Courtesy of Anna Pool
The project wasn’t really about cooking hot dogs in his backyard. That was just an added bonus.
No, what 17-year-old Kavi Pool did last summer could possibly change the future way of life of a tribe called the Pa-Oh in Myanmar. It could help the environment, it could help the tribe’s continued survival.
How’s that for “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”?
“You shouldn’t limit yourself by what you think you can do,” Pool says of one of the lessons learned in researching and building a cooking stove for the Pa-Oh. “It’s so cool that I can impact people almost halfway around the world from me.”
Pool, now a senior at Durango High School, volunteered with the Shanta Foundation, a 6-year-old nonprofit formed by a Durango couple to assist remote villagers in Myanmar. The Southeast Asian country is undergoing tremendous change, apparently for the good, after being repressed for decades, most recently by a ruling military junta since 1988.
Mike and Tricia Karpfen of Durango created the Shanta Foundation – Shanta is a conjunction of Burmese and Hindi words meaning abundance and peace – after a trip to Asia and Africa several years ago. They’ve built schools, introduced farming techniques and more. The foundation had a vision of creating a fuel-efficient stove that would alleviate an environmental problem. In cooking over open pits, and in toasting cigar leaves that the tribe sells, huge amounts of wood are used.
“The wood is being gradually stripped from all over the area,” said Mike Karpfen, the foundation’s director. “It’s this tremendous deforestation.”
Pool, whose parents Anna and Russ Pool are Shanta supporters, asked Karpfen if he could help the foundation. Karpfen was aware of Kavi’s plan to major in civil engineering. Stove design, mechanically minded volunteer – perfect fit.
“I said ‘yes,’” Karpfen said. “We’ve been waiting to find the right person to do this research.”
Pool looked into the various designs for high-efficiency wood-burning stoves. A rocket stove, which uses small chunks of wood to create heat that shoots up a chimney to a cooking surface, blasted to the top of the list.
“I ultimately looked for something that would be pretty easy to build both in Durango and most importantly in Myanmar,” Pool said. “It has to be something you need only basic materials to construct.”
He made a recommendation to Shanta, got the go-ahead and began to build.
A first big step was making bricks. Pool turned to Mark Jaramillo, a local artist with knowledge of brick-making, for instruction. Using layers of clay and vermiculite – a mica-like mineral that adds insulating properties – Pool constructed, rolled, cut and fired the bricks.
“It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be,” Pool says.
The bricks came out crooked and bent and several broke. But the bare minimum, about seven of 12, survived the firing.
Pool tinkered with and cut a 5-gallon metal paint can, installed the bricks to create a chimney, then did the test. Two stoves were built, one with store-bought bricks, and both worked well. Using just a handful of twigs, the stove directed more than enough heat to a cooking pan, and the hot dogs were quickly ready for consumption.
So, there’s little doubt the stove works and can be built in Myanmar. The next step is for the villagers to adapt it. Will they?
“Truthfully, it’s hard to know,” said Karpfen, who was there most of November and gave stove plans to Shanta’s manager who lives in the village. Karpfen calls the manager an “early adopter.”
“He tries out new things and makes them successful, then other people say, ‘Wow, that really works. I want the same thing.’”
From six years of observations in Myanmar, and other world travels, Karpfen has come to realize that poor people are hesitant to adopt new devices because there’s a risk. “Unforeseen events can have really devastating consequences for them,” he says. “I’m pretty confident that they will (use it), but it’s a process. It’s not like, ‘Wow, you’ve saved us!’”
Among the challenges the Shanta Foundation has faced is a military-backed government that keeps tight reins on its people. But recent changes, brought mostly by a new president who has allowed greater freedoms, have pleasantly stunned observers. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the last 20 years since being popularly elected the nation’s leader, has been allowed to stage rallies. Private businesses have been allowed to open in a country that a year ago was comparable to North Korea in its world isolation. People who looked around and whispered now speak freely, Karpfen said in November.
“I don’t think anybody thought it was going to change so fast,” Karpfen said.
And it’s young people such as Kavi Pool who are making many such changes and building positive momentum throughout the world, he added.
Pool would love an opportunity to visit Myanmar and see in action the creation that has been dubbed “The Kavi Stove.” But for now, whenever he has the urge he can fire up his stove and envision the villagers doing the same. One giant, potential life-changing invention for Myanmar and a small but tasty hot dog for a Durangoan.
“They turned out really well,” Pool said. “They were delicious.”
firstname.lastname@example.org John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.