Saturday, October 10, 2009

Self Reliance Doesn’t Protect Against Unreliable Leaders

We have built a bigger parabolic cooker and are now waiting for a suitably sunny day to try it out. Some areas around here get sun all the time but the parabolic cooker is not very mobile. So we just have to wait for suitable conditions. Meantime, one of the things we are concerned about is safety. For a start, the concentrated light reflected from the device is very hard on the eyes and could potentially damage users' eyesight. We can use sunglasses but there's no guarantee that others will do the same, especially as some of the people around will not even be using the device but could still be affected.

There is also the issue of safety from burns. Parabolics heat things to very high temperatures. Some of the models I've found online depict a cooking pot at about chest height. If this pot were to be turned over by accident, the user could receive dangerous burns. I would prefer a model where the pot is low and where you can move the parabola without moving the pot and vice versa. This should reduce the possible dangers. We discussed this problem with other people experimenting with parabolic cookers and they agreed. We resolved to suspend the pot from a line or large tripod, rather than trying to build a tripod inside the parabola.

One of the community support groups is so interested in solar cooking that they have asked for a workshop on making the cookers. We will be doing that in the next few weeks, once we have all the materials. The members of the support groups themselves need to bring the materials because there is very little funding available. But it is a good exercise to get them to source the materials as most of them should be cheap or even free. One of the advantages of solar cooking is increased sustainability and self reliance. Therefore, recycled materials are preferable to new materials. I suspect people here will be good at finding cheap and free materials!

The same people who have shown such interest in solar cookers also raised questions about home made, reusable sanitary pads. A friend kindly sent me some materials on how to make these. I also found various websites dedicated to this issue. Sanitary pads are so expensive here, compared to people's ability to buy them, that it is no wonder many never use them. This is a particular problem for young girls as they have no spending power at all. They often miss school for a few days every month, which is quite unnecessary. However, there are safety aspects relating to making reusable sanitary pads as well and I hope we can include resolutions to this problem as part of the project.

We're still trying to find out about getting people to produce briquettes from organic waste as a way of reducing use of wood and charcoal, which is expensive and in short supply. It's also time consuming to collect wood and make charcoal. We have plenty of instructions for the process but lack the devices that could mix the materials and compress the mixture into a suitably compact end product. We are in touch with people at Egerton University who may be able to help us. Ultimately, the process should be cheap and small scale, but as someone near here has already done some work on this area, we'd like to see that first.

We visited the local municipal dump to see what useful materials may be available there. Actually, there are many people in the dump, every day, picking up all the materials they can sell on for reuse. I think we need to spend more time finding out what reaches the dump, who is picking it up and selling it on, what materials never reaches the dump and what other recycling projects are currently taking place. There are lots of organisations here doing various things and few organisations seem to be aware of what others are doing. As we are trying to find tried and tested ways of reducing poverty and increasing self reliance, we need to know what others are doing in and around Nakuru. That is proving to be a difficult task!

There's a lot of talk about closing down the camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) which were set up as a result of the post election violence. It's all very well to get people to go back home but many don't wish to return to properties from which they were forcibly ejected. Many of the properties have been burned, looted and squatted by others. The government is giving many mixed messages about how much they will pay people to return home and what they will do for people who can't go back to where they were before. Also, the IDP camp in Nakuru consists of many small plots, all of which have been purchased by the residents. People have been there for nearly two years, they have made lives for themselves. They have set up kitchen gardens, shops, community groups and what not. The 'camp' is now a village in its own right and the current government plans seem like yet another forced eviction.

The support group that we are involved in at the IDP camp is interested in some of our projects and this area is in particular need of greater sustainability and self reliance. But people there are now wary of doing anything in an area that they may have to leave in the near future. There is even talk now about the next election and the possible displacement that may occur in the next few years. Far from trying to anticipate and prevent further politically motivated violence, politicians seem to be spending their time and energy planning their attack.


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