Colorado RPCVs Pilot Innovative Cookstove Project
By Erica Burman on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Sometimes the best ideas happen outside the office—not that the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Colorado (RPCVCO) has an office. But that’s part of the back-story for the groups’ Clean Cookstove Project, a first-of-its-kind undertaking by an RPCV group that connects a U.S.-based development NGO with serving Volunteers in El Salvador to provide local communities with the necessary training to produce inexpensive, clean and efficient cookstoves.
As RPCVCO President Arianne Burger (Kazakhstan 99-01) tells it, her group began making road trips from Denver to connect with RPCVs around the state, and one of those trips took them to the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory at Colorado State University in the summer of 2009. While there, they learned of the lab’s work with “rocket stoves.” Arianne turned to one of her board members, Casey Burnette (Vanuatu), and said, “Every PCV needs to have a clean cookstove!” Arianne continues, “That led me to email Anne Baker (Vice President at the National Peace Corps Association) and ask who I should talk to at Peace Corps headquarters.” Arianne also began researching clean cookstove technology; they didn’t use cookstoves in Kazakhstan.
“I learned more about the work that Colorado-based nonprofit Trees, Water and People (TWP) does — and thought the fact that it was founded by an RPCV and that they provided blueprints for how to build cookstoves seemed like a better fit for Peace Corps Volunteers,” says Arianne. “I also thought that it would be an amazing way for our group to celebrate Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary.” [TWP founder Stuart Conway is the 2010 winner of NPCA's Sargent Shriver Award.]
For over a year and a half, Arianne engaged in conversations with both Peace Corps and TWP on which country would be most appropriate to start this pilot project. Peace Corps and TWP both agreed that El Salvador would be a good fit. Peace Corps got the post on board and then, after waiting many months for internal Peace Corps approval, finally got the green light.
“This is the first time that this kind of project has been done at Peace Corps,” explains Arianne. “It’s unique in that an RPCV group brought the idea to Peace Corps, that we found a local resource (TWP) with strong Peace Corps ties, and that the post is so willing to participate.”
Of course identifying a win-win-win project is one thing. Funding it is another. The group found a local artist to commission screenprints that RPCVCO could sell to raise money for the project. “I went straight to Idaho Stew + Ink Lounge, because I knew of their work and their mission to use their studio as a way to also support social change. They were more than willing to take on the project at an almost embarrassingly low cost to us, because they support the idea so much,” says Arianne.