Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Service to Humanity: Improving Health in Africa

Students from Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) — formerly called Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP) — have implemented a novel cook-stove program to address health and energy needs in Tanzania.

Kevin McGregor ’11, left, and Ryan Birjoo ’11, second from right, introduced Tanzanians to cooking stoves that use coffee husks as fuel.
STOKED: Kevin McGregor ’11, left, and Ryan Birjoo ’11, second from right, introduced Tanzanians to cooking stoves that use coffee husks as fuel. Photograph courtesy of Kevin McGregor.

“Most of their cooking is done indoors with a simple three-stone stove,” says DHE president Leanna Saunders ’12. But these woodburning stoves have become problematic for health and environmental reasons.

“The Kigoma region was suffering from severe deforestation, which made gathering firewood a time-consuming task,” says Zachary Losordo ’10. “Also, statistics from local health clinics indicated that the incidence of acute respiratory infection, a disease that can be caused by exposure to indoor air pollution, was extremely high in the area.”

The students introduced two alternatives. One is a clay rocket-style stove for the lakeside village of Mwamgongo. The clay stove is easily constructed from local materials and is designed to efficiently burn small amounts of wood. The cooking is done on top of the short insulated “rocket” chimney. The second design is a metal stove that burns wood and coffee husks for the village of Kalinzi in the coffee region.

Students worked closely with community members. “Our process involves training a group to build the stove,” says Losordo. “These individuals will conduct seminars in the subvillages, where they will teach other community members. This chain of knowledge will continue until everyone has access to the technology.”

The approach is producing results. “The stove was widely adopted in Mwamgongo, already reaching approximately 25 percent of families in the community,” says Losordo. “We are confident that the rocket stove will supplant the three-stone stove in the future.”

Overall, the work in Tanzania is promising. “We slowly became accepted members of the community as opposed to the pale-skinned ‘freaks’ that made small children cry,” says Losordo.

Partnering with the Jane Goodall Institute, the students have seen their work spread to 10 other villages. The project has attracted attention beyond Tanzania as well. Scientific American has featured DHE blogs at blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions. (You can also read DHE blogs at tanzaniahelp2010.blogspot.com.)

As for changing the group’s name from HELP to DHE, Saunders says that the organization wanted to reflect the collaborative efforts of engineers and communities. “The acronym HELP implied a certain type of service, a charity,” she explains. “Really there’s an equal partnership and an equal benefit in these projects. We thought that DHE would be a nice change.”

—Kathryn LoConte Lapierre

For more photos, visit our Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering collection of images on Flickr.

Categories: The Great Hall, Service to Humanity

Tags: energy, engineering in medicine, environment, humanitarian service, leadership, projects, students

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