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Year In Review: Spotlight On Rubaare Two Years After

2013 was a good year for The Charcoal Project and 1,800 students in southwestern Uganda.

It’s the end of the year and the time to report back to you on our progress!

The Big Picture in 2013

The short story is that it was a good year on almost all fronts. In January, we launched the Harvest Fuel Initiative with D-Lab at MIT. In February (and throughout the rest of the year) we successfully fundraised to put in new stoves and better fuels for the schools in Rubaare. (A big thank you to the very generous support of the Unitarian Church of Summit, NJ!) And in April we published a ground-breaking and influential publication on charcoal that got the sustainable-energy-for-development world abuzz.

We forgive the good men and women of the Nobel committee for inadvertently overlooked this entry.

The one sore spot of the year remains fundraising. Part of the reason it’s still so hard to raise money to support our projects is the fact that energy poverty — and charcoal issues in particular — have not yet made into the mainstream of the international development agenda. Yet, like clean water or malaria prevention, we think better fuels and technologies are critical to human development in poor societies. These last few months of the year have given us hope that the tide may finally be turning. We’re counting on a more active Board of Directors to help us turn things around in 2014.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing more detailed updates about  our progress in various areas. For now, however, we are proud to share this short update on our Biomass Energy Efficiency Project in Rubaare, Uganda.

Two Years After Launching Campaign For Better Stoves & Fuels for Rubaare: Success and Lessons Learned.
Two years ago, we set out to raise $30,000 USD to help pay for better fuels and cooking technologies for six schools in southwestern Uganda in desperate need of energy efficiency. As of the writing of this letter we are $1,000 USD short of the funds needed to complete this phase of the project. Given your track record of support, we’re more than confident we’ll be able to meet the goal! So, again, thank you in advance for your help!  (Click on this link to see school director Henry Twinemasiko describe how energy poverty affects his school and students.)

The six schools are part of the Rubaare Education Foundation, a non-profit that provides low-cost, quality education and scholarships to about 1,800 primary and high school students in the semi-urban district of Rubaare.

Henry Twinemasiko is one of the most inspiring men you will ever meet.

We began the project because rising wood and transportation costs meant that the school’s principal, Henry Twinemasiko, had to make severe cuts to his budget. Henry had to choose between reducing the number of scholarships on offer, switch to lower quality food, and put off any kind of maintenance and upgrades for the schools. In the end he ended up doing all.

Working with Henry, we settled on a two-prong strategy:

  1. We agreed to transform the abundant and virtually free agricultural waste in the region into char briquettes, which would serve as a suitable substitute fuel for wood and charcoal.
  2. We also agreed to fundraise to retrofit the school’s cooking stoves to consume less fuel and produce fewer emissions.

Two years and $29,000 USD later, we are pleased to announce that the schools are well on their way to reducing their fuel consumption and cooking cost by almost 50 percent! What’s more, new cookstove technology means the cooking staff does not have to suffer from exposure to toxic emissions.

None of this would have been possible without the generous support of donors like you who helped raise almost a third of the total amount needed. The rest was raised through other private campaigns.

Lessons Learned

The students at the REF schools have been producing a sustainable alternative to woodfuel and charcoal for more than a year.

A lot of research and testing went into identifying the right briquetting technology and the best cookstoves for the school. We eventually settled on Petterson Press briquette- making technology and institutional stoves manufactured by Ugastove and Green Bio Energy. Our plan is to continue monitoring and testing the technology and its performance over the next two years.

Another lesson we learned is that REF students need access to illumination for studying at night. This is why we are launching a new project to bring solar-powered electricity for illumination at all the REF schools in the next 24 months. Again, despite the abundant solar projects that exist out there, identifying the right solution for the school is not obvious. Our plan is to research and test the right solution before spending any of our donated funds. You’ll be hearing more about this soon!

With your help we were able to build a new kitchen building at the school. Move over LeCorbusier.

Our ultimate goal is to create a source of knowledge that can be shared with all the school districts across the region. To this end, we are partnering with other schools in Uganda that are also interested in cutting their energy costs and boosting access to efficient and renewable energy. We know many other school districts in Uganda could benefit from the knowledge gathered and we plan to share that information.

Our goal for the next two years is to raise $30,000 USD to outfit the Rubaare schools with solar lighting, launch a portfolio of income generating opportunities for the school for the upkeep of the investments, test new energy solutions, and share the knowledge we are gathering with other school districts. How’s that for ambition! Together with Henry we believe the REF schools can serve as models for green schools where the student body can develop skills in renewable energy and clean technologies.

Burning eco friendly briquettes in efficient stoves the school has reduced its fuel cost by almost 50%!

Many friends, friends of friends, family, and friends of family have joined to support our efforts in Rubaare over the past two years. We hope you will continue supporting us!

Warm regards,

Sylvia, Henry, and Kim


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  1. Pingback:Year In Review: Spotlight On Rubaare Two Years After : One Percent for the Planet

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