Author: Richie DeMaria
They’ve lived together, they’ve worked together, and this summer they may very well save lives together.
David Fong (sophomore) and Richard Kerr (sophomore) will travel to Uganda this summer to install high efficiency clay ovens in the camps of internally displaced peoples. Inspired by a visit to Professor Hightower’s Renewable Energy class from AidAfrica member Peter Keller last fall semester, the pair plans to construct the stoves as well as aid in medical relief efforts, from May 10 to June 10.
“This is what [Peter Keller] does in Uganda. We decided it’s something we wanted to do, we wrote Richter grants, and I guess, here we are,” Fong said.
The two will work in Gulu, Uganda, alongside local brick makers and artisans. They will be working in tandem with AidAfrica, a non-profit focused on installing energy efficient stoves, called SixBricks Rocket Stoves. The two hope to modify and potentially improve upon AidAfrica’s design.
“I feel like it’s an opportunity to do a lot of good. It’s a pretty horrible situation, and a lot of people are underserved,” Kerr said. “It’s a good opportunity to fight for a cause that’s under-represented.”
They arrive amid a period of peace talks and relative calm, after years of intense and violent conflict. The country has been witness to a bloody bevy of atrocities and human rights violations-among the worst the world has seen, according to former U.N. Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland. The civil war between the Southern Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) and the Northern guerilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, has resulted in the displacement of millions of Ugandan citizens. Fong and Kerr hope to provide aid to IDP camps, whose inhabitants endure harsh and dangerous conditions.
Among the many challenges the IDPs face, the acquisition of cooking resources (namely, fuel, of which there is a scarce supply) remains one of the more pressing ones. The Ugandans must travel far and wide to gather wood, putting themselves at risk of abduction, rape, or murder by the LRA.
This is where the stoves come in. The stoves use half of the wood of a regular open fire method, meaning Ugandans can spend less time searching for wood-and less time in harm’s way.
The fuel efficiency is just one of the benefits. The stoves also generate less smoke, and therefore will be less polluting, and less blinding, than an open fire.
“There are health benefits, especially for kids. If a mother is cooking [on an open fire] and has a baby strapped to her chest, the baby will inhale smoke,” Fong said.
What’s more, all the materials it takes to make the stoves are locally sourced. Unlike solar panels, which require specialized parts to be shipped, the stoves can be made on the spot.
“The ovens are feasible with the local resources that you have, whereas with other green projects you have problems with it breaking and there’s no way to fix it there,” Fong said.
The two will help implement the stoves, monitor their efficiency, and educate locals on how to properly construct and use them. Fong will concentrate on determining the efficacy of the stoves, while Kerr will deal with the educational aspect. The two hope to measure the overall benefits of the stoves.
“Hypothetically it’s beneficial but if you don’t test it, you don’t know,” Fong said.
In preparation, the two have constructed and tested five demo stoves, based on the original AidAfrica SixBricks Rocket Stoves, which the Thermal Dynamics class has then sampled. The test runs have shown that the two still have a few kinks to work out.
“The ovens are supposed to be 50 percent more efficient [than open fires], but it’s not as good as that yet. But other things could be going wrong. There’s not enough information to determine yet,” Kerr said.
The performance of the stoves depends on a number of factors, including the height, size, and surface area of the stove, the quality and density of the brick and the circulation of air.
“The bricks you want for the ovens are different than those you need for a house. You need to put sawdust in, which makes it weaker and more insulating,” Fong said.
Kerr will ensure that the locals know how to use the stoves and how to cook more efficiently. “The main problem over there is that people think a bigger fire cooks better, but you want it to simmer. That will be one of my main focuses, teaching proper techniques,” Kerr said.
Though the duo intends to concentrate on fieldwork, they will also engage in medical work. In addition to implementing the new cooking devices, the two will be assisting AidAfrica in their medical mission: saving the lives of ill infants. They will help to transport sick children to hospitals. Many Ugandan infants are inflicted with MAD-an acronym AidAfrica uses to describe the lethal simultaneous infection of malaria, anemia, and diarrhea. In Uganda, malaria annually kills between an average of 70,000 and 110,000 children under the age of five.
The mission, both eco-conscious and humanitarian, is not an unusual one for Fong and Kerr, who have gravitated towards providing aid and sustainable technologies to damaged or deprived communities in the past. The two have traveled to New Orleans in the past to gut houses and install radiant barrier, and Fong spent a portion of last year’s summer building a geothermal cooling system at a school in Ghana with other Occidental students.
During the Ghana trip, the group encountered technical failures as well as environmental and architectural obstacles. The cooling system was not installed deep enough in the earth to be maximally effective, and the pipe pieces did not fit together. The problematic project prepared Fong to anticipate malfunctions.
“From my experience in Ghana, everything that can go wrong usually does go wrong,” Fong said. The two are keeping a relatively unstructured schedule, in the event that something goes wrong. “Schedules and plans are the first things that fall apart,” Fong said.
The two both share an attitude of excitement and apprehension. “I’m pretty excited, but I’m really nervous. This will be a lot less developed, and with a lot less supervision, than [David’s experience in] Ghana. I am nervous not knowing what to expect completely. I am excited, though,” Kerr said.
“I’m not going to say it will be fun-fun’s not the right word. It will be a good experience, but it will be difficult and challenging,” Fong said.
If all else fails, however, the two can rely on each other. Though they may occasionally disagree, the two friends make a dynamic duo.
“A lot of people think we’re like a married couple. We will bicker, I’m sure, but we’ll be able to get over it,” Kerr said. “People make fun of us like we’re a married couple, arguing all the time,” Fong said.
Ultimately, the two see it as an opportunity to use science and green technology for the greater good.
“I like the application of science to help people, applying it to social causes,” Kerr said. “There’s a stigma that science is only for the select few or the elite, but I think it could be used to help a larger group of people. Everyone can have access to knowing how it works.”
“A large percentage of the world’s population cooks on an open fire, so there could be demand for these ovens not just in Uganda but world wide,” Fong said.
AidAfrica will host a 5k fundraising walk/run at the Rose Bowl, May 3, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Contact Peter Keller at 818-389-6778 or visit http://aidafrica.net.
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