October 2, 2011






The beginning of the Mount Kenya Energy Project

In August 2009, I went to Kenya to visit the family of an African friend and former teacher colleague, Mugo Justus. They live in the small village Gaketha on the slopes of Mount Kenya near the boundary of the Mount Kenya forest.




Mount Kenya


 

Mugo is a teacher ...
... and a farmer.


At the East Africa office of Solar Cookers International  http://www.solarcookers.org/index.html in Nairobi I had bought a collapsible solar cooker (CooKit)  http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/CooKit  and a retained-heat cooker (basket cooker)  http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Heat  . My friends found the cookers very useful and had the idea to show them to others as well.

eating eggs boiled in the Cookit



With the assistance of the area chief, we mobilized representatives of different women´s groups and invited them for a demonstration. When they came we explained how solar cookers, basket cookers and energy-saving clay ovens function and the advantages they have over traditional cooking methods. 


  1. The use of solar cookers, heat-retention cookers (basket cookers) and energy-efficient stoves saves time (collection of firewood), which can be used for other activities.
  1. The health of women is improved when they can work in smoke-free kitchens.
  1. The new way of cooking saves firewood (also time and money). The environment is protected as fewer trees have to be cut down.

cooking in a smokey kitchen

women carrying firewood

 In the kitchen house of the host, the women built a clay oven underneath a chimney.





fuel-efficient mudstove with clay liners

testing a basket cooker and a portable clay stove

Two days after this successful event, one of the women had already made her own retained-heat cooker from an old bucket and proudly demonstrated it to us.



After my departure, women from the Gaketha village founded the Gaketha Laura Energy Saving Group. They tried out the new technologies and met regularly to exchange their experiences. Mugo Justus functioned as an advisor and project coordinator.





The second phase of the project


In April 2010, I went to Kenya again. In the meantime, Mugo had established contacts with several groups in the region and made arrangements for visits with them. In community centres, churches and schools and at the homes of women´s group members we met representatives of different types of groups. Mugo had recruited members of the Gaketha group as promoters. They explained to the listeners the advantages of the new technologies. A male member of the group gave information on the use of neem trees for medical purposes and as a natural insecticide. In every place we visited we left the participants with a solar cooker set and/or a clay liner for building an energy-efficient stove.

The interest of the participants and the requests for further information were very high. In the future, Mugo was to act as contact person and a coordinator of the work of the promoters. Follow-up visits to new groups were planned in order to monitor their work and progress and to support them.

 a warm welcome back

Cookit demonstration

great interest in the new devices



December 2010:  new projects and developments

When I went for another visit in December 2010, the Gaketha group had grown to 65 members; 20 of them active. The group had a chairlady, a sectretary, a treasurer and a coordinator. In addition, there were two female and two male promoters.

 officials of the Gaketha group

The active members had bought chicken feed and 100 one-day-old layers chicks which were kept and taken care of in Mugo´s chicken house.  The money for the purchase was partly taken from the members´ bank account and partly raised by the active members themselves. After 8 weeks they received – according to their contribution – 3, 4 or 5 chickens.



Thanks to the great support from friends and colleagues I was able to give a donation to the Gaketha group.  They were going to use the donation money to get a good breed of dairy goats. Again, members were going to contribute their own share. And the off-spring of the goats would be passed on to other members. An employee of the ministry of livestock became a member of the Gaketha group. He was going to advise and support them concerning the selection of a good breed and proper care of the animals.
Some women of the Gaketha group made basket cookers (heat-retention cookers) to order and had created a small income this way. The basket cookers were very popular and their owners used them frequently and in many ways. Some women even had two of them.


a practical lesson



On request, the promoters of the Gaketha group visited other groups and informed them about fuel-efficient clay stoves. They also gave practical instructions on how to build these stoves.

A new member of the group was in charge of the tree nursery at the Mount Kenya forest. He was going to assist the group to establish a nursery with neem and local trees.

Exchange of experiences

In October 2010, the Gaketha group had been visited by the members of three other groups. They looked at the chicken and stove projects and Mugo explained measures of soil erosion control during a walk through his fields. After that, he gave a lecture on planning, saving and investment. An instructor from the Murugi Polytechnic gave a class on healthy nutrition. 

visitors in Mugo´s fields

the chicken house

in the kitchen

This exchange of experiences was appreciated very much by all participants. Thus we reciprocated the visit with two of the groups during my stay. They showed us several newly built clay stoves. We also saw a well-established tree nursery and were given instructions on how to graft and improve passion fruit.

 tree nursery with passion fruit


 Formation of an umbrella organisation

The activities we had started within the Mount Kenya Energy Project had already extended beyond the scope of the Gaketha group. Talking with other groups, we had learnt that exchange of experiences among the groups is very important. Also, the coordination of supply and demand would greatly facilitate the marketing of products (e.g. nursery trees). Self-help groups had often been encouraged to start a project but they had not been given sufficient counselling and support along their way. As a result, many projects had failed and ended up in frustration. We therefore had come up with the idea to form a central institution that would serve the interests of self-help groups, facilitate cooperation and coordinate some of their activities.

Between April and December 2010, Mugo had won the support of seven people for our plan and established a board of directors for the new institution. These persons were promoters from the Gaketha group, the headmaster and one trainer from the Murugi Polytechnic and leaders from the Murugi parish. 
By the time of my visit, the board had already met two times and discussed the future scope of activities. On the third meeting, we discussed the plans they had put in writing. I was asked to become the patron of the institution, i.e. the board.

 meeting of the board of directors


The organisation should be easily accessible to interested groups so that in the long run it can work successfully. Therefore it was decided that the centre should be in a place that is near the main road and at an all-weather road.  There should be water and electricity and space to conduct courses and establish demonstration projects. 
Mugo placed the house at his former homestead at the disposal of the future organisation.

the official hand-over of the house by the elders of Mugo´s clan


 

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