Building a better stove with the Maasai in Tanzania
Written by William Foreman
Many students are blogging about their international experiences this summer. The EcoExplorers 2014: Tanzania blog is among the best, and it will be interesting to follow the students’ progress. Here’s the first post:
We are the Eco Explorers 2014, a group of University of Michigan students from a variety of disciplines, such as engineering, neuroscience, program in the environment, and art and design. We are collectively working on creating a healthier and more efficient stove design for the Maasai people of the Lesoit district in Tanzania.
The Maasai, like many other sub-Saharan African cultures, cook their food on traditional three-stone fires, which involve rocks on which a pot is balanced on over a fire. However, these stoves pose a variety of complications for the Maasai:
1. The large pieces of wood burn inefficiently, resulting in the Maasai women spending large amounts of their time and energy cutting and gathering wood.
2. The smoke from these stoves accumulates indoors, resulting in the women and children inhaling mass amounts of smoke. This causes widespread health complications. The modified stove design reduces the smoke by more than 90 percent.
3. Because of the time that women must spend cooking on these cookstoves, they are reluctant to let their daughters go to school because it means losing essential help for cooking. A more efficient stove design will allow for the education of female children.
Since January 2014, we’ve been working together to improve the design of this stove. Last year was the first generation of Eco Explorers: Tanzania. We are culturally sensitive to the Maasai’s traditions, so we intend to work together with the Maasai to integrate the stoves.
The new stoves feature a more modular design by utilizing soil bricks that the people of Lesoit have learned to make in the past year. Additionally, this new design allows for the stoves to be shorter and thus more similar to the traditional means of cooking.
We’ve been working on other smaller projects, including a sustainable and locally sourced solar light program. We are also exploring beekeeping as a source of additional income for the people of Lesoit. The Maasai currently have 300 bee beds cultivating in surrounding forests, but they lack the knowledge and supplies necessary to make use of the resources. We are bringing bee suits as well as educating them through demonstration on how to extract honey and wax.
Keep reading to stay updated on all of our projects!