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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Part 1 Clean cookstove Trip Report

Trip Report THP-La Mazateca Cookstove Project – July, 2013

This trip started on June 22nd and ended on July 30th.  It started as an exclusive trip for the ‘La Mazateca’ Cook Stove workshop and construction project in the Mazateca area of Oaxaca with The Hunger Project – Mexico (THP).  It turned out to be quite a different trip altogether.

We started in Mexico City at THP headquarters, where we were busy getting more information about the materials for the stoves, finishing up the manual, going through THP training and working with an intern, Jacob Cantor, an environmental engineering student who joined us for three weeks during his summer break from Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).  The parts’ list changed daily as more information came in about brick sizes and availability, raw materials (cement, lime, gravel, sand, perlite) needed for different concrete, mortar and insulation requirements, and material availability became known.  As the parts’ list was finalized, material was ordered and purchased.

The next challenge facing us was transporting the material for 89 cook stoves from Mexico City to San Jose Tenango (the Mazateca Area).  68 m3 will not fit into 50 m3 of truck space, no matter how you arrange things. That is how much space was available in two trucks.  Finally, THP made arrangements to use one large truck to transport everything at once.

The manual was translated and we left for SJT on July 2nd.  We arrived on July 3rd and made plans to start the workshop on Thursday, July 4th.  Because the floor was dirt, the masons got started right away putting in a foundation upon which to build the walls of the stove.  There was quite a discussion beforehand about the stove orientation, considering the prevailing wind and the best location of the windows and doors for the stove.  The foundation hardened overnight and the masons continued with the walls of the stove on Day 2.  This turned out to be a long day, since we wanted to finish the walls, so that the fireboxes could begin the next day.  The morning of Day 3 the walls had hardened and the workshop continued with the internal parts of the stove.

While the masons were busy the first two days, the rest of the promoters (workshop attendees) were busy building the firebox chimney form out of wood planks that were brought.  They also cut the 45cm diameter cardboard tubes for the two firebox forms.  On DAY 3 they set the cardboard firebox forms in place, back filled the forms with rocks and dirt to their proper levels and poured 2.5 cm of concrete to make the platforms for the fireboxes.  We were prepared to continue with the assembly of the fireboxes, setting the rebar for the pot stands and making the first perlite pour to finish with the fireboxes.  However, this was the day before the local elections.  So, instead a promoter meeting was held in the afternoon and each community was given a list of families in their community on the stove list.  Plans were made to contact them and start the process of determining where each stove would go, the orientation of the stove and selecting the pots for which the stove was designed.  We did not realize, at the time that this was the beginning of a two and a half week hiatus before the workshop would continue.
The plan was to take two days off (Sunday and Monday) and then continue the workshop on Tuesday.  Local elections were scheduled for Sunday and since controversy sometimes follow elections, we hoped that after a day the election would be settled.  Unfortunately, after a day, things got worse.  Dynamite, gunplay and a home invasion were enough for us to pack up and leave the area.  We retreated to Mexico City on Tuesday, July 9th (the day the workshop was supposed to continue), and did not return until Wednesday, July 24th.

While we were in Mexico City, we stayed busy.  First and foremost, we took that opportunity to plan in detail the remainder of the workshop.  We drew up lesson plans for the remaining workshop days, updated the construction manual and had it translated into Spanish.  We also developed additional teaching aids and construction tools.

This gave us time to pursue other opportunities in Mexico City.  Before heading to SJT (the first time), we had had lunch with a patent attorney, Hector Elias Chagoya Cortes, that Rick had met earlier this year at a conference in Geneva.  During the luncheon, he mentioned that another attorney in his office was very active in Rotary and that they were involved in a rainwater harvesting project.  Since we were back in Mexico City, we met with him to find out more about their programs.  As it turns out, their rotary club (Club Rotario Plateros Centro Historico) is working with two Seattle area rotary clubs (Rotary Club of the University District, Seattle and Rotary Club of Ballard) on a project in a marginalized area of the city.
He invited us to the next rotary club meeting where Rick gave a ten minute presentation about who we were and what we were doing in Mexico.  They, in return, invited us to tour the area where the three rotary clubs
are working on their project.  The next day we went to Yuguelito to see the community center that these two Seattle clubs supported to provide a safe place for the children in the area to study and play.  We also toured the remainder of the community to see the ambitious projects they have planned to improve the housing and water situation.  On Saturday, we returned to Yuguelito with Ofelia Aguilar Hernandez of Mexfam to attend the community’s biweekly meeting, meet the community leaders and to learn more about their future plans.  We
think there is a lot of potential to help make this a sustainable community.

While in Mexico City, we also met with Enrique Lomnitz and David Vargas of Isla Urbana.  THP will be working with them to bring rainwater harvesting to the Mazateca area.  We set up a meeting with them to learn more about their system of rainwater harvesting, since the Mazateca communities chose their system over ours for implementation.  Isla Urbana needs help in developing a better guttering system to complete their rainwater harvesting system.  We took on that challenge and plan to provide a solution.  We also talked to them about the Yuguelito community and they are very interested in getting involved.  They have been doing rainwater harvesting in both rural and urban environments (including many in marginalized areas of Mexico City similar to Yuguelito) for several years.  We hope to work with them in the future.

We finally returned to SJT on July 24th.  By then Jacob had returned to the US, since we did not know how long we would be in Mexico City.  By then, his three planned weeks were over anyway.  Although he did not see a stove completed, he learned a lot about working in developing countries.  He saw the complete stove plans and helped edit the ‘La Mazateca’ Cook Stove Manual.  He spent time with THP and learned about their philosophy for tackling hunger and got an earful from Rick and Stan about sustainability (he left with a long reading list of books on sustainability topics).  He also learned a lot of Spanish.  He expressed an interest in rejoining us in the future with hopes of knowing enough Spanish by then to be our interpreter.

The workshop continued on Thursday, July 25th.  With detailed lesson plans for DAYS 4, 5, 6 and 7, we were able to finish the workshop on schedule by Sunday July 28th, but there was not enough sand to complete the internal mortaring as the last step.
Fortunately, Leodan lives close by and he did that part on one of the pilot stoves.  So, we left that last step in good hands, to which it was completed and fully function a few days after we left.  

We returned to Mexico City on the night bus, arriving early Monday morning.  We debriefed THP, did some preliminary planning for rolling out the remaining eighty-eight stoves and our return trip for mid-September, then departed for home Tuesday afternoon, the 30th of July.

Rick and Stan

P.S.  Save Saturday, November 2nd, for a local fall event on the Day of the Dead (Mexican holiday).  Details to follow.

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