Yele: getting to know the locals

24 Jul

Journal #3

As the team is getting settled in Yele – and Tori still waiting for her lost luggage to appear – the works on the D-labs are taking shape, aiming to create charcoal briquettes as a clean and cheap fuel.

Briquette Maker

This initiative is inspired by the Massachusetts Institution of Technology’s D-Lab, a department founded by Amy Smith to find simple solutions with available and clean products. As advised by D-Lab experts, the Project Yele Team is focusing on finding methods to make charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste – or biowaste – and teach locals to keep producing them in the future.  Not only is it a simple way of providing efficient fuel for the community, but it can also become a steady business for one or two families in the village.This idea has proven efficient in other African countries, and the team is aspiring to implement in Yele.

Burning palm leaves

In this second round of more successful attempts, the primary fuel came from dried palm leaves, oil palm fruit kernels and bamboo. This is a double benefit, as these biowastes are also a potential replacement for firewood, which has poor quality and provokes deforestation.

The inhabitants of Yele are eager to participate in these “experiments”, and clearly understand why the team is there, and what they are working for. Moreover, the team has begun to run surveys and interviews with the locals in order to determine their needs and priorities.

Running surveys and getting to know the locals

A child under a shop in Yele

For the Community Bazaar to run efficiently, some key questions need to be answered: Is there a demand for electricity? Would this kind of energy improve local business? What are the needs for shop owners in Yele…?

So far, two sets of surveys have been started:

1) To measure baseline levels of poverty: Tori and Mauricio headed out to carry out household surveys with the help of a translator from English to Krio, the local tribal language. During the tour, they met an 18-member household, all of them supported by only 2 working men. According to one of the women, they have no income and no expenses to speak of, and merely live to survive.However, this seems to be a below average situation in Yele.

Interviewing shop owners

2) The second set of interviews aims to understand the financial and energy service use of businesses. Paul spoke to 4 local shop owners, and concluded, amongst other things, that local businessmen are eager for business coaching, energy services and better access to electricity.

Business plans

Between chugs of local palm wine, the team suggested a business plan to Walter, one of the most important businessmen in the area. The idea was to sell ice. Disappointingly, Walter discouraged it, as he explained that an ice business cannot flourish in Yele without stable diesel prices, which are needed to power a generator to produce electricity for the freezer. Hence, the high price of fuel in Yele, with premium for transport to rural locations, would prohibit profitable sales of ice.

Making ice

We’ve quickly discovered that here, people live by fuel prices, as the impact is direct. Standards of living fall or rise according to fuel, as everything needs to be transported to Yele.

Work Hard, Play Hard

After having used the 2 daily hours of internet to schedule meetings with Ecobank and Makeni University in order to explore possible collaborations, the members of the team celebrated a birthday with cake, dinner and decorations, and finally let out some steam with a muddy football game under the rain. (Which, by the way, was won by Tori & Mauricio’s team!).

The team hard at work

Antal is on her way to Sierra Leone, to support her team in their ambitious plans (and to bring some extra clothes for Tori). Meanwhile, Anna is providing logistic support and coordinating the expedition from Boston. She is in charge of solving any problems or difficulties that may be encountered during the team’s stay in Sierra Leone. For an inquiries or doubts about the project, you may also contact her at:

If you wish to know more about Project Yele or to contact the team, please visit the website, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


One Response to “Yele: getting to know the locals”


  1. Getting on with the Yele Community Bazaar « Project Yele: Visit to Yele 2011 - July 31, 2011

    […] same day, Antal and Tori got to work on the D-lab and made a second batch of charcoal briquettes with fresh cassava – an edible root, very rich in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: