Making a difference miles from home
A letter from EWB volunteer Levi Goertz
I am yelling to be heard over the noise of the diesel engine as we prepare for our first test of a new oil press. 20 people from the village are crowded in the room waiting to see what is going to happen. Sero, a member of the Maourolo Women's Group, is in control of the machine. As it chugs along, the first batch of shea butter flows out. There is an astonished pause before everyone in the room erupts in cheers. They just saw the gruelling work of seven women over an entire day reduced to thirty minutes.
As an Engineers Without Borders volunteer partnered with the Multifunctional Platform Project in Mali, I have had the opportunity to work with many local women's groups over the past year. The multifunctional platform (MFP) is a tool women can use to grind cereals, dehusk rice, charge batteries and press oil seeds. By using the diesel engine to provide energy for time-consuming daily tasks, women are able to refocus their efforts elsewhere. Rather than spending their days grinding shea nuts, the platform can do the job in a matter of minutes and they can spend their time caring for their children or generating income. For women in Mali, the MFP can be a powerful stepping stone towards economic freedom.
One of my jobs is to add an oil seed press the range of tools that can be powered by the MFP. These presses are used to make shea butter to eat and jatropha oil to be used as diesel fuel. I am responsible for creating the roll-out strategy and training women and artisans to use the equipment.
The pilot press was installed in the village of Maourolo last July. Chiaka Drame, a local artisan, helped with the installation. Though already a very good mechanic, he had no experience with a press. So I showed him how to fix the press and together we trained three women to use the MFP. In learning how to operate and maintain the MFP, the women gain control and have autonomy over how the equipment will be used. Sero was the first to be trained, and with a little coaching she could soon pump out shea butter in record time. Now, she will hopefully make enough money to support her family.
And since I won't live in Mali forever, training is perhaps the most important part of my job. Only by training the women's groups how to operate and maintain the MFP and artisans how to fix it when mechanical breakdowns occur, the project becomes far more sustainable. Chiaka started with only five platforms, but did such good work that he now has 20 clients.
And this is why I am here working on the MFP. The women like Sero will surely benefit from the MFP, but so too will other community members such as Chiaka who can take advantage of the opportunities the new technology presents. And now he is helping 20 women's groups, meaning that women across the region can support their families. I consider myself lucky to be on the frontlines watching the project unfold and listening to the cheers each time a new group of women take control over their own futures.
- Levi Goertz, an Engineers Without Borders volunteer, is working in Mali, helping to introduce the multifunctional platform (MFP) as a means of economic self reliance to women living in poverty.