Long Update from Chad!

[Written on Sunday, June 23, 2013; delayed post due to technical difficulties]


I can't believe that I've now been in Chad for more than 6 weeks!  I'm truly grateful for the Blakeley Foundation's financial support for my internship with ENVODEV in Chad.  Here is a brief synopsis of what I've accomplished so far and a brief outlook for the 13 remaining days.




All of ENVODEV's work has been focused in southern Chad in the Logone Occidental region.  For the first four weeks of my internship, I worked independently in N'Djamena, attempting to learn as much about the agricultural situation around the capital city and research the potential for charcoal consumption and charcoal production in the central Sahelian region of Chad.  Through my work, I discovered many Chadians who had heard about ENVODEV's work in the south, and lots of others who were interested in the project, including numerous NGOs in N'Djamena and even the Secretary General of Urbanism and Housing for the Chadian government who has taken a personal interest in our project.   I was able to identify a local donor who is interested in partnering with ENVODEV (a huge blessing for its financial struggles).


In my preliminary research, I discovered a shortage of the necessary agricultural waste (like rice straw, corn stalks, or sesame chaff) in the area surrounding N'Djamena.  The little agricultural waste that was available near N'Djamena is used primarily for livestock feed.  Diverting that material from the animals would exacerbate the food security problem in Chad.  Chad has the second worst food security problem in the world after the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so that idea is out of the question.  There simply isn't the abundance of the needed materials in this region, so I concluded that ENVODEV's charcoal project should pursue scaling production in the south and look into shipping the charcoal into N'Djamena.  This approach has several advantages.  First, ENVODEV's charcoal is legal.  ENVODEV's charcoal would easily pass by the police checkpoints that the government has set up around the capital to enforce its 2009 ban of charcoal.  The operators of which seize and burn any charcoal made from wood coming into N'Djamena.  Secondly, this would allow the current smugglers of the illegal charcoal to earn a safer livelihood without the burden of breaking the law to provide for Chad's cooking fuel needs.


I spent my 5th and 6th week with David De Armey, ENVODEV's International Director, living and working in Moundou.  We split our long work days between these tasks: 1) analyzing the charcoal production process and defining its financial sustainability, 2) training the Chadian ENVODEV staff to analyze and think ahead to improve their management capacity, 3) building two different types of improved-efficiency rammed-earth cookstoves.


The charcoal measurements were tedious, in part because of technical difficulties (we found out after several days of measurements that the scale we used for measuring weights was grossly inaccurate), and our Chadian staff did not understand or appreciate our desire to be accurate in our measurements.  Precision was not something they regularly practiced, and this cultural difference was difficult to overcome.  We also had a long conversation about the importance of buying materials by the kilogram instead of by the bag.  Some of our staff did not understand why purchasing at a consistent price was important for the project.  It's the accumulation of these little things that make accomplishing things in Chad so difficult and stressful.


We sat down with two Chadian ENVODEV staff members and analyzed the cost effectiveness of a single day of charcoal production.  We concluded that the revenue produced by selling one day's worth of briquettes would cover the basic cost of materials and the salaries for 4 workers, while providing income to local farming communities for providing the materials needed.  However, it did not cover other significant expenses if the operation were self-sustaining, like vehicle repairs (extremely frequent on ENVODEV's old truck), marketing and sales costs, and the salary of a supervisor to oversee everything.  Our chalkboard analysis in the nearby church was rudimentary and required a number of assumptions.   So to allow ENVODEV to experiment with tweaking the numerous variables in the charcoal production process, I created a complex, integrated financial viability spreadsheet for the production process.  I also included a production calendar to help guide ENVODEV staff to better reporting.  These tools will help ENVODEV explore whether scaling certain aspects of the project would allow it to become a really profitable business.


An NGO called East Africa Trust gave permission for ENVODEV to experiment with their efficient cookstove.  I went to Chad with their designs and this was the first cookstove that we started to build.  It's essentially a large mold made of wood into which African red laterite (clay) is packed.  Then the mold is flipped over and into place in the kitchen.  Constructing the mold itself took nearly the entire two weeks.  It was extremely difficult:  wood is not easily available in Chad due to deforestation, the mold's instructions were not clear on several key points, and our young carpenter was not skilled with precision which required numerous corrections and adjustments.


One of the local contacts I made in N'Djamena showed me another efficient cookstove that was designed in the Central African Republic.  It's a very simple design that packs clay dirt inside a paint bucket and uses a powdered milk can set inside to create a structure for catching the ashes and a rigid holder for the metal rods used to hold charcoal briquettes.  We experimented with this design too and had finished it within 2 hours.  Incredibly simple to make!  I think with a few modifications, it could sell really well in Chad and perhaps be part of a sustainable business here.  Here are the changes that we discovered: 1) adding a small chimney to evacuate the carbon emissions of the burning charcoal, and 2) adding small metal legs to better stabilize the high center of gravity and prevent the stove from tipping while stirring.  The former is for health reasons associated with acute respiratory infection, and the latter is important for cultural acceptance: Chadian women frequently prepare a traditional food called boule which basically involves stirring a big lump of millet that flops around inside the pot.


These three projects were the primary task to accomplish during the 12 days we had in Moundou.  But work did not stop when we got back to our lodging place.  During the evenings, David and I spent long hours discussing Chadian culture, development theory, communications strategies, funding strategies, and the challenges of growing the human resources side of a small NGO like ENVODEV.  Our discussions helped crystallize some of the key decisions facing ENVODEV as an organization.  It was a privilege to help David think through the upcoming challenges and narrow the best available options!


We also discussed the increasingly security situation in Chad.  For several months now, there have been rumors of Chad being a target for a terror attack.  Chad has taken a very strong position against extremist ideology and terrorism with its involvement in Mali and with its brutal destruction of a Boko Haram camp near Lake Chad.  The President of Niger warned of the threat nearly a month ago and Chad's President has been beefing up security check points throughout the country and especially the capital.  During our time in Moundou, our Chadian colleagues told us that 3 guys from Mali had been picked up in Moundou.  They apparently had come into Chad through Libya, had gone all the way to Moundou, and then were going north to N'Djamena while pretending to be coming from Cameroun.  (Look at a map and figure out how far that is.  Then consider that most roads in Chad have humongous potholes and are so rough that travel faster than 20 mph will destroy your vehicle.)  Then I received an updated travel advisory from the US Embassy in Chad, warning of increased threats to foreigners in eastern Chad and all border towns.  Considering the route from Moundou to N'Djamena goes near the Cameroonian border, we decided to hop a plane ride back to N'Djamena... an unplanned and expensive expense, but worth our safety.  It was at this point that David asked if I would consider leaving Chad early.  He felt that I had accomplished what we had agreed on, and the heightened security risk of remaining in Chad an extra two weeks did not justify a few extra days of research and networking.  I wrote to Fletcher and Mr. Blakeley for permission to leave Chad early due to the security threat, and thankfully got approval.  Not wanting to cut the internship short--only the time in Chad, David invited me to Lyon, France, to participate in negotiations with another NGO in order to forge a strategic partnership.  But this discussion was interrupted the night before our flight back to N'Djamena.


Our last day in Moundou had been incredibly productive.  We had just finished a physical day of packing about 1000 lbs of clay into our large cookstove mold (the one designed by East Africa Trust).  After packing the mold and reinforcing the wood sides to keep it from splitting apart, we rolled the first large cookstove into place in the small village house of one of ENVODEV's employees.   The stove took 6 men to roll into place!  We were exhausted and headed home to pack and think through the morning schedule before our flight the next day.


On the way home, David began feeling weak and had a splitting headache.  Within hours, he was completely exhausted and lying on his bed, shivering in the 100+ degree heat with a 103.9 degree fever, a splitting headache, a dry cough, and an entire body of aching muscles and joints.  We immediately suspected malaria and contacted a local expat surgeon well versed in malaria to prescribe a treatment.  David started taking medicine and his fever remained and continued through the night.  The next morning, I found him in the same condition and sent a message to the pilot of our flight that day that we would wait for David to heal and take the next flight on Saturday.  I did not hear from the pilot until our takeoff time, at which point he texted me and said that there would be no room in the flight on Saturday.  My heart sank because David wasn't well enough to travel that day, David's flight back to France was on that coming Sunday, and we didn't want to take the bus (security risk).  I rushed over to David and told him the situation and he mustered the courage to say "let's go today".  I immediately texted the pilot of our changed mind to fly with him.  Minutes passed with no word.  Then after 10 minutes, he texts me, "I've already taken off.  Sorry."


It's at times like these when you really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere in Africa.  My boss was extremely sick, and we were stranded in the middle of Africa without a safe way to get home.  But--THANK GOD--a minute later, the pilot texted again.  "I've got just enough fuel to come back and get you.  Do you want to me to turn around?"  "YES."  The answer was automatic, and I don't remember what happened afterwards as it was a blur.  It included finding a ride to the airport, rushing to pack everything I brought, and helping David pack and move to the vehicle.  Within 25 minutes we were boarding the Cessna and safely flying back to N'Djamena.  In our haste, we missed saying goodbye to our staff in Moundou!


David was barely hanging on through the flight.  He was doubled over in pain for the entire two hours, and only later did I find out that he had been holding in diarrhea the entire time.  We landed in a rain shower and transferred to a taxi in N'Djamena.  David was delirious from the physical exertion and when we finally made it to our accommodations in N'Djamena, he vomited all over the apartment floor.  He cleaned up and went to lie down while I cleaned up the floor.  Then I went to work looking for a thermometer and seeking medical counsel in N'Djamena.  I found two thermometers but neither worked.  I found a private clinic in N'Djamena, but patients need a membership to access their medical services.  Some friends suggested a mission hospital 30 minutes north of the city.  David was not happy about another taxi ride.  I called a taxi and we drove on bumpy dirt roads to a large walled compound that comprised the hospital.  Long story short, David was able to get some better medication and we spent 3 hours there.  Finally, after another 30 minute taxi ride home, David was back in his room with lots of pills to recover.  When I got back, I was finally able to track down a working thermometer.  The next morning, I was up early at 6am to check on David.  Praise God that his fever broke.  He was still cold, weak, and without appetite.  The next few days, he regained more strength each day and finally was able to depart on his flight to France.


In the midst of all that, I was also trying to change my ticket to get out of Chad.  Thankfully, my parents were able to move up my flight home by 8 days.  Before David left, he told me that the partnership negotiations would be postponed to allow him to fully recover from his illness.  This was logical, but I was disappointed to miss out on the negotiations!  He suggested that instead of coming to Lyon, that I go back to Boston and keep expanding and refining the strategy documents that wrote for ENVODEV so that I could finish out my 8-week commitment.  Not wanting to send David to France empty-handed, on his last day in Chad, I managed to assemble a negotiation analysis tool for him to use during the negotiation after his recovery.


Several things in the last few days have confirmed the wisdom of departing early.  First, a Chadian friend told me that the government destroyed a neighborhood with Caterpillar bulldozers this past weekend after finding a weapons cache there.  Chad's government does not take security threats lightly!  Here's the article about it.  Secondly, she also said that a new curfew has been instituted in the capital city.  Anyone found in public between the hours of 10pm and 5am will apparently be arrested by police.  Before David left, he even heard several gun shots ring out in our neighborhood.  These recent events give me peace that it’s best that I don't stick around for one more week.   I can finish my remaining work for ENVODEV at home in the US.




I still have a few more days to wrap up my time here, but I'm glad that I will have spent nearly 7 weeks in Chad.  Leaving will be bitter-sweet.  I will treasure my new friendships and acquaintances in Chad and all of the things I've learned and experienced, but I also can't wait to return to my wife!  She has supported me through this entire trip and has been a tremendous encouragement to me.  Katie, thanks for your constant love and support during this internship!


And of course, I owe a huge thanks again to the Blakeleys and the Blakeley Foundation for their generous support for my internship with ENVODEV in Chad.  Here is a list of what I originally set out to accomplish, and how each item stands at the moment:


1. Visit the original charcoal production sites near Moundou and consolidate lessons learned with the intent to develop a scalable project model.


I have worked closely with ENVODEV’s International Director and the local Chadian staff to measure the financial sustainability of charcoal production at the current project site.  We have discussed extensively ways to scale the ENVODEV model, and based on the availability of agricultural resources, numerous remaining challenges at the Moundou project, and the importance of quality control for production, we have concluded that increasing briquette production is currently more sustainable than trying to replicate small-scale production facilities throughout other parts of Chad.


2. Help lay the groundwork for a new instructional facility in N'Djamena to teach charcoal production.


My 4 weeks of research showed that ENVODEV’s model in the capital city of N’Djamena would not sustainable in its current form, since the agricultural materials needed for charcoal production are not produced by local farmers in sufficient quantities to make production there economic. For now, ENVODEV should focus on refining and scaling production in Moundou and shipping it to N’Djamena.  However, one possibility for future research would be to tap into the waste produced by two of Chad's largest companies.  Coton Tchad and Brasserie du Tchad (Chad's biggest brewery) both produce agricultural waste, cotton residue and hop residue respectively.  If these waste materials could be carbonized and pressed into briquettes, then perhaps partnerships could be forged for ENVODEV to receive the waste.  I witnessed huge dump trucks from Coton Tchad's plant in Moundou dump waste in the countryside outside the city to decompose.  Further research is required to determine if these things could be put to good use for fuel!  


3. Strengthen relationships with other NGOs in N'Djamena with the intent to identify partners and leverage them toward scaling the charcoal project.


I spent 4 weeks in N’Djamena, networking on ENVODEV’s behalf.  I was able to connect with: two contacts at UNHCR, one contact at UNOCHA, the Country Director of Swiss Aid, the country director of Mennonite Central Committee, multiple contacts at World Vision including the Country Director, one contact at the US Embassy, a PhD student from MIT working on charcoal in Kenya, two contacts at a Chadian solar power company, several local Chadian businessmen who have offered to help ENVODEV with logistical needs in N’Djamena, the CSR branch of Griffiths Energy International (Canadian oil company), the country director of Good Neighbors (Korean NGO with a charcoal project in N’Djamena), and Chad’s Secretary General for the Ministry of Urbanism.


4. Develop a strategy to forge partnerships at a 3-4 day meeting hosted by UN-Habitat in N'Djamena in late June.  I will likely be the ENVODEV spokesperson at the meeting which will focus on addressing urban energy issues in Chad.  Attendees will include representatives from a network of 40+ NGOs operating in Chad.  I will help coordinate a demonstration of ENVODEV's eco-charcoal project for the attendees.


UN-HABITAT canceled this meeting due to coordination problems with the Chadian government.  It was completely outside of my or ENVODEV’s control.


5. Experiment with "clean, efficient stove technology" using local building materials and explore possibilities for a pilot project. Current Chadian stoves are so inefficient that they waste approximately 70% of the energy produced by a charcoal briquette. Clean stove technology would dovetail well with the alternative project.  Giving Chadians access to clean, efficient stove technology could help free up money used for fuel, and mitigate health problems in women and children associated with smoke inhalation.  Futhermore, teaching Chadians to make these stoves would create complementary vocational skills for Chadians to further diversify their income streams.


We constructed the mold for a large rammed earth improved cookstove, and even managed to produce one actual cookstove before we departed Moundou.  We also built a cookstove based on a design that I found through networking in N'Djamena.   It was designed in the Central African Republic.  Our Chadian staff are excited to continue making these stoves and hope to begin selling them soon.


6. Helping to refine the current organizational strategy for ENVODEV.


I spent 14-16 hours discussing ENVODEV’s organizational strategy with the International Director.  I am in the process of capturing these discussions to prepare for the upcoming partnership discussions with the other NGO.


7. Helping to draft a long-term fundraising strategy for ENVODEV.


I spent another 14-16 hours discussing ENVODEV’s funding challenges with the International Director.  Through my networking, I have obtained 4 different funding applications that together maintain a diversified donor portfolio for ENVODEV: private sector CSR donors, non-profit donors, and international organization donors.   I will fill out one grant application during the final week of my internship in Boston.


8. Identify relevant areas for future research.  Some examples could include: urban charcoal usage and alternatives, implications of energy policy in Chad, understanding the illicit trade of wood charcoal in Chad, or mapping the complexity of solving the Chadian energy crisis (using systems thinking or other approaches).


We have identified numerous areas requiring more research and experimentation regarding charcoal briquette production and improved oven usage in Chad.  One particularly important area of research we have discovered is whether eco-charcoal production would be feasible in a refugee context, either for the actual production or for consumption as a cooking fuel.  Unfortunately, financial restrictions within ENVODEV are currently hampering pursuit of more research.


9. Monitor and document progress via reports and photos.


With the exception of my time in Moundou (extremely bad internet access), I have kept my own blog for ENVODEV (http://chuckdinchad.wordpress.com) and have also tweeted (@ChuckDinChad) my activities during the entire internship.  I also took more than 400 photos on my iPhone and DLSR camera during my time in Chad, though uploading them to my computer and to my blogs has proven difficult here.  Perhaps when I return to the US, I can post more photos online.  In the meantime, please feel free to connect with me directly or through social media!




Charles A. Dokmo

Charcoal Project Intern - Enterprise for Vocational Development (ENVODEV)


US: +1 850 240 4295

CHAD: +235 68 80 62 76

Twitter: @ChuckDinChad

Blog: http://ChuckDinChad.wordpress.com