Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Zach returns to town from Mwamgongo, sitting next to our favorite Frenchman on the Taxi"

Mwamgongo Group : Zach Losordo, Kanika Searvance, and Wendy Hado

Greetings from Mwamgono! For those unfamiliar with the Tanzania project, Mwamgongo is a fishing village (pop 4500) located on the shores of lake Tanganyika. It is the site of last summer’s improved cookstove and latrine project which addressed deforestation, indoor air pollution and poor sanitation practices.

This is my (Zach) second time working in Mwamgongo as I took part in the implementation of the stove project last year. For Wendy and Kanika, it is their first time in the village. Our goals are to bring the cookstove project to a point where the community can manage and propagate the stove technology independent of our advising. On the sanitation side of things, the group is going to devise sanitation education programs and continue the promotion of latrine use that was initiated last summer.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, due to the isolation of Mwamgongo (you can only get there by boat), the only way to access the internet and get cell phone reception is to take the water taxi back to town. This means that blog posts will be few and far between over the next six weeks but we will do our best to keep people informed about what we are doing.

To set the scene, I’m writing this post from a gorgeous conference room overlooking the placid waters of lake Tangyanika at the Jane Goodall Institute(JGI), our on the ground contact in Kigoma, Tanzania. Steep cliffs and rolling mountains line the lake, making the region of Kigoma one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The lake, the longest and deepest in the world, gives life to the surrounding communities and is the central feature of this area.

The village of Mwamgongo is located on the lake, about 15 miles north of the town of Kigoma. When we first arrived in Mwamgongo last summer, the 7 of us were quite a spectacle as the village rarely entertains outsiders. As the main attraction, we had about 60 children surrounding us at all times and our lack of familiarity with the community made finding the right people to work with us difficult. As the village has grown accustomed to our continued presence, the dynamic has changed significantly to the point where we now only have about 10 children hovering around us at any given time. The fact that we returned again this year certainly seems to have inspired the villagers trust, many of whom thought that we would never return despite our assurances that we would. It seems that we are now an accepted feature of the society which, I believe, is conducive to successful working relationships and a successful project. It has taken a year and two trips (summer ‘09, spring ’10) to develop this relationship, and now it is time to capitalize on the resources that weren’t available to us last year.

Although it is Wendy and Kanika’s first time in the village, they are doing great adapting to the local customs. They have both donned the local dress and fit in extremely well until they try to speak Swahili then everyone knows that they are complete foreigners. As a group, we are slowly progressing with our Swahili and have acquired basic levels of communication ability. Our efforts to fit in have not gone unnoticed and are certainly appreciated by the community. I wish I had more time to relate stories and details but I only have a few hours until the water taxi leaves. The next blog post will be more complete and have pictures – I’m bringing this computer back to Mwamgongo with us.

Stove project

This year a government imposed limit on the amount of firewood an individual can harvest has driven the demand for an improved cookstove. A stove that performs better than the standard three stone stove is becoming a necessity in Mwamgono. This increase in demand for stoves and the community excitement surrounding the talk of improved stoves is something that did not exist last summer. Last year we built 25 test stoves and installed them into homes. The first few days of spent in Mwamgongo involved tracking these families down and getting design feedback. Walking around we found that families were not extensively using their stoves. People liked the stoves because they saved wood, but they weren’t nearly big enough to accommodate the large family size you see in Mwamgongo, so a redesign is needed. Over the next two weeks this will be the focus of the project. We will be working with community members that have expressed interest in working to develop a stove. Finding the right individuals is critical to the success of the project and the individuals we have selected to work with are intelligent and hard working.

Once we have a design that the community is comfortable using we will market the technology through public demonstrations of the wood saving capabilities of the stove and the fact that it smokes less. By having the community members market the technology we hope that people from the village will be more comfortable approaching them about the stoves and that they will do a better job connecting with the community. We then hope to have these individuals take orders and produce and install stoves for the community. This entrepreneurial approach will incentivize the production of more stoves and will benefit both the community members and the community as a whole.


We were under the impression that the composting latrine built last year at the health center was not being used; however, we returned this year to find people using it as a normal latrine. Our first priority will be to teach people how to use it as a composting latrine by instituting an educational program on composting. In addition we will solidify management of the latrine. Our primary goal is the stoves at this point but we will be working with Aaron and Mitch (see their post) to come up with education programs that support the work they are doing on the water distribution system.

We are having a great time here and we will stay in contact as best we can.

Zach, Kanika, Wendy

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the descriptions and news. We're cheering you on!