocks which they named “Carl.” During their recent visit they tried to buy Carl for dinner. Unfortunately, they were unable to consume the flesh of their worthy adversary because Carl’s owner thought he was too special to eat. The owner would probably take a different opinion if it was his window that Carl crowed under. Waking up peacefully in Kigoma sans Carl made the whole trip worthwhile.

We’ve been having a great time in Tanzania and have been working hard on the stove project. As we mentioned in the last blog post, the government has set up wood restrictions limiting the amount of wood that each family can gather each month driving up the demand for a stove that uses less wood. As a result, the government has been extraordinarily supportive of our project, collaborating with us to market and distribute the stove to the community.

The distribution network we have been discussing with the government involves training a small group of 8 women and 4 men how to build the stove. These individuals will help market the stove and conduct seminars in the sub villages, where they will teach other community members how to build the stove. When these stove pupils go to build their own stoves they will be required to teach two other people how to build the stove. This chain of stove knowledge transfer will continue until everyone has access to the technology. The process will be managed by the government and will be overseen by the Dartmouth HELP members in Mwamgongo. A rough timeline has this process starting within the next two weeks.

Precipitating the formalization of the distribution network was a redesign of the rocket stove to better meet the community’s needs. The redesign accomplished several important goals.

|Cooking Performance

The rocket stove dimensions were scaled up to allow the cooks to put more wood in the rocket stove. This enables people to cook for their large families in less time and reduces the amount of time spent adding wood. The new design permits a person to tend the fire only once every ten minutes or so. This management time is comparable to the low maintenance three stone stove which people are familiar cooking on. The stove is still very efficient cooking beans which takes over 3 hours on less than 2 pieces of wood, a feat that amazed our many spectators.


The super structure was redesigned to be more stable allowing people to cook ugali. A more stable super structure will improve durability. In addition, the new design is far easier to put together greatly reducing construction time and complexity.


Improving the aesthetics of the stove was also something that we focused on with this design. We want a stove design that people will be proud to have in their kitchens. Response to this design has been very positive. Improving the look of the stove has increased demand far more than we expected. Aesthetics was a missing specification in previous design cycles.

The result of the redesign has been unbelievably positive. People are really excited about the stove which makes us confident that the technology will spread throughout the community.

In order to disseminate the technology, we hosted a teaching seminar where we taught a group of eleven interested community members how to assemble the stoves from scratch (of course, in typical Mwamgongo fashion, our group quickly grew larger because everyone was curious about the stove that was being built). The participants put the entire stove together in under two hours. The result was an impressive final product. Several people in the group that were taught began building stoves in their own homes the same day. Word about our stove has definitely spread through Mwamgongo we even heard people talking about the stove on the water taxi ride back to town.

The next step in the stove project is to disseminate the technology to the community, come up with a monitoring and management strategy and then focus on working with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to promote this stove design in other communities as it is more efficient, and produces less harmful particulates than other designs that are currently being promoted.

We have also been assessing the possibility of getting people to use the composting latrine at the health center. There is a huge lack of understanding about the purpose of a compost latrine, and a plethora of cultural barriers to overcome. The latrine is being used, but not correctly. Here in Kigoma, we’re drawing up posters explaining the proper way to use a compost latrine, and the benefits of composting. Unfortunately, the latrine does require maintenance, and, we’ve found it difficult to shape incentives so that an individual would be willing to manage the latrine in the long term. We have talked to farmers and offered them the compost in exchange for management(putting out buckets of ash and soil to facilitate the compost process) although no one has committed to management at this time. We had a conversation with, Dr. Charles, the regional Medical officer in Mwamgongo who has been very helpful in explaining some of the reasons reluctant people have been reluctant to embrace the latrine concept, and working with us to overcome these problems. According to the doctor, a more comprehensive education program is necessary to make people understand that compost derived from human waste will not taint crops and is completely safe.

Hope all is well back in the states. We are having a great time here and we really feel like we are accomplishing a lot. Next week we have a safari planned which we are all really looking forward to. We’ll hopefully have more good news then.

Zach, Kanika, Wendy

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

20-7-10 “Burn, Baby, Burn”

Today was a very active day here in Kalinzi, as we were able to get two more stoves delivered to test subjects (no mean feat when everyone is operating on Africa time), and got a bunch of testing done in the afternoon. We were pleasantly surprised when we went to deliver a stove to one of our testers, and received an enthusiastic response to the stove not from the volunteer (she was in town at the market), but her husband. Our operating assumption before today had been that we needed to be focusing exclusively on women because men would not be interested, but now we have seen exciting evidence to the contrary. When are neighbor picked up her stove on the her way home from the market, she was very excited and grateful. I can’t help but hoping that the gratitude that she and the other testers have shown doesn’t jinx the stoves or keep them from telling us about problems or suggestions they have with our design. (High quality pictures of our design should be posted soon, pending Parker’s return to high bandwidth internet back in the ‘States.)

Efficiency testing and experimenting with different coffee husk burning strategies took up most of our afternoon, and yielded some very thought provoking results for us to work with. Several packing methods and different inserts were evaluated, and our most promising lead came from a perforated tube inserted vertically in a bed of coffee husks to emulate a sawdust stove. Not perfect yet, but it’s promising.

As we were preparing for our last test of the evening, our friend Fundi decided to stop by for a little socializing. He was very impressed by the quality of our stoves, and refused to believe us when we insisted that we had made them ourselves. He also couldn’t make sense of a bin I had made out of roofing metal to hold our coffee husk supply and chopped up fire wood. Of what I understood of his Swahili (and maybe some Kiha?), he thought it was a baby’s cradle, and rebuked us for having so many sharp edges. Hopefully we will be able to have Fundi make modifications to our stoves for us, to keep him involved and interested.

The progress on the road (bara bara) her in Kalinzi has been rapid, and as close as we are to it, we can occasionally feel the ground shaking as the steam rollers pass back and forth. Paving seems to be imminent, and will bring with it a welcome end to the enormous dust clouds that currently waft up after passing cars and trucks. We’ll see what else it brings.


19-7-10 or “It’s True, a watched pot really never boils!”

We returned to Kalinzi yesterday ( Sunday) after picking up our stoves in the market to start testing our design with the six women who agreed to use our stoves and give us feedback. Yesterday evening, we took the dimensions of each of the stoves and labeled each accordingly.

Today, we met with two of the women, discussed the working of the stoves with them and gave them to test for the next few days. We also did a great deal of testing on our own including a longevity test (keeping the fire going for about an hour and a half) and trying out different combinations of wood and coffee husks. We found that adding fuel while the fire is burning hot is very beneficial.

In the evening, we had somewhat of a spectacle outside of the field station as a herd of goats and a man singing and dancing to gospel music appeared. We were testing the stove during this event and were very happy for the free publicity.


17-7-10 or “Parker, don’t go!”

Today, Parker left Kigoma for Dar es Salaam, where he will be spending two days before returning to the U.S on Monday. We realized how lucky we were to have him here to build on the foundation that he and Zach set up last summer. After shedding tears (jk), we bid him farewell and returned to our lodgings.

While there, we had a chance encounter with a guy from a non-profit called MIBOS. We all visited their headquarters and learned that in addition to running an orphanage, MIBOS also had a parcel of land that they wanted to grow food on. They needed technology for a water distribution system and this is an area where we could potentially do future work.

In the evening, we thought some more about potential business models for our stove once we got a good design. We realized that we have a lot to learn and are trying to make sure that we make use of all of the resources on the ground and at Dartmouth.


16-7-10 or “The day we found out how awesome Tanzanian hospitality is”

Aaron and Mitch decided, in conjunction with government officials, to create a checklist that would help villages better maintain their water systems. As such, they spent the morning printing and copying pamphlets to distribute to village officials.

Tim, Parker, Kevin and Ryan spent the morning at JGI, testing out one of the new stoves that we commissioned from the metal workers. We got some interesting feedback from a JGI employee who liked that the stove produced less smoke than the traditional 3-stone fire. Tim also had some meetings and he tried to gauge, on behalf of the group, the best way of distributing the stoves.

In the evening, we spent a few hours at Jacobston’s beach, where Parker spotted an otter and we all saw monkeys. Later that night, we had dinner, on invitation, with our translator. We were incredibly impressed by the warm hospitality shown by our host and were grateful to eat a delicious meal of pasta, pelau and beans.


15-7-10 or “The day I became temporarily deaf at the metalworkers”

The Kalinzi stove team left Mwamgongo yesterday (Wednesday) for KIgoma via water taxi, which was quite the experience. In addition to our fellow passengers, the boat also contained cargo which ranged from squacking chickens to huge sacks of agricultural produce. Along the way, we spied colobus monkeys and baboons on the beaches of the mainland.

We arrived in Kigoma and headed to the metalworkers at the Mwanga market with the prototype that we built in Kalinzi. They built a replication with a few modifications (such as a horizontal sliding door and slightly thinner outer box) out of stronger metal. We watched ( and listened) intently as they made it and were impressed enough to commission 10 stoves to take back to Kalinzi and test with the 6 women who agreed to give us feedback on our design.

After spending time in the highlands, returning to Kigoma with its modern conveniences (read running electricity and water) and its plethora of people was somewhat of a shock. We were reminded of the contrasts in lifestyles and access to resources that the people of Tanzania face.


13-7-10 or “’What is my name?”

In the morning, we went to one of the Village Executive officers, introduced ourselves and received permission to be in the village. The government seemed excited about the stove and water projects in general.

After our meeting, we had a brainstorming session with Zach with the goal of coming up with a good design for the knobs of the stoves that allows ugali to be cooked. Ugali is a very starchy food and Tanzanian staple, made from cassava flour, that requires a great deal of stirring. Our stove needs be capable of withstanding this intense stirring without the pot slipping or spilling.

We also visited two households that had rocket stoves and did efficiency tests at both locations. We were reminded that teaching people how to use the stoves properly (especially using small sticks and allowing sufficient airspace between the pot and flame) is critical to the success of the project.

In the evening, we spent some quality time with the village kids by the lake, enduring several “What is my name?” questions that were impossible to answer until we realized they were asking what our names were, not testing us. After the kids disappeared into the night, we did some more logistical planning and watched a sapphire-red moon disappear in what we believed to be a lunar eclipse.