Notes from the Field by Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director:
April 21st, 2011: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
As we begin to wrap up our Spring 2011 site visits, we begin to reflect on all that has passed since we left Fort Collins several weeks ago. My adventure began in Kenya in late February, where I spoke at the 2011 UNEP Sasakawa Prize Ceremony in celebration of this year’s laureates and the International Year of the Forest. This was followed by a 2-week trip to Uganda, where along with Fort Collins based partners, Rodelle Vanilla, we launched what will become TWP’s first African stove program. Soon after we found ourselves in Guatemala, traveling the country meeting with potential new partners in the country’s Altiplano, and then El Salvador, where we visited our partner Agua y Arboles para El Pueblo’s (AAP) new projects in communities surrounding an important protected area, Cerro El Aguila. This trip was punctuated by visits to their spectacular tree nursery, which is teeming with 28 species that will be planted throughout the country this rainy season. This journey will end 10 days from now in Haiti, where we are halfway into a visit with partners International Lifeline Fund (ILF) in Port-au-Prince, and working hard to get our urban stove commercialization project off the ground.
Upon arrival to Haiti, and with the invaluable support of stove design consultant Brian Martin of Portland, Oregon, we headed into the field to check on stoves distributed 2 months ago, during Brian’s last visit. We collected valuable feedback from about 20 families, which began a discussion around design modifications, improvements, and production strategies. We then assembled a group of ten tin-smiths, some of which had worked with Brian and ILF in the past, who have now been contracted to cut and assemble 1,000 cookstoves in the next six weeks. No small feat, by any measure, but cohesion amongst the team members has been quick to form, and all share ideas, help eachother with challenging pieces, and take time to laugh and joke with us as they work.
This week has consisted of getting to know our resource and talent pool, bringing in tools, equipment and materials from all over Port-au-Prince to centralize production at ILF’s offices in the capital. We introduced power tools to the stove production process, which is a break from the norm, but which has increased consistency and speed, allowing us to reach impressive volumes quickly. The office is now filled with a cacophony of metal-on-metal pings, bangs and crashes, as hundreds of charcoal bowls and other parts roll off the production line. Centralizing production without a factory site is challenging, but allows us to improve standardization of our product while offering these skilled metal workers a positive change of environment – getting them away from rough neighborhoods characterized by burning trash, dilapidated buildings, crowds and traffic. All in all, these workers have embarked on what we hope will be an uplifting rise out of poverty, gaining access to steady and dignified employment in what we intend to develop into a significant charcoal stove manufacturing operation over the next year.
Keep your eyes and ears on the Zanmi Pye Bwa (Friend of the Forest) project as it develops, and support TWP by spreading the word as we raise funds to increase our production capacity and impact over the coming months!
*Many thanks to Brian Martin (Working Hands Productions) for the wonderful photos from Haiti.