Ms Thida burns rice husks to make valuable ash
Although very busy supervising the construction of our new house in Pyin Oo Lwin, I took a week off to give a training in the Shwe Nadi Monastery, near Kyaukbadaung in the Dry Zone of Burma. Everyone up in our hill town of Pyin Oo Lwin warned me not to go to Kyaukbadaung, as it would be too hot and dangerous for my health! Well, I survived by drinking 3 to 5 liters of water per day and limiting my working time to about 4 hours per day. Why so hot? Well, the Dry Zone is the equivalent of Death Valley in Burma. It very rarely rains there, but when it does, the water scours the land, badly eroding it. Needless to say, daytime temperatures were over 100 degrees F and at night, the mercury only dropped a couple of notches. However, I soldiered on!
The head monk at Shwe Nadi is a very progressive leader, already recognized for his efforts in reforesting the surrounding area. I was impressed by his tree nursery, where he grows saplings, which he provides free to neighboring farmers. Just the kind of fellow that I like to partner with.
The main innovation in this training was the use of new stainless steel molds that I commissioned from our neighborhood steel fabricator in Pyin Oo Lwin. I got two sets made up – one for a 5 inch stove and one for a 6 inch stove, for around $35 per set. The molds were not quite as successful as I had hoped, as we had difficulty extracting the bricks, without breakage. However, we learned quite a few lessons and I expect the stainless steel molds to be a standard part of the Solar Roots repertoire in the future. It is my plan to leave a set of these molds in the village after each training, as they are very robust and should be able to be used to make thousands of bricks in their lifetime.
I also experimented with new mixtures for the bricks, as I was advised to add lime and cut down on the cement. The mixture that I have used in the past has been one part Portland cement, one part sand and one part rice husk ash and I have found this to be successful, given enough time to allow the brick to dry before removing it from the mold. However, at Shwe Nadi , I was a bit under the gun to get the bricks out and built into functioning stoves. Sad to say, the lime proved to be a step backwards – it produced weak bricks that just didn’t hold together. So, I’m going back to the tested and tried mixture.
One of the encouraging outcomes of this training was meeting two young men that were passionate about improved cook stoves. I first noticed them in class when they asked very thoughtful questions. Later they worked with me making bricks and demonstrating a throw-together stove made from adobe bricks.
So, despite the disappointments, I feel that I laid the foundation for future stove building in Shwe Nadi. The Dry Zone is as dependent on wood for cooking fuel as any other area in Burma. But the forests are long gone and fuel conservation is an utmost priority. Given good health and good luck, I will return to Shwe Nadi to work with the good folks there to help them to reduce their wood consumption and to bring back the forest.
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Our local welder makes up the molds
Filling the molds with the cement/ash/lime mixture
A monk explains the stove to his students
A stove that built back in 2014
Sunrise over Bagan - on our day off!