I write this at a research station in Mbita, Kenya, a town on the shore of Lake Victoria. It is Sunday morning. There is a rhythmical, repetitive, almost mesmerizing sound of people singing in an evangelical church across the fence. Two eagles that live in the area are calling to each other and periodically gliding along the shoreline looking for fish. It is sunny and warm.
For the past week, I have been travelling with a group of 20 friends of the CanAssist African Relief Trust, visiting schools and communities that have benefited from the infrastructure support we have provided to allow them to live more comfortably — latrines, water tanks, classrooms. We have already visited several rural schools. We have taken them textbooks and teachers manuals, each school having advised us of their requirements and preferences. CanAssist received money from the Limestone chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and members of South Gate Church in Hamilton to accomplish this. By the time our expedition is done, we will have distributed more than $4,000 worth of books to schools. We also have taken sports uniforms sent by Kingston United, the Kingston Clippers and Kingston Impact and have purchased two soccer balls for each school. The students and teachers have been most appreciative of these gifts. Books are at a premium and beyond the reach of many. Balls used to play soccer are often made of plastic bags tied tightly into a ball.
Last week we visited Kamin Oningo, a fishing community across the bay, where we have recently funded construction of toilets, a bathing facility and hand washing area where previously there was none.
School officials in the community have been reporting to us that they were having difficulty covering the cost of firewood required to heat the weekly lunch provided at the school that has been generously funded by Kingstonian Gabriella Zamojski and her family for the past year. The school has been using an open fire to cook rice and beans for 150 students as part of the weekly lunch. Initially, community members were bringing in firewood but, in the region, wood is becoming scarce. This meant that the school had to spend about 500 shillings ($7 Cdn) for fuel for each lunch, a significant cost that reduced the amount of money available to buy food.
Gabriella and her daughter, Marcia O’Brien, decided to look into fuel-efficient stoves, and after doing some research they found an institutional wood-burning cookstove with a closed burning chamber to control loss of heat that will quickly cook up beans, rice and vegetables. She encouraged her friends to support the purchase of one of these stoves through CanAssist, and the school installed it two weeks ago. Our travel group joined the students at the school for their lunch last week, having the same beans and rice that the kids eat. The beans were so good we were asking for the recipe. With this new stove, the food cooks much quicker and uses about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the amount of wood to make the lunch as compared to the open fire.
But Gabriella didn’t stop there. Realizing that the scarcity of firewood also affected households in the community, she explored solar units that would require no fuel at all, other than the energy from the equatorial sunshine. She brought four instructors from a nearby city, and for two days they showed the community how each solar unit could cook food for up to eight to 15 people in about two to four hours without other fuel. Men and women turned out in droves to see this process. They witnessed the preparation of raw fish and vegetables and even a cake cooked in the sun, and 150 people were served with meals completely prepared with the solar cookers. At the end of the demonstration time, 21 families were given solar ovens, fuel-efficient cookers and water pasteurization units for their homes. The hope is that this group can instruct others in the area how to use the equipment and that many will want to adopt this way of cooking for at least some of their needs. Eventually, a community microfinance program will be set up to help families purchase the units.
In addition to cooking for their own families, homemakers could bake bread, cakes and meals in their solar cookers that could be sold and serve as a source of income. We wonder, as well, if the smaller, simple solar cooker units could be made locally and sold.
Our expedition continues for another week. Every day we have satisfying, engaging interactions with different communities and schools as we wind our way through Kenya and Uganda. Each visit has a different focus, but the great joy we have in meeting our associates is something that pervades our safari.
This article appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday February 17, 2016.