On our first trip to South Darfur in November and December 2005, my mentor, Ashok Gadgil, and I had two goals: to demonstrate that the cookstoves we brought were more efficient than the refugees’ traditional three-stone fires, and to collect data on the needs of Sudanese refugees, through informal surveys of 50 families in Otash Camp. The days were long, but the children’s smiles and the seriousness of the situation–reinforced by the tragic stories told to us by some of the brave women we met–kept me going.
Our demonstrations were an instant success: the women were impressed by how little wood the stoves burned and by how quickly they cooked. We coöperated with the people in the camps to chop the wood, measure it, and lay it out in equal weighted piles–making the demonstrations easily transparent to the participating refugees.
Before we left for Sudan, we had little idea of what the cooking conditions were like; even some of the aid workers in Khartoum and Washington, DC, did not know things essential to the design of an appropriate stove, such as the size and shape of the pots the refugees used. But our survey brought us into the refugees’ homes; we met women and children, learned a little more about their day-to-day lives, and added greatly to the literature on cooking conditions in Darfur. We have come a long way since that first trip and are now raising funds to help us finalize a design for stoves that might make their lives at least a little easier.