Monday, May 28, 2012

Moving Forward

It has been a few days since my last post, so I will fill you in as best as I can. The last few days have been very productive and encouraging. After seeing Gladdus’s stove, one of Gladdus’s neighbors requested that we build her a stove. We asked the neighbor if she had bricks we could use, and she assured us that she would have them in the morning. So on Friday morning our team met with Gladdus’s neighbor to help her set up a stove. When we arrived, a group of enthusiastic kids helped us gather clay bricks from some nearby rubble. A large pile of rubble, seemingly the ruins of an old home, contained a large amount of usable clay bricks. This was a very fortuitous pile of bricks that provided the means to construct four additional cookstoves at other homes. Because the bricks from the rubble were damaged, we wanted a method to fill the holes in the stove. This had also been the case with Gladdus’s stove, and Pastor Kofi had shown us how clay and mud can be kneaded with water into a useful consistency that will dry and seal any cracks or holes. We began to show the kids that we wanted to use mud to fill the holes in the clay stove, and immediately they caught on and took control of making it happen. While several kids were digging up dirt, mixing it with water, and kneading it with their hands, several other kids would grab the mud and patch the holes in the stove. Without any hesitation or instruction, the kids began to add palm fiber residue into the mud mixture to reinforce the mud and give it strength when it dries. This was something we had not even thought of, but we quickly adopted. This is exactly the type of organic progression we are looking for, we want to see the community take the design and make it their own.

More neighbors quickly began to notice the stove and all of the kids gathered a round it. Soon we noticed a pile of bricks forming in another neighbor’s yard with a request to help them build a stove. The kids helped us stack the bricks to form the stove while other kids produced and patched clay to fill in the holes. Before finishing the second stove, we already had a request to build a third. It was like clockwork. And the group of kids followed us to each home helping us with the mud for patching holes. By the time we had finished the third stove, we were ready to take a break for lunch.

Following lunch, we set off with our translator to find someone that knew how to make bricks. Though many people do seem to already have access to bricks, there are also homes that do not. Everyone we asked seemed to think it was easy for anyone to make clay bricks, but it was difficult to finally get a hold of someone who was able to do it for us. We walked for some distance through plantain farms and over some hills, asking directions to a brick maker from those that we met in our path. After finding his home and following his children to the place where he worked, we were able to arrange for 100 clay bricks to be produced over the next week at a reasonable price. The bricks will take two days to make and several days after to dry. We expect them to be ready by the end of the week. It is important that by the time we leave Patriensa, we have ensured that there is a way for those without bricks to either create their own bricks or purchase them for a reasonable price.

That afternoon we were scheduled to meet the village leaders at the palace for our official welcome ceremony. The term palace is a very generous term for the building we entered. The palace was a humble cement structure that contained an open-aired room with seats covered in cow hide lining the walls. The front of the room was raised one step higher and on it sat three chairs: one for the chief, queen mother, and kontihene (sub-chief). It was so remarkable to see all of the community leaders arrive in the traditional colorful garments. The chief was out of town so only the kontihene and the queen mother took their places at the front of the room. In addition to those at the front of the room, one clan leader from each of the 8 clans of Patriensa and the man appointed as a spokesman to the people of Patriensa attended the ceremony. The clan leaders sat on the sides of the room while we, the guests, sat towards the back of the room. Each of community leaders circled the room greeting all of us with handshakes before taking their designated seats. The ceremony started with a prayer, which was led by our technical advisor, Dr. Ezekoye, upon the request of the community leaders. After the prayer, we began by going around the room and introducing ourselves. The community leaders introduced themselves with their full names, including the name which represents the day of the week they were born on. I received a chorus of rooting and joyful laughter from the leaders when I introduced myself as Kwaku Clint, using my Ghanaian name.

After introductions, one of the clan leaders rose and explained that it is customary for visitors to state their purpose of being in Patriensa to the community leaders in order to be officially welcomed. The project managers for both teams where requested to stand before the room and state their project missions. I explained that our team was visiting Patriensa to help the community by using recycled waste sawdust to provide a free alternative cooking fuel, and Kristina explained how her team was in Patriensa to start a water sachet business in Patriensa that would provide locally produced clean water sachets to the community. After explaining our missions, the leaders officially welcomed us to Patriensa and expressed their support. It hit me how important it is for these communities to exercise their traditional ceremonies such as this in order not to lose them. I can’t imagine there are very many visitors to Patriensa who get to experience this ceremony, and I feel so fortunate to have taken part in this cultural experience. Before leaving, Kristina and I offered gifts to the kontihene and queen mother as is customary in their culture. My team wanted to bring gifts representing the state of Texas so we gave them each a UT mug, barbeque sauce, salsa, and assorted peanuts.

On Saturday morning we met with a roadside vendor selling cooked foods who requested that we build her a couple of sawdust stoves. Kids were eager to help us again and carried blocks from the pile of rubble to the vendor’s home by balancing them on their heads. People in Ghana carry anything and everything balanced on a cloth that is wrapped around their heads, from firewood to a bucket of yams. After building two stoves, she requested yet another one. As you might guess, she too had several neighbors that wanted a stove of their own. It has become necessary to start keeping a list of the people we have committed to build a stove in order to keep track of all the requests. Saturday afternoon, we spent some time sourcing more bricks and built one more stove at someone’s home. After dinner we met with Pastor Kofi, the kontihene, and two other PPE board members to discuss our the progress of our project so far and the things we need to accomplish before leaving.

Today, Sunday, we left in the morning on a one hour drive for Kumasi to visit a researcher at KNUST University named Mike. Mike, who both teaches and researches, specializes in applied research using ceramics. He researches ways to use ceramics to purify water, produce bricks, build stoves, and much more. He is also heavily involved in research to utilize biomass and agro-waste, such as sawdust, as fuel. We spent the morning discussing our project with him and learning more about his research. It was really valuable to connect with a local researcher, and I hope that our universities can collaborate together in the future. We learned a lot from speaking with Mike and there were a lot of interesting discussions that happened during our time together, but I won’t go into that now. Our team left KNUST in the afternoon and returned to Patriensa.

Before dinner we took the time to revisit a woman whom we had provided a cookstove for days earlier. We had left her some sawdust in our previous visit so we asked the woman if she had been cooking with the stove. She responded that she had been and that it had been working well. We were delighted to hear that, but not as delighted as we were when we found out that she had walked to the closest sawmill, bagged sawdust, and brought it back to her home to cook more! Up to this point, we have been bringing sawdust to the homes that we visit to encourage people to try the stoves out. This woman had used up the sawdust we originally left her and gone to get more on her own. It was so encouraging to see that she had seen the value in our idea and the money and/or time she could save with it. She explained to us that our stove can cook meals much faster than her other stoves can. We all left her home with lifted spirits as we headed to dinner for the evening.

A sawdust stove made from cinder blocks shortly after being lit, and a sawdust stove in the background made from small fired clay bricks.

The plate on the left contains chopped yams that we boiled with Gladdus using the sawdust stove in the background made with large clay bricks. The plate on the right is a garden stew to dip the yams in.

Obama's foreign relations in Ghana seem to be doing okay.

Rahul and I standing on a mountain of sawdust that is waiting to be burned as a waste product.

Women discussing a stove we just built and some kids happy to have their picture taken (the girl in the white has learned the hook'em sign). 

One of the three sawdust stoves we constructed for the roadside vender.


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