Constant disruption to power supplies in Ethiopia means that those who can afford electric cookers have to live their lives around the availability of electricity. In order to ensure their children had a breakfast to set them up for their day ahead at school, waking up in the middle of the night to cook was the only option for the 15 families who live in SOS Children’s Village Awassa.
Almas, a SOS mother of ten, explains how badly innovation was needed. She says: “I tried kerosene, but the smoke got into my eyes. It was also very costly and it had a terrible smell that lingered throughout the house. We tried gas cylinders, but that was far too expensive. In the end we resorted to electric cookers. Even when we had power, it was so low that it took hours to cook anything. That meant that I had to wake up as early as three in the morning, and I got really tired later in the day. It was simply exhausting.”
With such little sleep, SOS mothers found it difficult to give their children the attention they needed, particularly during the evenings when children needed help with their homework. When they realised that this daily routine was impacting on their children’s education, they developed an innovative solution.
Growing up in a rural setting, SOS Children’s former Village Director Aster has extensive agricultural experience. She made use of this knowledge to solve the problem; implementing the use of biogas as an alternative power supply for the Village community. The Village in Awassa already had an animal farm of its own, which the families used for food and agricultural products. Aster proposed using biogas technology. The process converts biological waste into energy. Aster says: “The biogas process is actually quite simple. Cow dung is collected from the cattle sheds, mixed with water, and channelled into fermentation pits. The methane gas that rises from this is simply pressurised and piped directly to the Village's 15 houses. Biogas is free, odourless and available when needed.”
The innovation has vastly improved the lives of the children and the SOS mothers in the Village. SOS mother Almas says: “Now we have biogas, I can wake up at 8am and do everything. It has made the lives of all of us here so much easier.”
Another SOS mother, Mentamir, agrees: “The first time I used biogas I couldn't believe how fast it was. Life is so much easier now. I feel more energetic and I don't become stressed after cooking. Even helping the children with their homework was a difficult task when we used to get up so early. It's hard to believe that we really did that for four years."
This video shows the difference biogas technology has made in the Village:
The biogas project in Awassa is one of over 20 environmentally sustainable initiatives undertaken by SOS Children across the world. Projects as diverse as the production of photovoltaic energy plants and reforestation programmes provide an environmental template for others to follow.