Coconuts & Duras in the Pacific: A Container of Stoves to a Tiny Island March 13 2015

Nissan Island, Papua New Guinea is a remote atoll in the Pacific Ocean. In late January 2015, I made the journey from Nairobi, Kenya to work with CARE International there. This is not an easy place to reach – four flights and one four hour boat ride on the open seas later, I got my first glimpse of the island.

It is shaped like an elongated horseshoe, and we entered the lagoon through the gap in the horseshoe. Flying fish and the piercing sun had been our constant companions on the boat ride over. Although it felt good to have my feet touch land, my dreams that first night on Nissan were rocked by the feeling of still being on the waves.

Nissan Island, Papua New Guinea

CARE has been working on Nissan for a number of years already addressing food shortage, disaster risk reduction & maternal health, among other initiatives. The Program Manager, Andrea Dekrout, encountered improved cookstoves a couple years back. As she began doing further research, she grew to believe they could be a huge asset to the households of Nissan and dovetail nicely with the existing environmental goals of the CARE program. After further research into the various stove companies who might be able to provide the number of stoves she would require – over 1,000 – in a timely, cost-effective manner, she alighted on EcoZoom as her final choice. Our ability to provide not only the high quality product, but the accompanying services – training and program implementation advising – sealed the deal. A few short months later, I was making my way to Nissan to provide guidance on the benefits and long-term usage tips of the Zoom Dura to Core Group Members there in a train the trainer format.

                               

Nissan resident cooking on a traditional fire and the exterior view of her home

Before we even arrived, news of the stoves had spread like wild fire. Ten Duras had been piloted in the months leading up to distribution and my visit. The “Coconut Express” did my work more efficiently than I ever could with social media and a smart phone. I was greeted with the utmost eagerness and excitement to hear about this new technology. There is no airport in Nissan, and virtually no commerce. Generally speaking, residents can only make it to the small city of Buka to conduct needed business via a dangerously overloaded banana boat, and even then only weather permitting. So for every household to have access to this shiny, new, life-changing technology was nothing short of miraculous. My trainings were overflowing with curious bystanders sporting massive grins. Afterwards, I would be handed a young coconut to drink, the only remedy for the excruciating heat.

                                            

 Demonstrating the Dura to a Nissan politician; A core group member enacts talking to housheholds about the stove

Prior to the introduction of the Dura (distribution for which was taking place concurrent to my visit), Nissanians cooked on open fires – sometimes using the three stones, sometimes using three aluminum cans to prop up the pot. Gathering enough fuel on the already-overpopulated, tiny island is problematic, as many trees are fruit trees crucial to the already sparse diet, or the mangroves that serve as a buffer between sea and land. Small islands are some of the first to see the harshest effects of climate change, such as the Carderettes, another Papua New Guinean Island famous for being the “First Victim of Climate Change.” Scarcity – lack of medicine, food, education – is a constant. For its simplicity, the fuel savings alone from the use of the Dura (approximately 50%), could stand to have a profound impact on daily life in Nissan.

Our trusty skipper aids with distribution (white shorts, left)

Time will tell the true impact of the Dura to Nissan and her inhabitants. It is reassuring that the implementation is part and parcel of CARE’s larger program there, for which constant check-ins and monitoring take place. This is a far cry from a drop-and-run. After all the tiny boat trips within the lagoon to disburse the stoves, after I crashed into my bed back in Nairobi, after the excitement dies down like wood to embers, the Dura will still be burning.

 

Farewell Nissan. Four hours on this boat with high winds? No joke!