Amy Smith shares simple lifesaving design

(the sound is very low, but the video is well worth it)

“Fumes from indoor cooking fires kill more than 2 million children a year in the developing world. MIT engineer Amy Smith details an exciting but simple solution: a tool for turning farm waste into clean-burning charcoal.

“Amy Smith designs cheap, practical fixes for tough problems in developing countries. Among her many accomplishments, the MIT engineer received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2004 and was the first woman to win the Lemelson-MIT Prize for turning her ideas into inventions.” (TED)

Amy Smith is an inventor and educator.  She founded MIT’s D-Lab in 2002.  In 2010, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Prakti High Efficiency Stoves

I’ve just recently returned from a trip to India as part of an UnBox Fellowship exploring sustainability in Auroville, near Pondicherry on the southeast coast.  Auroville is a sort of experimental utopian community founded in 1968, in an attempt to create a society without nationality, belonging to and driven by humanity as a whole.  Its priorities are on a mix of spirituality, sustainability and the ability to work as a harmonious society, open to anyone from around the world who will participate and contribute to the community.  It was a pleasure to visit and a rewarding experience and I plan to write about in more detail in another post.

Auroville is full of remarkable people researching and developing various technologies and practices for sustainability and development, and one of the people we had the pleasure to meet was Mouhsine Serrar, the founder and CEO of the Prakti Design Lab.  Prakti designs, manufactures and sells a range of high-efficiency, low-smoke stoves that address environmental, economic and health issues for its customers.

Mohsine Serrar welcomes us to the office

Founder and CEO Mouhsine Serrar introduces Prakti stoves to the UnBox fellows

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The Beauty of Bio-Gas Digesters

In November, 2011, I took a trip to Nepal to visit an international development NGO called CHOICE Humanitarian.  I met the organization’s former CEO earlier in the year and was struck by the statistics he presented—contrary to many NGOs’ M.O.s, the rural villages that CHOICE works with have an abnormally high success rate after CHOICE’s involvement is over.  Their model of teaching leadership over the course of their development projects trains villagers to take control of their own further development, so when CHOICE leaves, they’re self-motivated and empowered to keep their own improvements going.

After five days volunteering in the office, getting to know CHOICE and how they operate, and exploring Kathmandu, I joined CHOICE’s Kiran Neupane on a trip to visit a few of the villages CHOICE works with.  We were accompanied by a few members of Kathmandu’s Rotary Club which was supporting some of their work and we stayed two nights in villagers’ homes. CHOICE and the villages we visited were preparing to launch a new home-stay-based trekking route the following month and we were a friendly group to give them a trial run.

The people were friendly, open and wonderful as Kiran checked on and showed us the progress in different villages.  CHOICE works on a variety of projects, letting the villagers decide their own priorities, and we saw a few schools and a health outpost tucked into the steeply sloping hills and cascading rice paddies.  But one recurring item really struck me as I saw them installed in many villagers’ households—the bio-gas digester.

What is a bio-gas digester and how does it work?

* Time to check your squeamishness at the door.  We’re about to talk about poop and pee.  We all make it, we all have to do something with it, and here’s a way to harness some good from it. *

how a bio-gas digester works - illustration

(click image to enlarge)

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