Project Stoke dedicated to building a better tomorrow

Project STOKE - Giving First Stove
A Masaai woman hands out the very first TLUD stove to the community. ~ Photo by Paisley Dressler

A group of Mount Royal University Bissett School of Business students have been cooking up some interesting ideas in Kenya.

A dozen Mount Royal students have headed a project entitled, Project STOKE. The main purpose of Project STOKE is to empower the people of Kenya with clean burning, environmentally friendly Top Lift Up-Draft (TLUD) Quad stoves that lead to improving food security, employment levels and even indoor air quality.

The not so simple task is creating momentum behind a new way of cooking, in an unfamiliar, distant context. Soon to be Mount Royal alumna Paisley Dressler first got the idea two summers ago when she visited Kenya. Her motivation for Project STOKE derived from wanting to help the village she stayed in.

"Since I cared about the village I wanted to do the project there," said Dressler, who is completing her Bachelor of Business Administration.

"Most of the regular stoves those in the community were using were just open fires. Sometimes I'd go into a house and have to leave right away. When the women heard about these new stoves they were really excited."

Equipped with a desire for change but not sure how to implement it, Dressler's connection to Kenya started a basis for the project, now they just needed an idea, enter Timothy Lipp.

Lipp, currently majoring in General Management with a minor in Economics, first heard about this stove concept six years ago in a local Calgary café. He said the idea of bringing TLUD stoves to communities in need was presented at a weekly discussion aimed at sharing international experiences, he was instantly hooked. Lipp offered up the idea and Dressler connected the concept to Kenya.

Settled on the Project STOKE idea, the group attended the 2015 Change Tank Competition in May.

"We didn't approach it with too much expectation," said Lipp. "But then we ended up winning and headed to Kenya in July."

Both Dressler and Lipp are quick to mention the point of the project is to make a positive impact on Kenyan communities, not to win awards.

"The stoves integrate two strengths," said Lipp "They produce biochar and they can be made locally."

Project STOKE - Community Presentation
The TLUD stove is demonstrated to the community.~ Photo by Paisley Dressler

Don't know what biochar is? No problem. Essentially, rather than producing regular charcoal, the stoves create "biochar," a heightened attribute that acts as a soil-additive for crops. The substance helps increase farmers' yields.

The second phase of this project is about empowering Kenyan youth. The group has partnered with Education Enterprise for Change, a NGO set up to teach youth entrepreneurship skills by taking innovative products and selling them. In this case the TLUD stoves, which sell for roughly $15 USD.

Smoke ventilation and deforestation are two driving factors that have helped raise interest in the TLUD stoves. Dressler recalls her first trip to Kenya where she noticed that people use their stoves all day long, boiling water and cooking.

It's clear the project has the potential to help a lot of people. Dressler, who completes her degree this December 2015, is scheduled to return to Kenya in the new year. There she hopes to implement the second phase of the project by helping unemployed youth. She cites unemployment numbers among youth in Kenya as being, "extremely high, about 90 per cent."

"If we walked away from these communities, and they were just a little bit more excited about the innovation and transformation that can happen in their communities, then it's a success," said Dressler. "Healthier lives with clean cook stoves will be a pretty significant bonus. We want to see communities stoked, not smoked."
Deeply Invested in KenyaIn April of 2015. Garissa University in Kenya was devastated by violent and horrific actions as armed terrorist took 700 students hostage, killing 148 and injuring 79 more.

The actions deeply affected Mount Royal's Enactus students, who continue to be connected to Kenya via Project Stoke.

"Once we heard about the shooting, we set up an awareness booth on main street," said Priash Bista, Project Stoke brand director.

The booth was designed to take quotes and portraits of people to demonstrate the impact of the senseless actions. The group hoped for 148 students, staff and faculty to visit the booth, matching the number of students who lost their lives in Kenya. The project was extremely successful, having 350 people offering their picture and quote, helping raise over $300.

In total the group collected over a $1,000 in donations The funds were eventually hand delivered to three of the surviving students from Garissa University, when Paisley Dressler of Project Stoke traveled to Kenya for their initial operation.

"It's crazy to see this happening in our world, crazier to imagine that all of these students were the same age, some younger than us," said Bista.

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Nov. 17, 2015 — Jonathan Anderson