Rocket stove blitzing in Katavi

23rd July 2013

So, hey there! This is Alpha 4 from phase 1, reporting on our adventures in Katavi… After a mammoth 950km round trip, which took in seven and a half days of travelling in Sindy Smasher (our so-dubbed rickety transport bus), two million pee stops and a cracked rear suspension leaf, we have returned to tell the tale. Hold on to your pants; this was an epic adventure… Based in Western Tanzania in the town of Usevya, a small but viciously windy village in the Katavi region, our intrepid team rumbled and stuttered up to the shell of a youth meeting centre which would be our home for the next fortnight. We’d arrived, and we were on a mission to build as many rocket stoves as humanly possible, help educate the community on the numerous benefits of the stoves, but to also carry out a key task of surveying households who’d already been using the new stove design. Katavi rocket team

Photo: Valarie

You see, as intrepid as we were, we weren’t the first Raleigh Alpha group to visit Usevya; during the previous Raleigh expedition, an Alpha group had blazed this trail, building a respectable number of rocket stoves in the area. We were here to add to that number, but also to evaluate the difference those previously built stoves were having on people’s lives and to measure their effectiveness. For starters though, let’s give you a better idea of what was involved in building Rocket Stoves; here’s an eye witness account from one of the team. Take a bow, Ceysun: Quote 1bIt’s 2pm in the afternoon, when the sun is at its hottest. We walk through the blistering heat and our heads are turned. We hear chatter and fingers are pointed. We’re here in Tupindo, Western Tanzania, about 2-3 days away from Morogoro to build rocket stoves and carry out surveys to measure their effectiveness. There are four of us, Meike from Holland, David from Hong Kong, Neha our UK based project manager and Ceysun from England. We’re here to build a rocket stove – an environmentally friendly and time efficient cooking appliance made from bricks, mud, ash and cow dung, for a family of eight. Tupindo is a typical small rural village with sporadic farms and mud huts spread over a large area, approximately 8-15 km away from Usevya where we are based for the next three weeks. It’s typical in that each farm is home to large families with multiple huts used for different aspects of daily life. The family greets us with interested smiles: not many foreigners travel this far out in Tanzania and soon a large crowd gathers around us. We try our best to chat with our limited Kiswahili skills, but we’re soon resorting to sign language as our Swahili starts and ends at hello. The father of the family leads us to a small brick hut with hay planted on top. He points to an empty spot on the ground; he wants the rocket stove here. We nod politely and get to work. We arrange our team of four to suit our strengths and to make building the rocket stoves as simple and efficient as we can. Unfortunately, in the scorching heat problems are bound to arise and they soon do. The bricks provided by the family don’t quite fit the measurements we need, and are either too big or too small. Neha, our PM, is on the case and delicately shapes the bricks into one size with a machete. The ground we dig, to act as a rocket stove foundation is slightly uneven, but using the hoe this was always going to happen and we even out the surface as best we can. Meike soon enters with the cut bricks and starts to place them precisely in the shape of a letter ‘M’. Next, we check on David, who’s spent the last 20 minutes digging up the ground outside, adding ash and water to make the mortar for the next step. Sweat dripping, he labours in with a bucket full of mud and puts it down before the weight pulls off his arms. The rest of the group begin picking up the mud with our trowels and accurately splatter it onto the bricks, layering and smoothing it in preparation for the next level of bricks. By this time our local audience has swelled with more people piling into the cramped hut to watch. Some resort to peeking through small windows in the wall as a compromise. Getting to the next level of bricks proves difficult in the cramped conditions, but by using sign language and gestures we manage to get outside and gather the next set of pre-sized bricks. Although tired, this is David’s cue to get to work on the final stage - mixing the cow dung with more mud. While we wait we place the bricks once again in the formation of an ‘M’ and layer the mud, the crowd watching intently as we do this, putting extra pressure on us to get it right. Next thing we know David squeezes his way inside, trailing a bucket of the mixed dung and mud. The secret ingredient, this mixture will provide the stove with a smooth finish once we get our hands on it. But this proves a bit tricky; the stench is overwhelming and the colour unmistakeable. However, as we all know what a rocket stove can do for the family, we all go for it. We reach into the bucket, disturbing and stirring up the smell to even worse levels, and quickly plaster the dung all over the stove. After a few minutes of getting the surface as smooth as possible and adding pot rests, we’re finished. We’re all sweaty and exhausted but smile anyway, as do the family. They’re pleased, really pleased, with their new appliance, and slowly straightening and stretching our aching backs, we all walk out of Quote 2bthe hut into the blistering heat and head towards a brief rest in the shade of a nearby tree, all taking a few minutes to reflect about what we’ve just achieved. Rocket stove katavi

Photo: David

We mentioned earlier that we weren’t the first group of Raleigh volunteers to come to Katavi. While we were in the village, we also took the opportunity to check in with seventeen of the households who received a rocket stove last time around. We were really pleased with the results! Here’s what they showed:
  • All seventeen agreed it is easier to cook using a rocket stove, compared with their previous appliance
  • All said rocket stoves saved them time to do other activities
  • All would recommend the stoves to a friend
  • Fifteen have had no problem operating and using their rocket stoves
  • Twelve either buy firewood within the village or use charcoal to power their rocket stoves, with the remaining five spending two or more hours to collect their own firewood
  • Those who use firewood agreed that less wood is required to cook using a rocket stove

Photo: Valarie

So what else did we get up to? Well, as all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, we supplemented the stove building and surveys with getting to know the community. We spent time with the local school learning about Tanzanian culture, through a two-way Q&A session. There were plenty of questions thrown at us about our own countries, which included Hong Kong, New Zealand, the UK, Netherlands and Tanzania itself, too. We discussed the contrasting school system for a while, and the whole group was amazed at what we learned from them:
  • Out of the nine-hundred pupils who attended the school, only a quarter were female as girls were often expected to stay at home to help out with daily tasks such as gathering firewood and collecting water.
  • The older students, aged 18-20, told us that they only have three hours of contact time a week due to teaching staff shortages, so the majority of their timetable is dedicated to individual study.
  • They also explained that the Tanzanian curriculum is heavily based on theoretical study with little practical application, and that they felt that it would be great to have the opportunity to learn hands-on subjects such as biology and art.

Photo: David

In another discussion with the school, the conversation turned to relationships. They explained to us that in Tanzania there is a ‘mahasi’, or ‘bride price’, where a man pays for the bride he wants. The price depends on what tribe they are from, how light their skin is, their figure and their behaviour. Oh, and the price is normally paid with cattle! We also enjoyed the opportunity to teach some of the students and teachers how to build rocket stoves. Despite some questionable drawings, Swalehe, one of our Host Country Venturers (HCVs), managed to explain the process and the benefits of cooking with rocket stoves really well, which made everyone there want one. Having said that, the girls of Alpha 4 weren’t too impressed when an older student commented that the stoves were so great that he’d teach his future wife how to build one… Cue frowns all round! Stove workshop

Photo: Valarie

And then there were the kids… We learned a lot about Tanzanian culture and language from the children who would constantly swarm around us, wherever we went. For example, being left-handed is not allowed in Tanzania. While writing in journals outside our campsite, some of the more confident kids would grab the pen from the ‘lefties’ hands and attempt to make them write with the ‘correct’ hand! We also saw girls as young as seven routinely carrying their young siblings on their backs. Kids-Valerie

Photo: Valarie

And then, there’s their universal love of football. Seemingly skilled from as soon as they can walk, they comprehensively kicked our butts during a massive game, despite an impressive consolation goal from one of our PMs, Hugh. Kids-David

Photo: David

With all this and more taking up our time, our Usevya phase flew by and all too soon it was time to re-board ‘Sindy Smasher’ to make the long winding and bumpy journey home. Our last night we started out by having one final camp fire under the stars, reminiscing about the last few weeks – a great feeling. That is, until we then had to burn our long-drop hessian sack which contained all our used toilet paper… Gross. Life on Raleigh, ay. So, we’re back, we’ve had some down time and are now gearing up again for the second phase, so we’ll leave it here. It’s been emotional. See you next time...

Libby, Sami, Ceysun and the rest of Alpha 4

Team and Sindy

Photo: Neha