'Wonderbags' reduce smoke-related deaths in Africa

Mount St Mary's pupils deliver the 'wonderbags' to Chikuni village in Zambia

Chaplain Fr Simon Ellis accompanied pupils of Mount St Mary's College in Spinkhill, Sheffield, to deliver pieces of low-tech equipment that will make an amazing difference to communities in Zambia.

The publication of Pope Francis’ ‘ecology encyclical’ Laudato Si  in June, 2015, could not have been better timed for the 17 staff and pupils at Mount St Mary’s College, Spinkhill, who were preparing for a sustainability partnership visit to their partner school Canisius Secondary in Chikuni village in Southern Zambia, where the Jesuits have been since 1905. 

Chikuni means ‘place of wood’; but is rapidly becoming a place without trees as the poor continue to rely on burning wood and charcoal as their main source of fuel.  Power from the HEP dam at Kariba is intermittent, so even those with electricity have to rely on wood from time to time.  So our most important project in Zambia involved working to promote the ‘wonderbag’, which is a piece of low-tech kit looking like a 1970s bean bag, but which is actually a  non-electric slow cooker; each bag cuts emissions by up to ½ a tonne of Carbon Dioxide per person per year.  

Ken Dunn of the charity Africa’s Gift is working tirelessly in Zambia, Malawi and South Africa to enable the wonderbag to bring about benefits to the environment and people’s health: scientific evidence from the WHO states that 1.6 million deaths occur every year from smoke-related disease: that’s a bigger – and more avoidable – killer than Malaria. Although the £30 cost of each wonderbag is beyond the scope of many, pupils at the Mount were able to fund-raise and bring the the cost down to just over £5, and the 76 bags pupils and staff brought out to Zambia will be sold by the Jesuit-supported Mukanzuba Cultural Centre in Chikuni. Fr Bert Outen SJ, Rector of the Jesuit Community in Chikuni, is making his own contribution to sustainability in Chikuni by championing the use of solar power and other low-tech solutions to energy problems in Zambia.

Worship and learning across the globe

The 17 Mount St Mary’s staff and pupils were in Zambia working on joint partnership projects, made possible by the support of Jesuit Missions (JM) and the British Council, who provide grants to schools to enable joint learning across the globe.  In this way pupils were able to experience lessons in the school and make visits with the Zambian pupils to the Kariba Dam and the Victoria Falls.  They were able to pray together and worship at Mass together.  They were also able to make their first ever joint assembly between two Jesuit Secondary Schools in UK and Zambia, via Skype: the pupils prayed the Lord’s Prayer together and exchanged greetings and ideas. 

We are going to take this forward in both continents as a result of our technological break-through, with joint e-learning, through Aarrian Carberry, teacher of Chemistry at Mount St Mary’s College, who is conducting research into teaching science across the globe to unite pupils in an e-learning community: a sort of ‘science Facebook’.  There is endless scope for academic enhancement here, and we acknowledge the part played by a Polish Jesuit, Fr Andrew Lesniara SJ, who is involved in the education of thousands of young Zambians through Radio Chikuni, which transmits music, discussion and academic lessons to over 250,000 listeners at any one time.  We are grateful to Radio Chikuni for interviewing pupils and staff on air and engaging the people locally in the debate about sustainability.