First of all, let me tell you about the charcoal project. While we thought we would be streamlining the production process and testing the Eco-Charcoal, Chance granted us a new opportunity by damaging 14 bags of bio-char with flooding. How lucky is that? Having discovered the sopping bags we immediately dried the bio-char in the sun. We are now getting to test the viability of the bio-char after it has been exposed to water. While, on our own, we wouldn’t have thought to douse the bio-char in water, Chance thought it might be an innovative idea. Imagine, either we find out that the bio-char is unusable (which would be an unfortunate waste), or we find the bio-char is resilient after being soaked. While we didn’t plan on conducting this experiment, hopefully the latter result will prove true thereby transforming a setback into an opportunity. Yet, life wasn’t done playing with us yet. We were also given a turn to test our reflexes and ingenuity when violent storms hit Belaba during our fourth day of production, which was the first day we were there to actually visit. When we saw the clouds come, our lightning fast responses were matched only by the lightning itself as we rescued all the drying bio-char from the rains and stored our workstations. The storm was violent enough that it ripped the doors right off their hinges at our production site. Such storms have continued to test our ingenuity and perseverance as they have repeatedly crashed over our production site.
We have also had the opening to ferret out the best workers in Belaba. After utilizing a team who were not able to meet the production quota, we have streamlined our crew. Now we have an Eco-Charcoal production crew who, if they aren’t the fastest this side of the Atlantic, Pacific, Southern, Arctic, and Indian Oceans, are at least the best in Chad. Yet, even the most dedicated crews can’t function in a production line if they aren’t communicating with one another. One such issue with the line of communication presented itself when we came upon our bio-char crew lounging around waiting on manioc paste. The paste takes about forty –five minutes to make, and no one had told the paste maker that they needed paste until they needed paste. This left them with about forty-five minutes of wasted production time waiting while the paste was made. While these disturbances can be frustrating, the experience we are getting from all the errors we’ve observed, like the manioc paste not being ready on time, ultimately helps us as we continue to refine our methods.
Overall, though it has been quite fun to smooth out the production process as well as play dodge with the weather systems, we have decided to begin the process of taking the next step in equipping and empowering the local community. We are currently finding a local business to partner with who can provide a production site as well as a staff to oversee the process. This business will take over the entire production process, as well as full charcoal program responsibilities, and eventually become financially independent. While production this year will be ending soon as the rainy season approaches (the rainy season lasts from May-October) operations will begin again at the end of October, beginning of November.
Another exciting development that occurred in Chad this week was the completion of our first high efficiency FIRES (further improved rammed earth stove). These cook-stoves cut down on household pollution (which therefore reduces local risks of pneumonia, chronic pulmonary disease, lung cancer) while also dramatically increasing the efficiency of normal Chadian cook-stoves, which lose 80% of their total energy load. While we are excited to have finished this F.I.R.E.S. we have also found a local woman who builds stoves of her own, which allow for a 50% charcoal efficiency increase. This discovery provides us with another opportunity to partner with local community members by possibly creating a partnership with this young lady who has struggled to sell the cook-stoves on her own. Potentially, our facilities could offer two forms of cook-stoves, the rammed earth version, as well as this young woman’s.
Lastly, let me give you an update about our valiant Henry Hilux, our faithful truck, who has been wheezing as of late. With the driving we have had to do for the production season, as well as preparing a mould for our efficient cook-stove; Henry has been creaking under the strain. As a temporary solution we began using moto-taxis to get around. While good in theory, it proved dangerous in practice. Motorcycle accidents are all too frequent in Moundou, and the hazards became all too real after our Envodev team member, Ghislain, was involved in an accident. Thankfully he came out unhurt, but we (Envodev and Henry Hilux) realized that we couldn’t continue to risk people’s lives in order for Henry to get a break. Unfortunately, after that resolution, Henry’s alternator took a turn for the dead when Chuck, Aquilas, and Ghislain were in Belaba testing charcoal. This required a large group of people to push Henry for awhile before they could call him back from the grave. Henry has told us that, while he’s happy to help, his 20 some years of faithful service are weighing heavily upon him, and now he just wants to rust in peace. You can help us put Henry out to pasture today by donating at our GlobalGiving page.
Well, that about sums up my past two weeks. Our time in Chad has been encouraging as I continue to see this Eco-Charcoal project take on its full body as well as see the first production of our F.I.R.E.S.
Till next time!
-David De Armey, International Director, ENVODEV
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