BYU students design efficient stoves for African villagers

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Bowen Call looks out the window of the small brick-and-adobe shack for a moment, taking in the blue sky and lush, green forest nearby. A woman is cooking a cornmeal porridge, nsima, on a reddish-brown, rectangular rocket stove constructed from clay bricks, her baby sleeping peacefully against her back. Bowen notices as the stove flares up, the flame’s smoke is nowhere to be seen, properly funneled outdoors.

For Call and David Lariviere, the chance to design masonry stoves was an opportunity to reduce a health risk for Malawian villagers.

Exposure to harmful smoke from cooking fires is the norm for Malawian people. The annual mortality rate in Malawi due to lung disease and cancer has risen 37 percent since 1990, according to HealthGrove.

Call received an email from his major in early March that called for engineers to help develop smoke ventilation systems for the Marriott School’s Africa International Business Study Abroad program.

“I wasn’t planning on doing anything this summer besides an internship, so that opened up a whole world of possibilities,” Call said. “I received a couple of scholarships … All my basics were covered, and I was fine monetarily. I just felt really blessed. So I went home and prayed about it.”

Call felt inspired to respond to the email. Soon after, Kristie Seawright, a BYU professor of marketing and global supply chain, called Bowen and invited him to join the study abroad program in Africa.

“One of the ideas (in the program) is that students have the opportunity to use the professional skills they’re learning here at BYU to help make other peoples’ lives better,” Seawright said. “(The students’) professional skills are valuable professionally, and in helping people improve their lives.

Around this time, neuroscience major David Lariviere visited BYU’s Kennedy Center and noticed an advertisement for the Africa International Business Study Abroad program. He signed up and was soon partnered with Call. The two students began developing and testing various stove designs that could be easily assembled onsite in Malawi.

Call’s father taught him how to construct a rocket stove, which is designed to increase the temperature of the fire, resulting in less smoke, according to Call. Call and Lariviere soon decided this design, made from locally-sourced clay, would be the most efficient stove they could build practically in Africa.

The two BYU students began constructing their rocket stoves following their arrival in Africa. Call and Lariviere soon developed a larger rocket stove with a chimney, which allowed Mkwaila and Chewaya villagers to cook upright in a smoke-free environment.

Lariviere said in Mkwaila, the villagers were grateful for the new stove, yet showed very little emotion, simply stating that the stove was perfect. However, the Chewayan villagers showed their gratitude differently.

David Lariviere constructs a rocket stove. (Bowen Call)

“This time, the people were really showing emotion, which was pretty cool,” Lariviere said.

He said the women laughed and pointed at their eyes as if to say, “No more tears.”

“We were super happy, after all the hard work we had put into (building) it,” Lariviere said.

 

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