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

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