Almost everywhere I go I hear people talking about the changes that distinguish life now, from life then. My Dad “made the daily, two-mile trek to school in the dead of winter, uphill both ways, ’cause they didn’t have buses when [he] was a kid…”
Blah blah blah.
Yes, he was one of those – old-fashioned, and nostalgic for even the trials and tribulations that made up The Good ‘Ol Days.
Anyway, the point is that the media, my parents, my professors and occasionally some neighbors regularly draw attention to the technology and developments that characterize “my” generation: internet, social media and increasing globalization among many others. These over-mentioned topics of discussion had become white noise to me – easily brushed aside and even more easily ignored.
Recently, and luckily, for me all that changed. I traveled to Moshi, Tanzania for a two-week stint to volunteer in a local nursery teaching english. All that I saw and experienced astounded me. It felt as if I was a newborn discovering the world for the first time – but affected on a much deeper level. The most surprising and unsettling thing to me was the disparity in development. It was completely paradoxical. Half the people I saw – I mean literally the same people who lived across the street in a crudely made mud hut embellished with a “porch” made out of fallen tree branches unsteadily tied together by string – walked around with cell-phones (often they were even smart-phones) attached to their hips. All while so many farmers still plowed their fields and raised cattle with methods and technology we’d probably stopped using more than 200 years ago!
It was all very strange. And it all made me think a lot about the various technologies that I had previously never even noticed on a conscious level. Thus, for this homework assignment the projects that stood out to me were the simpler designs that catered to a person’s, a family’s, a community’s most basic needs by which to achieve a higher standard of living. The “Pot-in-Pot-Cooler” described below was one not listed as in use in Tanzania specifically, but that could and should be moving forward. It has successfully impacted the economies, health and social structure of families in other west and east African states.
Let me provide a brief overview of the solution:
Solution Title: Pot-in-Pot-Cooler
In-Use In: Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Tchad, Eritrea and Ethiopia
General Description: One small pot is placed inside a larger one with sand and water separating the two. Vegetables and fruits are stored in the smaller pot on top.
Purpose: The Pot-in-Pot Cooler uses materials including sand, water, and earthenware pots to preserve vegetables and fruits in place of refrigerators and powered coolers in regions that lack adequate access to electricity, transportation and water.
How it Works: The water (mixed with the sand in the space between the two earthenware pots) slowly evaporates. As it does so, the evaporating water pulls the heat from the inside of the smaller pot out. The cooler temperature preserves the fresh produce for longer than warmer storage units.
Impact: Produce that stays fresher longer has a (non-literal) shelf-life at the local markets several times that of uncooled produce . For example, tomatoes stored in the cooler can stay fresh for 21 days compared to uncooled tomatoes that last only a couple of days.
Users of the Pot-in-Pot Cooler receive both economic and social benefits. Economically, the benefits appear fairly direct and obvious. The production of the design affects both local manufacturers and local vendors. Because local manufacturers make the actual pots for the system and local vendors then use the pots to sell produce in local markets, the economies of individual members of the community as well as that of the entire community grow, which translates in greater economic efficiency and less poverty in that particular region.
The social benefits may seem less clear, but identify as more significant. With the sustainability of the design and the economic impacts, a community develops socially through the independence, self-sufficiency and sense of ownership that the use of the design generates. Production and distribution takes place within and positively impacts the immediate community, which makes the users less reliant on foreign aid and other external factors. And because many if not most fruit and vegetable vendors are women, the project indirectly encourages gender equality through female economic opportunity.
Even more – and I admit that here I may be entering into the realm of assumptions as I lack any concrete and substantive evidence to back these claims – the pot cooling system has the ability to change family dynamics through improved access to education. With less effort needed to harvest crops due to the design’s ability to keep fruits and vegetables fresher for longer, children in farming families are given the opportunity to spend less time working in the fields and more time learning in the classrooms. Greater education leads to more and greater opportunities for professional development and a wider variety of career paths made available.
Maybe my assumptions are ambitious or overly idealistic, but I’m not convinced. I believe that simple solutions have the ability to help solve complex problems.