Genoa teen completes humanitarian work in Africa
September 4, 2012
Amelia Ritger, 19, had a goal of changing just one person’s life during her nine-week stay in Arusha, Tanzania.
Not only did she achieve her goal, but had a part in improving the lives of many Tanzanians by providing them with an inexpensive fuel source that can be turned into a business.
“You take loose sticks, leaves, charcoal dust, sawdust, add water and press them into donut-shaped briquettes that can be used for cooking,” the 2011 Douglas valedictorian said. “If you make enough you can sell them. We taught them how to build the press and compost the materials and make the briquettes. We had a lot of people interested in them which was good.”
The sophomore at Dartmouth College was part of a team of four students involved with Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering whose goal is to develop and implement technologies that improve the lives of East Africans.
The Tanzanian women use firewood or charcoal stoves to cook with, which produces excessive amounts of smoke and increases respiratory infection. Charcoal is also expensive for them to buy.
“The materials they were using were all in their backyard. Now that they have this technology our hope is they will have lower fuel costs per week. They were spending 80 percent of their income on fuel for cooking their food,” Ritger said. “What DHE is trying to do is reduce acute respiratory infection and firewood use to help the environment. When these women are cooking inside their homes it releases a lot of smoke. Briquetting reduces the amount of smoke and need for firewood.”
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The first five weeks in Tanzania were spent composting and working with the villagers to create a mixture of ingredients that worked best in their environment. The remaining four weeks Ritger and her companions presented the technology to other villages.
“The communities all took on briquetting,” Ritger said. “One of them built a press and the other community bought our press.”
The briquetting technology will be a vital part in raising money for the village of Moivaro. A man named Sossy is working to build a public school with a low student-to-teacher ratio.
“This community we thought would be good for briquetting to help raise money for the school,” Ritger said. “His (Sossy) goal is to provide some sort of meal for the students also.”
When Ritger and her team returned to Moivaro a week later, the women had already made 30 briquettes for their personal use and to sell.
“They were very excited. It was really great,” Ritger said. “They called themselves the ‘Upendo’ group, which means love.”
Ritger said one briquette burns for about 40 minutes, and most Tanzanians use three to four briquettes per meal. The materials used in the process depends on the environment and time of year.
“The response we got was, ‘This is going to help,’ and ‘We are excited to use this,'” Ritger said. “I went with the goal of changing one person’s life in some way. I achieved my goal, I think.”
Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering is hoping to send another group in January to follow up, and continue expanding the briquetting project.
“It gave me a really great new perspective on cultures. It was very different,” Ritger said of her trip. “They are very intelligent, very bright. They can do things themselves. We wanted to teach them about technology and use their own knowledge and skills to make it better.”
Ritger returns to Dartmouth on Sept. 6 to continue studying biology and ecology, with the goal of making a career in conservation ecology. She plans to study abroad in Argentina this spring.
For more information on Ritger’s trip to Tanzania, visit dhetanzania12x.blogspot.com.