01 May 2011

please help contextual solutions raise $6k to build smokeless stoves in central america

This past March, I had the serendipitous good fortune of crossing paths with Steve Bliss and staying with his lovely family in Boquete, Panama.  At their farm, Finca Selah, I helped out with the production of smokeless stoves for indigenous people of Panama.  Well, Steve is taking his brilliant solution on the road and needs to raise $6,000 to take the molds and set up training sessions throughout Central America.  Steve Bliss of Contextual Solutions, shared this article he wrote on how he plans to help and what he needs to make it happen. Thanks in advance for taking a few minutes to learn about what he's doing to help the respiratory health of Central America's indigenous and impoverished populations.

The time has finally come to build more stove molds. It has been amazing to see the interest not only from organizations, but people in villages requesting them from organizations. Fortunately, we just received a grant from Bid 4 Boquete to help get the next round of molds started and we are very grateful.

We originally ordered fifty molds from a company in the States and had them shipped down to Panama. As of the end of next week, they should all be in the field producing stoves. Those original molds were made of vacuum formed plastic but the new ones will be made of fiberglass. A couple of reasons for the change is that we found the plastic wasn’t consistent in thickness tolerances, which has led to some premature failure in the outside mold. Fiberglass is readily available here in Panama and is a reparable product, unlike plastic. Building the new molds out of fiberglass will ultimately extend the life of the molds.

The master mold was shipped down here a while back and when my boys and I opened it up to make some modifications, it had actually split up a bit from shrinkage so some work had to be done to restore it to a functional state. We also planned on modifying the master mold for the next batch of stoves molds.

After testing the finished stoves, we found some simple modifications that radically improved the performance.

Change 1: The height of the stove. While testing the performance of the stove we found that an 18.5 inch tall stove (the original) would bring five liters of water to boil in forty five minutes. If we reduced the size to 15.5 inches, the time to boil was reduced to thirty minutes. One of the reasons for this is the clay acts as a heat sink. Clay is to heat as a sponge is to water; it just sucks up heat energy that should be going into the pot. We also found that anything less than 15.5 inches was difficult to achieve a smokeless burn which negates our desired goal.

Change 2: The mold will have a six inch hole pre-made in the top. This will save us the step of cutting this hole to allow for the placement of the wood- center cone piece.

Change 3: We are extending the risers, which the pot sits on, toward the center hole. This will allow for smaller pans to be used.

Change 4: We will be increasing the rigidity of the large opening flange and the top of the mold to allow for longer life expectancy. A benefit of using fiberglass is if/when there is damage to the mold it can easily be repaired. Our hope is to comfortably get 500 stoves out of each mold. This will in turn change the lives of approximately 3000 people. With every fifty molds that enter the field approximately 150,000 people will be affected.

We should be able to keep the costs down to approximately $50.00 per stove mold. Each mold is donated to a village where the community is then trained thus empowering them to literally make their own solution. Our monetary donation for that one mold is $50.00. So if $50.00 changes the lives of 3000 people, then we can say that it only costs less than 2 cents per person. That is an amazing cost benefit.

 The materials needed to build the stove is clay, sand, water, reed grass and 1/3rd bag of cement. Everything can be sourced free and locally except for the cement that will cost a community member approximately $3.00 per stove. This is the cheapest stove approach on the market and it is one that reinstates dignity through participation to those who need the life-saving solution. And that, my friend, is an approach we feel good about.


Spreading the Technological Knowledge:

We are planning a trip through Central America late July to introduce this approach to organizations currently working in these countries. We have found that when those who cook on three-rock fires are introduced to our stove, they request it from the local trained organization. Our goal is to bring the solution to organizations so they can bring an effective and lasting solution to the communities in need. If you know of any organizations working in Central America who could benefit from this technology, please contact us and let us know.

Our strategy

We are planning to set up one or two training sessions in each country where we invite organizations to train and take a mold back to the villages where they can train the people in the communities in which they work. Train the trainers. This will minimize our time and costs to get the stove initiative started in each country.

How we will be going

I’ll be driving the molds in my truck and staying in cheap hotels. The trip cost is yet to be exactly determined but a quick budget estimate is around $6,000.00 (including the molds).

If you would like to be a part of taking our stove solution to organizations around the world, starting with Central America, please donate. You can donate by clicking the link below and no amount is too small. Without your donations, this trip will not launch. We thank you in advance for your support.

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