Three years ago The Charcoal Project was approached by a schoolmaster in Uganda looking for help to reduce the increasingly high cost of purchasing the woodfuel needed to cook the meals for his 600-plus boarding students.
Henry Twinemasiko, the school director and founder of the Rubaare Education Foundation, runs six schools in southwestern Uganda where he provides free or subsidized education to orphans and children of very poor families.
But when we met Henry, the combined cost of rising petrol and the increasing distances the schools beat-up truck had to travel to buy firewood (the district’s firewood supply having long been depleted), was forcing Henry to make painful choices between cutting scholarships for needy children and purchasing fuel to cook their meals.
Three years later, thanks to an array of generous donations, The Charcoal Project and Henry’s REF schools have come up with a solution that is gaining greater attention across the country: produce woodfuel substitute from agricultural waste and retrofit the schools with more energy efficient stoves. The result is that REF schools have reduced their fuel costs by around forty percent, making it possible for Henry to provide more scholarships and aid to more students.
An Intervention That Works
The TCP – REF model (which we call BEEP, for Biomass Energy Efficiency Project), is today being endorsed by groups like GVEP, which recently convened a gathering of school administrators, improved cookstove manufacturers, financial services providers, and government authorities. According to a recent item in GVEP’s newsletter:
A recent study commissioned by GVEP in (Uganda’s) Wakiso district shows that schools spend up to 400,000 UGX (US$158) per month on fuel for cooking meals and heating water, with urban schools spending twice this amount. This puts significant strain on parents, contributing to the financial pressure that causes some of them to withdraw their children from school prematurely.
Feedback from some of the schools that have adopted improved cookstoves says that the cost of buying firewood have decreased by 50%. Dr John Muyingo, minister was present at the event and praised GVEP for encouraging this initiative. In addition to saving money, the interviewed schools reported a considerable reduction in the amount of smoke in the kitchens, which results in a healthier environment for their employees. Furthermore, the time used for cooking is reduced significantly, resulting in students being able to attend their classes without the periodic meal interruptions caused by cooking delays.
In spite of this evidence, the uptake of IICS (Improved Institutional Cook Stoves) remains low for several reasons, such as low awareness among schools of the IICS economic benefits arising from reduced firewood consumption; the cost of acquiring the stove and the inability of schools to raise the money; the lack of knowledge of available suppliers of IICS; and previous negative experience with IICS manufacturers who did not meet the market minimum quality standards.
Reducing woodfuel and charcoal costs is one important step towards the re-allocation of school funding for more productive uses. But efficient cookstoves and substitute fuels made from ag-waste can only be seen as part of the solution. Access to electricity from renewable energy sources is also necessary. This why TCP is launching a solar electricity project for the REF schools over the coming months. Access to electricity means the students can study their lessons at night and improve their grades. Our long-term goal is to introduce a suite of renewable energy technologies that will help the school further reduce its operating costs while also developing expertise in renewable energy solutions.
Harnessing clean energy solutions in a cost-effective way is the key to unleashing the full potential of Uganda’s student body… which is also the country’s greatest resource.
And here’s the link to that Derek Sivers Ted Talk, in case you were wondering… Enjoy!