School's out: Time for Tanzanians to take up the cause for healthier, more energy-efficient stoves


Tanzania, DartmouthEditor's Note: Students from Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering are working in Tanzania to help improve sanitation and energy technologies in local villages. This series chronicles work being done by the student-led group, known as  Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) [formerly known as Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP)], to design "rocket stoves" in the village of Mwamgongo and top-light updraft design (TLUD) gasification stoves in the village of Kalinzi. The goal is to create a healthier, more energy-efficient cooking apparatus that these villagers will accept and use. HELP students are filing these dispatches from the field during their trip. This is their 17th blog post for Scientific American.

Every night, I watch the sun as it vanishes below the jagged mountains of the Congo across the lake. As the sun disappears for me in Mwamgongo, I know that it shines brightly on my friends and family half a world away. I watch the sun as it passes from my vision, slipping away to illuminate those familiar, faraway places. The sun gives me a sense of where I am in the world, relative to where I have been.

I love looking at world maps and tracing a route across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean, past the equator to Tanzania and the tiny speck on the map that represents Mwamgongo. The thin, pale pages of the map fail to capture the majesty of Gombe's forests, the crystalline blue of Lake Tanganyika and ringing laughter of the people. In a few days, I will board airplane to follow the reverse of that route back home. The journey will take only 27 hours but will transport me to what must be a completely different planet. I realize that after two summers of working here, I will probably never to return to this small place.

Dartmouth, TanzaniaThe stove distribution seminar exceeded my expectations. Over 150 individuals attended the public demonstrations. By running from sub village to sub village, I was able to attend each of the demonstrations. The community asked thoughtful questions and expressed interest in acquiring a stove for their own family. Spirits were high at the demonstration and people were laughing and joking about how bad their three-stone stoves were. Many people were swearing off their three-stone stoves, convinced by the side-by-side comparison to the rocket stove. Many people reported that they had already gathered the materials for their own stove and had begun making the bricks, which puts us ahead of schedule for the distribution. I am confident that the technology is now in the community's hands. People know how to build, maintain and teach others the stove design. The people who have stoves are pleased with their performance. At this point in the project, the subsequent stove distribution will need to be driven by Tanzanians. I am pleased to say my work in Mwamgongo is finished. The results of our project will be evidenced when Tim Bolger returns to Mwamgongo for an assessment trip.

I am also proud of the work our group, Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE), accomplished in Tanzania and the manner in which the work was carried out. We kept the focus on empowering people and as a result, were able to work closely with Tanzanians to bring successful outcomes to the projects. During my travels in Tanzania, I have come across many failed  "development " projects. The fossil remains of old water distribution systems and the skeletons of charred metal stoves exist as grim reminders of the failures of charity-based development to work as long-term solutions. I am a firm believer that Tanzanians have the capabilities to improve their own lives, and that more can be accomplished by tapping into their reserve of knowledge, skill and dedication. We can only hope that we successfully utilized the resources available to us and that time reveals that our project had a meaningful impact on the people here.

Images courtesy of Wendy Hado

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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