Let us Win and Prosper Together: Liberation Day 2017

Liberation day is one of my favorite holidays in Rwanda. If there were only 3 holidays to celebrate in Rwanda,  July 4th would definitely have to be among my top 3. The Liberation day is the day Rwanda embarked on a new journey to rebuild itself after its horrific and past history. It is the day a few visionary Rwandan leaders envisioned a new inclusive and united Rwanda, free of discrimination. It is a day Rwandans decide they had had enough and were going to build a beautiful strong and peaceful Rwanda. It is the day Rwanda started its new path founded on unity, diligence, and patriotism. Every Rwandan, no matter where they are, home and abroad, should celebrate this day and reflect on what they can do to contribute to their nation’s peace and sustainable development while remembering men and women in uniforms who fought for this freedom that you and I enjoy today as Rwandans.

On this Liberation Day, we honor the courageous men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we enjoy Rwanda that we have and see today.

On this day, we honor our heroes who fought to liberate our country from the oppressive government that was killing her own people, men and women, young and old, sons and daughters, poor and rich.

On this Liberation Day, thank all the soldiers in the Rwandan Army, especially veterans.

A design poster for the 2016 Rwandan Liberation Day displaying the Rwandan Flag and a July 4th monument at the Rwandan Parliament Gardens.
A monument showing a soldier paying tribute to the fallen comrades in the Liberation Struggle.

On this Liberation Day, we celebrate the end to one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

On this day, we remember the end of 100-terrible days, that ripped our beautiful country apart, leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent lives dead, leaving thousands and thousands widows, as well as orphans.

By July 4th 1994, the Armed forces of RPF declared a massive and a decisive winning battle over the oppressive government at the time, after conquering the whole country of Rwanda and its capital city, Kigali. This remarkable win overthrew the power of the (then) oppressive government and marked the end of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi people. This meant that the oppressive government was no longer in charge, but rather the new Rwandan Patriotic Front was.

On this day, the RPF started a long process of restoring peace in the whole country and ensuring that no one was no longer getting killed for who they were or where they came from. On this day, the RPF liberated our country, our people, and our sense of self as Rwandans. In my opinion, this is why we celebrate Liberation Day each year on July 4.

New Face of Downtown Kigali Today; the capital city of Rwanda.


Kigali has been praised for to be one of the most beautiful cities in Africa.

On this day, it is very important to learn from our past while building a strong, prosperous and peaceful Rwanda; recognizing that Freedom is indeed earned and fought for, and not handed out for free. We have to recognize that still today there are some negative forces that want to undermine this freedom that many of our fellow countrymen and women fought for. These forces must be neutralized for the benefits and the overall greater good of our society to ensure the prosperity of our beautiful nation, Rwanda.

We need to continue strive for peace and security for our nation, promoting inclusiveness for all Rwandans home and abroad, recognizing that we should be unified by all the common things we share as Rwandans, and ignore all the small differences among ourselves. As our ancestors would say: “Icyo dupfana kiruta icyo dupfa”.

On this day, I encourage you to reflect on what this day means to you and what you can do to make a more peaceful and sustainable Rwanda, that is truly, liberated. Thank our heroes who served our country and sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy a beautiful Rwanda that we have today. Without their hard-work and sacrifice, Rwanda would totally be a different place today. It is very hard to imagine what Rwanda would be like today if it was not for their courage and patriotism. There are many soldiers, fellow Rwandans, who lost their lives in battle; who got severely injured physically and emotionally, and have had to endure lots of after-war trauma so that me and you live and enjoy the peaceful Rwanda that we have today. THANK YOU, heroes.

As we celebrate this liberation day, let us not forget that the struggle is still ON. We still have to fight against any form of genocide ideology that still presents itself even today: divisionism, segregation, and any form of discrimination. Let us send a clear message to those who still want to instill hate among Rwandans that we are a unified Rwanda. Let us tell them that we will never look back and waste our time on those who are stuck in anger, revenge and hate.

-Let us be a truly unified society by moving beyond our ethnic backgrounds and appreciate the fact that we are Rwandans. We share an amazing a set of cultural values, traditions, an amazing language, and a wonderful and a beautiful country: The country of a thousand hills, Rwanda.

The Kigali Convention Center, this marvelous piece of Architecture will host the African Union summit starting next week: July 10-18, 2016.


The most popular roundabout in Kigali, and probably Rwanda.

-Let us continue to liberate ourselves by fighting against poverty.

-Let us continue to liberate ourselves by working hard to ensure a sustainable economic growth, which will lead us to the economic prosperity of our nation.

-Let us notice that the struggle continues. Although we have achieved a lot, we also still have a long way to go. We are not where we want to be and we will never stop until we reach the promise land. We will NOT settle for less. Let us CARRY ON.

To my fellow young generation, the future and the strength of Rwanda:

-Let us continue to build on the foundation laid down by our current leaders.

-Let us notice that any form of separation is detrimental and damaging to our nation’s prosperity.

-Let us notice that we are stronger when unified and together we can win and prosper.

-Let us use our knowledge and skills to transform Rwanda into a self-reliant, middle income country.

Perhaps most importantly, on this Liberation Day, let us all notice the best people we can truly rely and depend on, is OURSELVES. We cannot rely on anybody to solve our problems and challenges we face today or tomorrow, we can only DEPEND on ourselves. We are the ANSWER to our QUESTIONS and the solutions to our own problems. After all, “Ak’imuhana kaza imvura ihise”.

Fellow Rwandans, brothers and sisters, Happy Liberation Day. #Kwibohora2016

Once again, Let us win and prosper together.

Until then, Peace and Love.

Didier Champion


[1] Fighting against Genocide Ideology, by Didier Champion

[2] Happy Liberation Day, Rwanda

[3]  Kwibohora 2014

[4] Kwibohora 2015





Remembering Genocide against Tutsi after 22 years: Fighting against Genocide Ideology

Remember, Unite, and Renew

Fighting against Genocide Ideology
Fighting against Genocide Ideology

Every year from April 7th to April 13th, Rwandans take one week to remember the 1994-genocide against Tutsi, Remembrance Week, as officially called. This week is one of the most difficult times for many Rwandans, in Rwanda, and elsewhere in the world. This year of 2016, for the 22nd times, we remember over one million lives killed within a period of 100 days, starting from April 7th to July 4th 1994; Rwandans, killing other fellow Rwandans, brothers killing their own sisters, who shared the same culture and country. This week is a very tough week for everybody; especially for the younger generation, who were not old enough to understand the dynamics and the complexity of what was going on at the time, and still have had to experience and endure the consequences and the aftermath of one of the most horrific atrocities of the 20th century. During this week, Rwandans hold a series of events, remembering innocent lives lost, comforting the survivors, educating the youth about what happened, while learning from this horrific past to plan and to build a better future Rwanda for every Rwandan; all of this happening to ensure that what happened in 1994, never happen again in Rwanda. Never again.

During the remembrance week:

It is that time of the year again we say never again

It is that time of the year when we remember innocent lives lost during the 1994 genocide against Tutsi

It is that time of the year when we remember fellow Rwandans killed and murdered in cold blood for nothing else other than how they were born

It is that time of the year when we remember about 1,000,000 innocent souls murdered during a period of 100 days: Our mothers, our fathers, our grandparents, and children. Innocent people killed, murdered for how they were born, where they were born, and what ethnic groups they belonged to.

Kwibuka Flame Meaning

Figure 2.  Kwibuka is a Kinyarwanda word, which means, remember [1]

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to understand what was going on through the minds of the perpetrators.

  • Rwandans, killing other Rwandans, their fellow countrymen who shared the same culture at all levels of life. Whether be speaking the same language, eating the same food, and living the same lifestyle at all levels.
  • Friends, killing their own friends; neighbors killing each other; families killing each other.

It is that time of the year when I seat down trying to find answers, but unfortunately, I end up with many questions than answers. Always multiple questions wondering through my mind.

  • How did this happen in my nation? Why did it happen in my motherland?

The country I Love, the country I am proud to have born in, Rwanda.

Despite all the history I have learned in schools, books I have read about it, the stories I have heard from my friends, and the people I know, I always end up with many questions than answers. Again, I cannot figure out why and how this happened in my home nation, Rwanda.

Just thinking about for a moment:

During this week,

We remember to honor the lives of our fellow Rwandans whose lives were cut short for nothing.

We remember to comfort those who survived, ensuring them that their loved will never be forgotten.

We remember to teach the world what happened in Rwanda so that it never happens again anywhere else.

We remember to learn from our horrific past while setting a path for a better future for every Rwandan.


During this week, Rwandans do a series of event to remember the 1994: Below are a few of them

  1. Kwibuka Flame: This flame is lit on by the president of Rwanda on the beginning of the remembrance week for a period of 100 days, marking how long genocide lasted from April, 7th to July 4th, 1994. This flame stays on at the Kigali Memorial Center 24/7 and other regional memorial centers.


Figure 3. Kwibuka Flame at the Kigali Memorial Center, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, and other international leaders.  Photo credit: New Times Rwanda

  1. Walk to Remember: This is another common practice during the remembrance week. Basically, it is a silent walk from 2-3 or 3-5 miles, whereby people walk with posters carrying the message of unity, peace, reconciliation, sustainable development, and a better future Rwanda.


Figure 4.  Poster made for a “Walk to Remember event” [1]


Figure 5. Walk to Remember Photo Credit: New Times Rwanda

  1. Other events include:
  • National dialogues and discussion about fighting against genocide ideology at all level of government institutions such as schools, universities, districts, and provinces.
  • Recovering bodies not buried properly yet and honoring them with proper burial
  • Visiting national and regional memorial centers
  • Visiting victims such as orphans, offering them financial and moral support needed

The above events go on throughout the year, but in these 100-days, they are intensified.

  1. Kigali Memorial Center: The Kigali Genocide Memorial Center is the national memorial center. In this museum, about 259, 000 bodies are buried here [1]. It has archives of Rwandan history regarding genocide, from how it was prepared, and how it was executing by the regimental government, that was on power at the time. This memorial has pictures, names of the victims and many more information you would need to know about the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.


Figure 6. A section of names of victims who remains are buried at the Kigali Memorial Center [1,2]

  1. Ntarama Church Memorial Center: This is a regional memorial center, known for the massacre, happened at this church. People had come to find refuge at this Catholic Church, thinking that no one would kill them in the “House of God”. You have to understand to logic behind this because Rwandans were and are still a very religious and Christian dominated country. However, when they were gathered, the Interahamwes, the government supported militias group came in, bombed the doors by grenades, killing everybody who was in that church with mostly machetes, clubs, and guns; very few people survived this massacre. About 5, 000 people were killed in cold-blood at this church. After genocide ended, this church became a memorial center. The picture below shows how bad the atrocities was. The viewer discretion is advised if you click on this reference to see more pictures of the remains at this church.  You can see old clothes and shoes, which the victims were wearing, the bracelets, and other marks. Their remains were also cleaned and are rested inside the church. May these innocent souls rest in peace.


Figure 7. Ntarama Church Memorial Center [3]

Kwibuka22, poster showing remembering genocide!

How is Post-Genocide Rwanda?

Twenty-two years after genocide, Rwanda has made tremendous and significant strides in creating a united society, of Rwandans, who are proud to be Rwandans, above their ethnic groups. Today, Rwanda is a very safe country. At all levels of government leadership, whether, on political, diplomatic, and financial basis, Rwanda has shown that there is nothing a united society cannot achieve if they join forces together.

For the past 10 years,

  • Rwanda has averaged a yearly rate of 8% economic growth
  • Rwanda has tripled FDIs, foreign direct investments
  • Rwanda is one of few countries, where 9 out of 10 trust in the leadership of their country; Corruption is also very low comparatively.
  • The only country to have more women representatives in the parliament. Today, 63% of members of parliament are women.

Although Rwanda has made amazing progress, we still have a long way to go. We are not where we want to be yet. However, given what Rwandans have done in the past 22 years,  I have no doubt that we will continue to do well, using the foundation we have set up to build a much stronger, and more inclusive economy, and most importantly a more unified country.

  • This is a country I am proud to call mine
  • This is a country I am proud to be from
  • This is a country I am proud to belong to
  • A beautiful country, situated in the central-east Africa, the heart of Africa
  • A country of a thousand hills, in which, anytime God decides to sleep, he comes to rest in Rwanda, for its beauty. Our ancestors actually believed this and up until today, this saying is still widely used. “God might travel around other countries during the day, but when it comes to bed-time, he comes to rest, home to Rwanda.

My next blog is going to focus on what Rwanda is today describing and elaborating more on the progress we have made. As Rwandans, we have decided to not be defined by our past. We will learn it to build a strong nation, remembering, uniting, and renewing ourselves to build a better Rwanda together. By now, I hope you have learned something new whether you already knew a lot about Rwanda or you did not. If you have not visited, I hope I have or will convince you include Rwanda on your vacation lists too. It is truly an amazing country, wonderful people, and your vacation there would be a blast.

Contact me know for any questions

Until then, Peace and Love

Didier Champion




[1] The official website of Kwibuka: http://www.kwibuka.rw/

[2] Genocide Archives of Rwanda: http://www.genocidearchiverwanda.org.rw/index.php?title=Welcome_to_Genocide_Archive_Rwanda

[3] Ntarama Church Memorial Center: http://www.rwandanstories.org/genocide/ntarama_church.html

[4] Revisiting the Rwandan Genocide: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140407-rwanda-genocide-today-anniversary/

[5] Rwanda, a beacon of hope:


[6] Official facebook page of Kwibuka: https://www.facebook.com/Kwibuka-Rwanda-541941032558681/photos

Reflecting about the past 2.5 years in Boulder, Colorado: Staying Hungry & Foolish [for knowledge]

Time flies for real!! Where did all the two and half years go? I remember moving to Boulder, CO from Chicago, IL where I had been working all summer of 2013 as an intern at Fermilab. When I moved here, I was excited to move to this beautiful place. In April 2013, I had come to Denver for a National Physics Conference. Since I had had a wonderful time in Denver, I assumed that Boulder was going to be absolutely amazing since it was only around 35-45 minutes away. Therefore, when I finally moved to Boulder in August 2013, I felt in love with the place so quickly. Having mountains around me made it feel at home because my home country, Rwanda, is a very mountainous country, known as, a country of thousand hills.

Thus far, I have been very lucky and fortunate at CU Boulder, and I really could not have chosen a better school. Like anybody else, deciding a graduate school to attend can be very challenging especially when you have a lot of choices, but I am very glad to have chosen to come to CU Boulder. Honestly, saying that I have been lucky, is a huge understatement! I am simply very grateful.

Repping at the Tour of Africa with ASA folks

Academics: Coursework and TA

Graduate school is very different undergraduate on so many levels: whether you look at the coursework, research, and the responsibility you have a graduate student. This is especially true when you rely on teaching (TA), and research (RA) assistantships to afford school fees and getting your living expenses.

My first year was the most challenging because as a new graduate student, you are trying to figure out how things work, and they make you work like crazy. You have loads of coursework, you are a teaching assistant for an undergraduate course, and you have to start learning about your research at the same time. For me, I thought it was going to be even challenging since I was switching from Physics (in Undergraduate) to Mechanical Engineering (in Graduate school). However, overall, it was a much smoother transition than I had anticipated.

Of course, I am not saying that it was easy, but engineering courses are actually a little easier than some of the Physics courses I took in college. As my undergraduate advisor would say it: If you can pass Quantum Mechanics and Electrodynamics, I do not think Heat Transfer or Thermodynamics would be much harder. Surprisingly, he was totally right! One of the things I like about having a physics degree is that everybody thinks you are smart and you can adapt to any coursework you take. To some extent, this is true. Whenever people think of me as smart, it boosts my confidence, and I feel like I can learn any tough subjects as long as I put my mind to it. I was a little surprised with how many former physics undergraduate majors we had in our graduate program in the department of mechanical engineering.

During my first year, I was on a TA, and my second year, I had both a TA and RA position. For the past 4-semesters, I got to TA a Dynamics course for 3-semesters, and 1-semester for Data Analysis. As a teaching assistant (TA), you hold weekly office hours to help students on their homework, you grade homework, tests, exams, and when the professor is out of town for a conference, they can ask you to sub-in for them. During your TAship, you get to interact with students. Overall, it was very fun, and rewarding, but it was also time-consuming, especially on top of your other responsibility of your own school work and research.

Professional Research Work

As a research assistant (RA), you choose an advisor, who usually has different projects, and you get assigned a specific task on the project. When you are on a RA, hopefully, your advisor has funding for that project so that he can pay you for your work. I am not sure how tuition works, but you don’t pay anything when you have a research assistantship. This is true both for American and international students. Instead, you also get monthly stipend, to cover your living expenses. It is not too much money, but it is enough to cover all you need for rent, and other expenses, but you really have to be on a tight student budget.

Doing some lab work at SchoolAmWorking2015

So far, I cannot really complain about anything. I have passed all the qualifying exams we had to take, both written and oral research exams. I have co-authored one published paper, and I am writing my first one as a primary author. And perhaps most importantly, I just got a masters in Mechanical Engineering with focus on Energy and Environment. This kind of big deal for me! This means that I have a Bachelors of Arts in Physics (with focus on Renewable Energy), and a Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering (with focus on Energy and Environment).

You know, I actually don’t care that much about degrees. I mean, I think I have more skills than what the labels my degrees claim to have. After all, there are many people with few or no degrees who have done tremendous work and have become very successful in their lives. I hope I get to make a positive impact on the society myself someday. As far as education goes, I tend to go my own route whenever it comes to learning. I do spend lots of time (perhaps more than I should) learning about subjects beyond what they teach in class. Although it can be very costly on your grades, I find it to be the best way to educate yourself. Whenever I come across a new technology or a subject I am interested in, I can spend weeks reading and learning about it and almost forgetting that there are some exams, and tests in my own classes. In all, I do not regret any of it, instead, I am actually proud of it, big time!

At CU-Boulder, I was really lucky to work on a project that allowed me to travel outside the United States for 3-4 times every year. I have a great advisor, I work with a great group of talented people, I really like what I do, and I go to school to one of the finest university in the World. My research work involves using low-cost air quality monitors to study environment problems in developing countries. For the past 2.5 years, I have been working on an NSF and EPA funded project looking at the impact of solid-fuel use for cooking and other combustion sources on health and environment in Northern-Ghana. Thus, my work consists of lots lab-work, collection of data in Ghana, and of course data analysis: I will let you know when my paper is out sometime in 2016.

Research is a big part of one’s work in graduate school, so it is very nice to be able to change the scenery from lab-work, field-work, and traveling abroad to conferences. It really does help you to balance your life and to not get bored of doing same stuff every day. I highly recommend this, if possible. Conferences are also a good way to network, get connected with researchers in your field of study. I have attended many of them such as GEIA, and Clean Cooking Forum, as well as many other seminars and talks.

Hanging out with some crocodiles in Northern Ghana: They are actually Friendly that you can pet them.

Balancing graduate school and social life

Balancing grad school work and social life can be very tough, but it is extremely important. Honestly, I have to admit that this is one of the areas I usually do okay because I do procrastinate quite a bit. Probably I do it much more than I should but it is really nice. Life in grad school can be very busy and challenging, especially because there is always something to do and due every time. There are times I get very busy that I can spend a good week going from home, lab, offices, gym, back home at night, and wake up to the same routine every day for like 5-7 straight days in a row. Thus, it is very helpful to loosen up over the weekend and do something fun to relax. Being in Boulder and Colorado, you really have no excuse, you can do some hiking, climbing mountains, clubbing, skiing, camping, and all sorts of stuff.

Loosening it up water paddling , climbing Princeton Mt. and canopy walking in Rwanda

 In addition, I have been able to participate with other organizations on campus that I care about. For example, I have been working with Engineers without Borders, EWB-Rwanda, helping CU students design a clean water catchment system in Northern –Rwanda. I also do a lot of documents translation from English to Kinyarwanda, and overall helping them understand the Rwandan culture a little bit. I am also a member of the African Students Africa, ASA, where I helped organized big events such as Tour of Africa, where we show the true image of Africa and all the elements surrounding its rich culture through arts, fashion show, dance, and music. I have met many good people with these organizations and it has helped me to be a good productive member of the CU-community, beyond just being an academic student.

Rwanda Day in ATL 2014, REMA Meeting in Rwanda, summer 2015, and Accra-stove factory in November 2015.

At CU-Boulder, I have also been able to attend and meet other experts in other fields. This is probably one of the most thing I am so thankful at CU. One of my favorite thing I like to mention is meeting up with Nobel Laureates at school and being able to attend their talks. This is a very big deal for me, because when I was at a Science High School in Rwanda, I really wished/wanted to meet a Nobel Prize Physicist someday in my life. However, being in Rwanda at the time, I would never have thought that I would be able to see them passing by me and attend their talks in person. Thus far, I have met three of them. I have attended talks from David Gross, Leon Lederman, at Fermilab, and Eric Cornell at CU-Boulder. This has taught me to always DREAM BIG, and to never underestimate myself. If you are going to dream, you might as well dream BIG.  

Plans Forward

I cannot wait to see what I will do with all the skills and knowledge I have been accumulating for the past 6-7 years.  I finally feel like I know what I want to do with my life (at least I know the direction). I honestly feel like I am very equipped to go out there and make a positive impact to the society and add some value to the marketplace. Although I don’t have any debts in financial terms, I owe so much to the people who have invested in me for so many years, directly or indirectly:

  • My professors, to have taught, and transferred their knowledge to me with diligence and selflessness,
  • My family, to have believed and supported me through it all,
  • The Rwandan and American taxpayers, and the whole society at large, to have contributed financially towards my education, directly and indirectly.
  • I owe them, big time! And I hope that I will gradually pay them off by making a positive contribution to the whole community, wherever I will be working.

Over the next few months, I am going to take some time-off for myself to grow professionally, and to digest all the skills and knowledge I have acquired for the past 15-20 years of education. I am going to come up with plans of what exactly I want to do, set specific goals of what I want to achieve, and how I want to get there. Most importantly, I will take some time for relaxation as well. It will be a much needed fun and enjoyable break-time: I will keep writing a blog to document my experiences and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I will be.

***Writing is going to be tough when I am hanging out at the resort beach at some nice island in Indian Ocean though, so just be patient, hahah!

Until then,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year of 2016

Didier Champion



[1] My Fermilab Webpage, http://sist.fnal.gov/index.php

[2] Rwanda Topographic landscape, http://www.rwandatourism.com/

[3] REACCTING Project, http://www.reaccting.com/

[4] Engineers without Borders, EWB-Rwanda, http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/ewb/rwanda

[5] African Student Association, http://www.colorado.edu/StudentGroups/ASA/

[6] Impact of Fuel use on health and climate, http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/research_areas/cca/index.html

[7] Leon Lederman, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nobel-laureate-god-particle-physicist-leon-lederman-to-sell-off-nobel-prize-gold-medal-10277414.html and http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1988/lederman-facts.html

[8] Eric Cornell, http://www.colorado.edu/news/series/cu-boulder-nobel-laureates

[9] David Gross, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2004/gross-facts.html

[10] Fermilab, http://www.fnal.gov/

[11] CU-Boulder, http://www.me.colorado.edu/, and ranking in the world, http://www.colorado.edu/admissions/graduate/about/rankings/list

[12] Steve Jobs, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/steve-jobs-told-students-stay-hungry-stay-foolish/2011/10/05/gIQA1qVjOL_blog.html

[13] GEIA, 2014: http://www.geiacenter.org/event/2014-geia-conference

[14] Clean Cooking Forum, 2015: https://www.cleancooking2015.org/


How does your cooking practices affect your health: Cooking should not Harm or Kill

Have you ever thought about how your cooking practices affect your health? Well, if you are lucky to be using gas or electricity for cooking, you are very fortunate and you should be thankful to be among 60% of the people who have access to clean energy for cooking around the world. For this, Congratulations! You have won the lottery of birth either from the country you were born or your income is good enough to afford a cleaner source of fuel.

However, did you know that the other 40% of the world’s population rely on very unclean source of energy for cooking mainly solid fuels such as firewood, charcoal, dung and others? This is nearly about 3-billion located in developing nations in Eastern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin-America. This use of unclean fuel and stoves emit huge amount of smoke during cooking, which causes adverse health risks to people who are exposed at home.

This is showing on the left the effects of using traditional stoves with firewood: Health problems, deforestation, and gathering of woods done by women in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the right section, it is showing the better improved stoves designed and manufactured by BURN  design Lab. Caption taken from the BURN website

The most up-to date estimates from the 2014 WHO (the World Health Organization) report, show that about 4.3-million deaths a year worldwide, are attributed to exposure to cookstove smoke [3]. Lots of these deaths comes from various respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as pneumonia, lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, and stroke among others [3]. This is a big problem in developing countries. In fact, the same WHO report estimates that it goes hand in hand with the effects of tobacco globally. Tobacco causes a little over 6-million deaths a year, which means that the household air pollution effects comes second after tobacco [2]. As a matter of facts, an hour of cooking on a traditional wood cooking fire indoor produces smoke of about 400-cigarettes [2]. This is even more depressing when you think about it because in these developing countries, mothers and children are affected more than men as they are the ones, mainly involved in cooking activities. Can you imagine a baby of a few months old breathing this amount of smoke on back of her mother as often as 2 or 3-times a day? This may sound like fiction especially if you have never been to a developing country, but it is real. I see it more often when I visit back home in Rwanda or when I am on a field trip in Ghana.

Three-stone good pic 2015
This picture is showing  an example of a traditional stove, “Three-stone fire stove” used in many developing countries.

How can we address this issue as a community and what can we done about it?

As you can imagine, the international community is looking for multiple ways to address this concern worldwide. The recent Clean Cooking Conference brought together around 500-people from 57-countries around the world both from the private and the public sector. Different organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and their partners are already joining forces with researchers, NGOs, and the local community to find creative ways to facilitate the adoption, the affordability, and the access of clean fuels and clean cookstoves in developing nations.

A few weeks ago, as a mechanical and an environmental engineer working in field, I was fortunate enough to attend a big 5 day-conference organized by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Accra-Ghana. This conference aimed at bringing the private and the public sector together in order to share ideas and opinions about promoting the use of Clean Fuels and Clean Cookstoves around the world. It was a wonderful time for researchers to exchange their ideas and techniques, for NGOs meeting local communities, for investors looking for business opportunities, and governments to evaluate their policies looking for partnerships from the all participants.

Below are the issues surrounding accelerating the use of Clean Fuels and Clean Cookstoves:

2015-11-10 10.14.17
This is a picture of the Cookstove Conference hosted by the UN, I attended on November 12-15 in Accra-Ghana
  • Adoption:

One of the most difficult tasks in helping people to cook cleaner is convincing them to switch from traditional stoves to improved stoves. Basically, this is when organizations, who think that they know what people want, come in and distribute the stoves mostly for free in the incubation phase, but surprisingly, researchers have been astonished by the fact that local people do not switch to improved stoves as fast as they had anticipated. The adoption issue is well-understood and cared about than it used to be in the past, but there is still a long way to go in terms of figuring out how you get people to adopt good clean and efficient cookstoves.

  1. The locals have been using these traditional stoves for a really long time, their parents, ancestors used them. The entire generation has been using them for a really long time, local food and cuisine cooked on these stoves have an easily identifiable test that they like and enjoy. Although these stoves can get very smoky, somehow, they have been used to that in some respect. The easiest way to think about this problem is, comparing it to somebody who smokes. Although many smokers know that cigarette smoke harm their lives, it is been shown that it is tough to quit smoking. Simply, expecting them to quit overnight, you would have to be a fool. This is the same with cookstoves, expect that in this case, lots of cooks do not know that the smoke they are inhaling is dangerous to them, and their kids, and the whole family in the household.
  2. The second most issue related to adoption is the mismatch between stove manufacturers and the local users. A lot of these manufacturers are from western countries, Envirofit, BURN, Biolite, are some of big names known this field, so when a stove is made in the United States, engineers who design them might not necessarily be familiar with local needs and the technology, which will match what the locals want. It would be like me trying to design various ski-tools when I have not skied in my life. I could try, but my designs would probably be better if I were collaborating with professional skiers to get an idea about what they want. For example, it has been shown that a lot of these stove made in western countries tend to be smaller compared to big pots and dishes that locals in Sub-saharan African needs. However, in the recent years, these big stove manufacturers have decided to move their factories to East-Africa and elsewhere to incorporate their stove designs with locals needs and accommodation. This is a big step and needs to be encouraged to other stove manufacturers.
This is me at Work, analyzing some PM2.5 samples collected from in-field cooking emissions in Northern-Ghana
  • Affordability:

Another big unfortunate situation is that these new improved stoves are quite expensive compared to the income of the locals. According to United Nations, about 2.8 billion worldwide people survive on less than $ 2.00 a day. This is almost the same number of people who depend on solid fuels use for cooking and lighting. What does this tell us? This means that a big number of people who needs these new stoves cannot afford them. They are too expensive. The “good” stoves available range from $ 50.00 to $ 300.00 per stove. Even after subsidies from grants and various NGOs, the cost for these stoves is simply not affordable for locals to afford them on a “sustainable basis”. You cannot simply make a clean and efficient stoves for $ 10- $30 dollars, which would be the price range that would be at least affordable to many people in the Global South.

So, affordability is still an issue, a very big one too. Quite frankly, after spending a good 2.5 years studying, learning, and working in this field, I have come to a decisive conclusion that a good way to accelerate the use of improved stoves is simply helping and getting people out poverty first. Because, otherwise, how do you expect people to afford a $ 300.00 stove when they live under $ 2.00 a day? It is just not feasible and in my opinion, we should focus on affordability in the long-term, which will provide the sustainable use rather than simply giving out stoves for free once and lying to yourself that you have reduced the problem. What will the locals do after 1-2 years, when the stove you gave out is worn out and needs to be replaced? Affordability is the key and we should be focusing on this as much as we do for adoption, and innovation.

  • Accessibility of Clean Fuels and Affordability:

Everybody knows what good clean energy sources for cooking are. They are natural gas (LPG) and electricity. This are the main sources of energy that people in western countries use.  You may ask yourself why are we talking about “improved stoves” when we know exactly the best sources of energy such as gas and electricity? Well, the short answer is that we know about this, but these resources are even scarcer in developing countries. After all, two out three people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, for example. Thus, while natural gas and electricity are the “holy grail” of the energy sector, we are still lagging behind in relation to having enough energy  available for cooking in developing countries. If you don’t have even enough electricity for lighting, having abundant access for cooking would even be a dream. This is why improved stoves are seen as the transition before we have enough gas and electricity. Unfortunately, they have not been a good transition thus far, and some people wants to switch the efforts to gas and electricity instead of wasting time, effort and money in the so-called improved cookstoves.

Overall, it has been a real joy to work in this field and I have learned a lot since starting my research about 2.5 years ago. Thus, I am looking forward to how the cookstove sector will evolve in the years to come. As an entrepreneur, I am also looking for ways to invest in this sector, and I will be looking into venturing in the use of LPG in developing countries. My partners and I will be kicking off a wonderful project to supply gas tanks for cooking in Uganda and Rwanda in 2016. So, be on the lookout for some cool stuff!! We have noticed that there a huge market hungry for better cooking products in the Eastern-Africa region and we think that natural gas is good way to start.

I will continue to write about other issues related to cooking in developing countries. My next segment will be about the use of charcoal and deforestation and their relationship with cooking in the developing world. Feel free to check out the references below for more information and please message me for any questions or comments.

Until then, Peace and Love!

Didier Champion

Sources and References

[1] These cheap, clean stoves were supposed to save millions of lives. What happened?.

[2] Tackling the world’s forgotten Killer.

[3] Household Air Pollution and Health around the World, WHO Facts.

[4] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

[5] Envirofit, http://www.envirofit.org/.

[6] BURN, http://www.burndesignlab.org/.

[7] Biolite, https://www.biolitestove.com/pages/mission

[8] People who live under $ 2.00 dollars a day.

[9] Two of 3 people in Sub-Saharan African lack electricity, USAID.





Why You should care about the Climate COP21 Talks in Paris-France?

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine in the hallway at lunch time. A professor from the Environmental Engineering passed by and we quickly started chatting. As she was leaving to hurry to her destination, she mentioned we should hang out sometime and she said oh, the Paris Talks too are starting today, and we, the experts in this field should be talking about this.

Today, I was tired in the afternoon and wanted to find some good 30-min to relax my mind on. I thought to myself, let me try to find a good climate change talk to go to on Campus, and to my surprise, I could not find any. Really? As a Mechanical Engineering graduate student whose research cross paths with three departments at the University of Colorado-Boulder: Mechanical Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Atmospheric Science, I could not believe the fact that there are no talks to discuss about this important issue not only within the experts, but also to inform the public about Climate Change and Global Warming. A few questions came to my mind and I would like to share my thoughts about this:

  1. Where and what are all the wonderful professors, graduate students, undergraduate students doing in the wake of these series of Climate talks?
  2. As experts, how do we not take advantage of this opportunity to inform the public about Climate Change and all its related issues?
  3. Why are we not talking about this among ourselves though seminars, conferences, and other venues?
  4. How do we expect the public to know the technicality and the complexity of these issues if we do not inform them? In the end, when the current business and Law schools students are leaders in the private sector and the public sector, we will call them ignorant for ignoring and denying global warming and climate change.

As always, the scientific community has been very mediocre at communicating with the public about what they do, interpreting their results in ways that people who are not scientists can grasp and understand. For example, one of the most used simple, but false explanations politicians have given when asked about global warming, they say, how is it that we still have cold winters if the planet is getting warmer? You see, for a simple questions like this, even a third grader science class student would know that it is totally wrong to compare single seasons in one setting. You have to analyze through climate weather patterns over time. Winters, and summers will still exist but when you look at average temperatures over an extended period of time, you notice that in fact, temperature levels are rising.

Another more-sophisticated answer would be to look at the ambient CO2 levels over time and observe how the ambient concentrations have been rising from the early 1900s to present: The beginning and the boom of the fossil fuel industry.  If you look at the graph below, showing a time series of CO2 ambient levels and the increase in global temperatures from early 1900s to Present. The graph shows that, for example in early 1900s, the ambient CO2 levels were around 295-ppm, but today, those levels have come risen up to 400-ppm. The same graph shows very well that there is a direct correlation between CO2-levels and the rise in global temperatures. Or you can see that when the ambient concentration were 320-ppm in 1960s, there was a net of zero increase of temperatures globally. However, since then, as the CO2-levels went up, the rise in temperatures has been going up to 0.6C as of today. However, if our reliance on fossil fuels keep rising, and stay numb about it, the rise in temperatures will keep up, and once we reach 2C increase, that is when we get in trouble according to the prediction made by climate scientists all over the World. Thus, part of the 2C-increase in global temperatures you have been reading about all over the media in the wake of COP21 Talks in Paris, France. This number comes from this basic understanding from all the leading climate experts all over the world.

I understand that students and professors might be busy during this time of the semester, but to me, as an air quality student, not talking about this COP21 or not informing and sharing with the public, would be like an astronaut student who seem to not care that NASA is planning to go Mars by 2030 or a soccer athlete student, who is not watching the final world-cup game when he has been offered tickets to go to the game or simply watch the game. It would be like a water expert from a municipality, who seems no to care when a certain toxic chemical has been found in the city’s water supply system. Or a firefighter, who is not worried that their city is on fire. It just does not add up.

I guess we, undergraduate and graduate students, are worried more about our finals, and research. Our Professors are also busy (as they are always are) with preparing courses, final exams, research and other bureaucratic tasks that they have to deal with and manage. Are we really that busy to not even have an opportunity to discuss about this at least among the members of our university?

Despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree on the fact that climate change is indeed occurring, one in five Americans still deny in the effects of climate change [2]. This is very concerning and should alert scientists about communicating their work and results better. Have you ever notice how irritated we get when a politician makes such stupid and ignorant comments about climate change? For example, three of the GOP candidates have made comments about how they simply do not care about Climate change: Marco Rubio, claiming that “he is not a scientist” [3]. Thus, denying Climate Change as he wants. Jeb Bush, saying that “Scientists are going to take a back seat when he gets elected” [3]. Basically, indicating that he does not care about what scientists say. And finally, Ben Carson saying that Climate Change is simply “irrelevant” [3]. Comments like these should be very worrisome especially when you imagine that these three guys are running for President of the United States, one of the highest CO2-emitters country in the World.

As scientists, it is our duty and responsibility to communicate with the public about our work and what talks like COP21 mean to the members of the general public. We should be talking to our colleagues at law schools, business schools, and other schools about this. I do not mean to ignore to other departments, but given the fact that most of the current law students will become our next politicians, business students become the next CEOs in the private sector, and these two groups have shown to be among the ones which huge skepticism about climate change, and the positions they tend to hold in the private and public sector can affect many members of our society to a greater extent than others. With that in mind, all students are the leaders for tomorrow and should be informed about issues like this. If they are not, the society will bear the consequences in the future in one way or another.

As the Climate talks continue, I urge you to talk to your friends at school, at work about what is going in the next two weeks from November 30 to December 11th 2015. Educating yourself about COP21 is not only good for you, but also for the society as a whole. Talk about it at coffee breaks, lunch or dinner or wherever. If you need more details about the Climate Talks in Paris, visit this page to learn more at http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en . Remember we are in this together and we only have one planet: Planet Earth. The more and the faster we ruin it, the more and the faster we screw ourselves as well.

Also, remember that, it is okay to not-be a scientist or a climate scientist for that matter. In fact, I am not claiming to be one either. After all, we each depend on each other. For example, I am not tax professional. So, every year, I need a tax accountant to help me with my tax returns. Just like other subjects, the most important thing is to ask those who know or who are experts in this field and to try to educate yourself on the subject.

Good luck and keep in mind that #WeHaveOnlyOnePlanet and #WeAreInItTogether.

Peace and Love

Didier Champion


Sources and references

[1] http://www.skepticalscience.com/The-CO2-Temperature-correlation-over-the-20th-Century.html: CO2 levels and temperature correlation over the 20th century.

[2] http://www.randalolson.com/2014/09/13/who-are-the-climate-change-deniers/: Who are the Climate deniers?

[3] http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/10/01/gop_candidates_and_climate_change_denying_reality_in_every_way.html: GOP Candidates and Climate change denying.

[4] http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en: The Official website of the COP21.

[5] The graph references in the article: https://didierchampion.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/cop21.png?w=568&h=260&crop=1