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Building improved cook stoves with women in Cameroon

preparing the improved cook stove

Did you know that countless women in Africa cook the family meals on 3-stone fires? I don’t have statistics, but I see the evidence all around us both in the city of Bamenda and when we go to the Village. I have mentioned building improved wood stoves frequently since our arrival here, and many women say “I want one”,  but it took initiative and some funding (VSO thank you) to actually start building.

learning about building

It’s a project!

Wopong Jocelyn Achu asked me to come and teach 15 women in the small community of Pinyin in Santa, to the South of Bamenda. She is working as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) national volunteer for HEDECS (Health Education Development Consultancy Services).

We set the goal to build one stove with the women in a workshop, perhaps start a second one and then leave supplies for them to build another five stoves by the end of the month of January. We hope that this will trigger further stoves to be done under people’s own initiative.

Some research into the topic in combination with my own experience from previous stove projects produced a handout with mostly visual instructions. I know what it feels like to learn something in a workshop and try to do it alone the next time: a guideline is helpful, and since not all women read or speak English, it had to be visual.

To make things affordable and easy to repeat I looked for simple, local solutions for elements like form work, chimney building, tools and materials.

presenting benefits of improved cook stoves

The workshop

We left Bamenda in the early morning by shared taxi to Santa, from where we carried on by motorcycle to Pinyin.  Mountainous terrain with densely farmed valleys, this is a highly productive region for vegetables that are distributed throughout Cameroon and beyond.

The women gathered in front of Lillian’s house, where we would be building the stove under a good sheltering roof next to the front door.  But not just women wanted to learn, a group of secondary school girls attended as well and many men and youth came by during the course of the day.

The list of materials :

the main material clay is in the yardMud bricks (the women had produced 230 bricks approx. 10x10x20 cm )

Claysoil ( the pit was in the yard)

Two sacks of sawdust

Small quantity of sand (most precious there because it is brought in)

 

Tools to have at hand:

Tropical hoe to dig and mix clay

Cutlass (machete)

Measuring tape (if unavailable use body measurements)

Buckets

 

Steps to designingsize the stove to the pots

  1. Take the largest pot that will be used on the stove and determine its volume
  2. The volume relates to the size of combustion chamber and heat path through the stove (all the same cm2), a simple chart is available to look this up:  download publication
  3. The width of the stove will be determined by the diameter of the pot plus insulation plus bricks
  4. The length of it is the sum of the first pot plus a second, smaller pot, plus chimney plus edges and channels.
  5. Finally the height of the stove as illustrated in the sketch

drawing of improved cook stove

 

much interest in cook stoves

Building the stove:

  1. Prepare a 1:1 (by volume) mix of clay and sawdust  (estimated 4 wheelbarrows of clay) and a clay mortar mix
  2. Layout on the ground: position pots, mark center lines  and edges on the wall
  3. Set edges with bricks and configure firewood feed and combustion chamber (considering 5cm insulation)
  4. Build up edges and combustion chamber.using banana stems as forms
  5. Insulate combustion chamber. We used banana stems as guides which I saw in my research, but decided to pull them up as we built up instead of leaving them to rot in place, as suggested)
  6. Fill voids with compacted earth or bricks
  7. At appropriate height set the first (larger) pot in place and fill around it with insulation mix.using the pot to form the stove top
  8. At the same height the channel to Pot 2 will be built with insulation mix, followed by pot 2 set into place
  9. Continue building up around the pots to desired height.

10. Make a channel to the chimney and set up a form to build the pipe (banana stem works here too)

11. Remove the pots and smooth all edges and surfaces inside, scraping down the surface around the pots to create hot air circulation. Place three clay supports to lift the pot- allowing heat to move under and around the pot.

proud owner of the improved cook stove

Tadah!

With the experience the women had – they already know how to mix mud, make bricks and lay bricks- we accomplished the first stove in about 4 1/2  hours- with much deliberation and figuring out the process.

To my great surprise everyone got up after the meal that followed, and carried bricks to the next house. And then the women went ahead and within 1 ½ hours built another stove with little input on my part!

women build the second stove Built in less than two hours

We will return to Pinyin to do some surface finishing and to see how things are. And we hope to light the fire in the first stove at that time. When all is done and our feedback is in, I will publish a full report and make it available for download.

At time of publishing this post, the women have built three more stoves and are on track for the last 2. I am now working with another group of women on constructing a cabin, an oven and a stove….stay tuned!

Pinyin workshop group

 

 

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Earth building volunteer opportunity in Cameroon

work and cultural exchange

Get your hands into some good African Earth!

Inviting Natural builders to come and help build our first buildings at Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage , Bafut, Cameroon.

Ndanifor Permculture Eco Village is located in the village of Bafut , not far from Bamenda

Ndanifor Permaculture Eco Village is located in the village of Bafut , not far from Bamenda

It’s time to build something this dry season: we have plenty of good building earth, raffia and access to wood.

Come and help create a small cabin as a first place to stay on the beautiful rural site. We have called out to women groups and local youth to participate in community training programs from January until March 2014.

Part of the activities will be the building of a wood-cook-stove and bread oven for the ecovillage learning center.

Work with me to support this community effort and give Better World Cameroon its first real natural building experience. Share what you know and get practice by immersing yourself in a different context. And escape the northern Winter.

You can also find the project on thePOOSH and follow updates there.

Lets’ talk logistics:

  1. You’ll need a Visa to enter Cameroon– this is usually not difficult, but it poses a time factor. So get on it quickly. We will provide a letter of accommodation or invitation as required for the Visa. Check with your closest Cameroon Embassy.
  2. You’ll fly into Yaounde or Douala- both are about 6 hours distance from Bamenda by bus. Buses leave mornings or evenings and cost about $10. It’s easier for us to arrange for someone to meet you in Yaounde- Better World has an office there.
  3. Living in Bamenda is fairly low cost- Better World will help find a suitable place to stay and negotiate a price for you.
  4. Good food is readily available at low cost. We will share some common meals and spend free time exploring the hills in the area. Our plan is to work on construction for 4 days a week starting January 13. You can join any time until March- we hope to be finished by April 1.
  5. Better World has a FAQ page that may be helpful.

Can we complete this building in 12 weeks?

If you have time and a travel budget consider our offer. Get your hands into African Earth!

Please email me to discuss details and if this is not for you, share it with someone!

Twiga store

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A house for Serena Dewakuku

cob and bottles

Today I saw this call for support and want to help spread the word.

In 2009 I had the great pleasure to go to Hopiland in Arizona and work with Lillian Hill and Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture to start the construction of a house for Lilian’s Mother Serena. I was touched by the community spirit and the strength of the cultural roots that we experienced there.

Lilian Hill from Hopi Tutskwa permaculture

Please consider supporting her and her community.

Serena Dewakuku cobbing

 

 

 

 

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9 things to do when your cob-workshop gets rained on

cobbing in the rain

rain

Every workshop leader’s nightmare among earth- and strawbale builders: Rain on day 1 of the workshop- especially for a weekend workshop. There you are, ready with tools, tarps and Straw hat and a handful of curious and excited  future cobbers and the sky opens up…

Here are some ideas to keep up the spirit in your group:

  1. Go outside and meet at the building site: its important not to get stuck in “under cover” or “inside” mode
  2. Use positive language: gratitude (rain is good for growing…) and avoid talking about the weather .
  3. Mix mud, even if you can’t build it: people want to learn the feel of the mix.

    rainy day at the workshop

    even in the rain we mix cob

  4. Have a fire where people can warm up and even dry a bit: the fire always becomes a community spot and allows people to connect
  5. At break time serve hot drinks, perhaps some cookies: we like our treats and warm cups =warm hands

    warming up with coffee

    warming up with coffee

  6. If you have to retreat to shelter use this time to teach about building with earth and natural design: keep it lively with sketching on whiteboard or paper, allow plenty of questions and discussion

    escaping indoor and learning another way

    escaping indoor and learning another way

  7. Build models under a roof: models allow creative ideas to develop and people work with mud
  8. If rain persists, build a temporary roof to work under: now this is something to consider having in place to begin with. A roof not only protects from rain but also provides shade when it gets hot

    make a roof over the site

    make a roof over the site

  9. Finally: Good food, it feeds the body and lifts the spirits.

Thank you to Doris Leitner and Carina Leithold for the use of their images.

 

 

 

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Carry water

 

Everyday actions are learned as we grow up, by observation, copying, failure, trying again and getting better little by little. Depending on our home place and culture of origin we learn very different skills: it may be using certain tools in the garden or on the farm, techniques for handwashing clothes, cleaning house even how to do shopping for food.
When, as an adult, you switch home place for a while and immerse yourself in a different culture its time to adapt and re-learn some things. This can be both challenging and very much fun.
A example is haggling over prices. In North America and Europe we are used to walking into a store or market and buying things at a fixed price. Here in Tanzania (and many other places of course)there are situations with fixed prices , such as supermarkets and larger stores, but in many places you have to negotiate for a good price. As visitors we first are given what we call “mzungu” prices: very much inflated and nothing a local would ever consider paying. So we haggle back and forth and sometimes leave without the item, otherwise having arrived at an agreeable price for both parties.
More recently I’ve been practicing carrying things on my head. Here we see young girls transporting buckets or sizeable bundles on their heads gracefully and without touching them with their hands.

starting young

I asked Saum to help me learn and she showed me  to roll up a kanga and place it on my head which cushions and supports the bucket. The weight immediately settles the head and spine into a straight (strong) line. A little steadying by one arm holding the edge of the bucket helps me keep it there and prevents sudden movements. I have to learn to walk slowly and evenly, both strong and flexing all the time keeping a balance between the movement of my feet and legs and the slight movements of the water in the bucket.

years of practice

During a work party with my friends of the Twiga group we were carrying buckets of clay, and great excitement stirred, when I picked up a bucket too. It works much better than our way of carrying off centre and one-sided. Do try it sometime! I was most impressed by the older women in the group working tirelessly and powerfully.

Zaruna laying stone

While some of the group were digging and moving the clay, others were building the stone foundation for the small cob cabin that we are building here at Amarula Camp.
And like every good work party we had food together at the end. Happy about what we achieved and feeling good to be working together again.

Soon we will start cobbing- if you’re in Tanzania and looking to learn cob building, please contact me. There’s always room for help.