The Institutional Stove Project of Aprovecho Research Center is moving rapidly to fill the need for institutional size stoves in the developing world. This blog is devoted to charting our events and progress.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dollo Ado, Ethiopia

We’re two kilometers from the Somali border and about 35 from Kenya.  Dollo Ado is the primary Ethiopian intake center for Somali refugees. There are probably a dozen aid agencies here all working together to patch together programs for an increasing flow of very hungry refugees. About 140,000 are in the camps today, but the numbers are rapidly growing.

Extended drought, political instability, and an uptick in military and paramilitary confrontations have sent numbers skyrocketing in the last few days. Normal flow here has been 50 new refugees a day. Yesterday there were 500. There are some new multi-government offensives against Al Shabaab, and the poor and hungry are trying to get out of the way.  Driving today to deliver some stoves we were reminded of the ongoing political violence that is a constant threat in the lives of some of the poorest people on earth.

                          Stoves in flatbed passing tank (F.Colgan)

Today we did a workshop for cooks at the “wet feeding center” where new arrivals are fed high-value meals until they make some recovery from the malnutrition most are experiencing. Some kids remain in treatment for several weeks until they can regain their strength. New intakes then move to the “transit center”, where they await placement in camps and continue to be fed.  Almost 20,000 are in the transit center now. The cooks in the two intake/transit centers cook for thousands of people a day. They are cooking 1600 liters of food per meal over 16 three stone fires – twice a day.  Mountains of firewood. Smoke beyond belief.  In 2012 we are going to bring out a 100 Liter Stove for service in situations like this, and for larger schools across Africa where big stoves are critically needed. It is most satisfying to bring our stoves to these hard-working cooks.

                         Cooks at wet feeding center (F.Colgan)

Tomorrow we travel to Bokolmayo Camp, where some 40,000 refugees are housed. Camps are being established in rather remote areas because current strategy is to try to set up where the refugees will not need to compete with existing populations for scarce resources.  Even new camps show clear zones of surrounding areas being picked clean of firewood. There are problems upon problems to solve in these relocation efforts, and we are awestruck at the fortitude and determination of the agencies on the ground providing the basic services these people need.
A breakthrough today was the arrival of a large backhoe for digging pit latrines – one of the hardest tasks in setting up the camps. The terrain here is an old seabed, and just under the sandy topsoil is sandstone – backbreaking and slow to dig through by hand.

The emotion we feel again and again traveling over this area is how OLD everything is. These pastoral people are living in the old ways – herding flocks of goats, cattle, donkeys, across trackless scrubland. The mountains are worn down. This really does feel like the place the human experience began.
In this region of Ethiopia most people are from Somali tribes.  Here’s the classic version of a Somali dwelling – built in the old style. They are graceful and elegant – and ancient in form.

                          Traditional Somali dwelling (F.Colgan)

On Thursday, a blog from the transit center.
Hello to all, home in ten days.


Sunday, December 11, 2011


How could you not love a country with a currency called birr? (pronounced beer).

This consultancy is with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – a field trial of 60 stoves in ten refugee camps.
First trip to the field was to Jijiga, in the Somali region of Ethiopia, very close to the Somali border. We installed stoves in three camps – Aw barre, Shedder, and Kebribeyah – with a total population of about 45,000. These camps are well-established, and the Somali residents are probably not going home anytime soon. Somali shelters are a unique shape and construction – very colorful and distinctive.

                                  Somali refugee shelter (F.Colgan)

The region is hot and dry –very similar to the scrublands of Arizona. People here scrape by raising animals – cattle, sheep, goats and camels – and growing two crops: sorghum and qat (or chat, a mild narcotic plant). There is a persistent drought and conditions are dire. UNHCR is trucking massive amounts of water and scrambling to build sustainable water delivery systems.

Firewood depletion is a huge problem. There are not many trees to begin with – only scrubby chaparral – but it is increasingly difficult to find wood.  Women are routinely subjected to rape as they cross large distances in search of wood.   Yesterday at the camps, the last day of a week-long series of events around Human Rights week, were big rallies equating women’s rights with human rights, and calling for a stop to rapes of women in the camps.

                                 Firewood vendors (F. Colgan)

We installed stoves in three school feeding programs and trained cooks and focal point people in installation and use of the stoves. In two of the schools, the cooks have been provided kerosene stoves which are problematic – they take three hours to boil water, and often don’t work at all if the kero is not really pure. In all instances they were thrilled by the stoves. In one demonstration a doctor was present, who left saying he’s going to figure out a way to get an autoclave here – he said every clinic in Ethiopia has “got to have one”

Tomorrow we travel to Dollo Ado where UNHCR has 140,000 Somali refugees in camps. Again we will install 22 stoves, train cooks, and train UN personnel in all of the above. The final field work will be in Shire in the extreme north, at Shimelba camp for Eritrean refugees.  

It’s a delight to work with UNHCR. They are a totally competent organization delivering massive support systems to 31 million people around the world and doing a great job of supporting refugees everywhere.  Our stoves arrived in perfect shape, and were carefully stored in the warehouse in Addis Ababa. Four truckloads have gone out to arrive in the camps before we do, and generally things have been very smooth.

                               Stoves in Addis Ababa (F. Colgan)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Last Blog From Darfur

Last week we finished training150 cooks and program implementers  in school feeding programs at IDP (internally displaced persons) camps close to Nyala – Wednesday in Otash, Thursday in Deriege. That’s a total of 350 trained in North and South Darfur, and all will be helping get our stoves in service in 200 school sites. These two camps are representative of the 60 or so camps across Darfur that house about two million people - a third of the total population. Photography is generally prohibited, so I have taken some photos from Google Images to approximate what I’ve seen.  I have been allowed to photograph our work – as long as I “keep the focus very, very narrow” - so some images are mine.

Thursday’s was the most extensive camp tour – as our driver got lost and we spent quite a while squeezing our little convoy down narrow alleyways just scraping the sides of our vehicles. There is a bleak uniform sameness to the desperate living conditions in the camps.

                                        Standard camp housing. (from Google Images)
A few times we stopped the vehicles and I got out, and was immediately surrounded by kids. At one point I was face to face with about ten boys who looked to be five to nine years old – and as they gestured at me I realized they were all stone deaf. They were in bad shape, clearly not in school, dressed in pretty tattered clothes, and showing a lot of other ancillary birth defects.  Uncertain what to do I stuck out my hand, and these little guys all grinned at me and, one at a time, came up for a handshake. All the while they were chattering away in a sign language clearly of their own invention. I pointed to my hearing aids and gestured that I knew what it’s like. But I really didn’t. Not a clue. I just found myself filled with a deep sorrow over my helplessness, and the realization that these were just ten kids out of about 100,000 intensely poor and totally displaced people in these two camps.

Overall, this is a really complex culture, many of the displaced are highly educated, and literacy rates here are quite high by African standards. The people of Darfur have been uprooted from what looked like a normal society just a decade ago- before the horror of war. I have been struggling to understand the root causes of the conflict, and the recent history of Darfur, and must say I still have only a tiny understanding of what has happened and what is going on today. The politics are enormously complicated, and confusion and lack of clear leadership among various (forty or so) insurgent groups makes the current reality very hard to understand. The basic problems in Darfur have to do with competition for scarce resources, and those problems are a long ways from being resolved. In the meantime it is the mission of the various UN agencies on the ground here to provide immediate relief for the displaced, to encourage alternatives to resource gathering (firewood) as the main employment, and to provide peacekeeping forces to extend the uneasy truce of the moment.

                                       Another camp neighborhood (from Google Images)

What have been really wonderful are the associations with the people. I’ve been treated with great kindness and respect everywhere I’ve gone in Darfur. One of my classes was introduced by a minister of education – who told the cooks; “I want you to pay close attention to Mr. Fred, because I don’t want to have to tell your kids that you weren’t good students”. While everybody in the field is Muslim, nobody’s batted an eye at this funny-looking old white guy, and everybody tries out whatever English they’ve got on me. Greetings- “salaam” are usually accompanied by a gesture of the right hand over the heart and a very subtle bow of the head.
In the schools where we train the cooks there is a great crush of kids everywhere. These are large schools – I would guess on average 1500 students. When on break, the kids are right there – though many of the girls are shy. The boys all want to shake hands and many say “hello” or “how are you”.

To go to school in the camps, the parents must make a contribution. Either firewood (a stick a day) or equivalent time volunteered with the PTA is what it takes from the parents for kids to get to school. Many, many kids in the camps don’t go.
The kids who do go to school, however, are bright and shiny in clean uniforms and they are much, much healthier-looking than kids who don’t attend. WFP packs extra nutrition into school feeding program diets. All the kids get a meal that includes a super-fortified mix of wheat, vitamins, and essential minerals made into a kind of soup. The results are spectacular.

                                              Kids at Otash school (my photo)

We are so blessed to have this good work to do, and Darfur feels like we’ve hit the mark in our stated objective to bring our technologies to the “poorest of the poor”. Our project couldn’t be happening without a great team effort – Lise, Damon, Dennis, Jordan, Francesco and Frank, - and our terrific crew in the shop – Dave, J.D., Cory, Norm, and Tristan. Grateful thanks to all of you.