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How poo can change your life

Before biogas came to the SOS Village in Hawassa, mums had to get up in the middle of the night just to cook breakfast
Before biogas came to the SOS Village in Hawassa, mums had to get up in the middle of the night just to cook breakfast

It's easy to take fast energy for granted. But for mothers in many parts of the world, an unreliable power supply makes cooking the family meal a difficult business. For five years, the SOS Children's Village in Hawassa, Ethiopia, has been using home-produced biogas made with cow manure to take the stress out of cooking – giving SOS mothers time to help their children with homework instead!

Read about their success and watch the video below...

“We really needed innovation,” says SOS mother Almas. By 2008, the Village had tried a number of energy sources and was getting desperate. Cylinder gas had proven too expensive, so the families switched to kerosene, but it smelt appalling and filled the house with smoke. In the end, they resorted to electric cookers, but a poor electricity supply meant cooking took forever. “When we had power, it was so low that it took hours to cook anything,” says Almas. “That meant that I had to wake up as early as three in the morning.”

Down on the farm

Village Director, Aster, spoke to the SOS mothers and decided that enough was enough. “They all told me how their work was being badly affected by power cuts,” Aster explains. “They were often too tired to stay up late and help the children with their homework.”

After some research and a bit of thought, Aster came up with a plan: biogas. The Village would use cow manure from its own livestock to generate energy. The process is simple but effective. Dung is collected daily and mixed with water before being channeled into pits, where it is left to ferment. The rotting manure gives off a gas, 65% of which is methane. This methane can then be stored in tanks and piped to each house individually, providing energy for cooking, heating water and – well, anything! And what's more, it's totally free to produce, and the leftover manure can be used as fertiliser on the farm.

“I couldn't believe how fast it was”

The SOS mothers were bowled over by a solution that was right on their doorsteps all along. Mentamir lives at house 16. “I had never heard of biogas until Aster mentioned it. The first time I used biogas, I couldn't believe how fast it was. Life is so much easier now. I feel healthier and more energetic. Even helping the children with their homework was difficult when we used to get up so early. It's hard to believe that we did that for four years!”

Biogas in action

Going green globally

Over the last few years, we have been investing in green energy projects wherever possible. Renewables certainly sound good on paper and are an easy way to demonstrate your green credentials, but in practice they have innumerable benefits.

You've already seen how it can have a dramatic impact on quality of life because it focuses on power sources which are always there - from cow poo to the sun, the wind and the tides. It is also hugely cost-effective when compared with non-renewable alternatives. In developing countries, we are often forced to use diesel generators to power our Villages. These need ongoing maintenance and run on vast quantities of diesel at a time when fuel prices are rising. At our Village in Mombasa, Kenya, we have recently switched to solar (photo-voltaics, to be precise!) and are seeing the benefits already.

Reduced costs and improvements to living standards are benefits we can see before are eyes. But of course, moving to green energy is helping us reduce our global carbon footprint, which has benefits for every single one of us.

If reading about our Village in Hawassa has made you curious about life in a Children's Village, why not meet some youngsters from our Villages in Botswana and Zimbabwe. They'll tell you all about growing up in an SOS families!