FeaturesSolutions & Development

Charcoal Briquettes Kindle Tiny Ember Of Hope For Women Who Lost Everything

Some had left corpses of loved ones and ruins behind when they fled their homes. But now, they see a tiny glowing ember in an otherwise extinguished fireplace, as they discover a new lease of life-making charcoal in Adamawa State, North East Nigeria.

Martha Adamu’s husband was killed and their house set ablaze on the evening of March 18, 2019. 

The perpetrators, Boko Haram, had attacked Michika town in Adamawa State, North East Nigeria and turned it into a war zone.

Fortunately, Martha made it out alive with her two children. They fled to Mubi and subsequently to Sangere in the Girei Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.

Despite this tragedy, Martha was determined to build a better life for her family. Her chance came when she met Elizabeth Charles, the women leader at Sangere. Elizabeth took on the responsibility of mobilising beneficiaries of a programme aimed at training women in the production of charcoal briquettes.


Once bustling towns, Mubi and Michika in the heart of Adamawa State were all but destroyed by the insurgents. Families were torn apart, lives shattered, and dreams left in ruins. 

Even though life has, to an extent, gone back to normal in those areas, for some, it is never the same. Among the survivors are women who have lost everything, except their resilience and determination to rebuild their lives.

Empowerment

In the Sangere community, where some survivors are still seeking refuge, the Strategy for Peace and Humanitarian Development Initiative (SPeHDI) emerged. This local non-governmental organisation, driven by the vision of a peaceful and inclusive world, took it upon itself to empower the victims, offer a lifeline, and steer them towards self-sufficiency.

The organisation’s mission was clear – train displaced women in the production of charcoal briquettes, an alternative fuel for cooking that does not require the felling of trees. 

Charcoal briquettes are made from biomaterial wastes such as groundnut and coconut shells, said the executive director of SPeHDi, Kauna Hamman Kaletapwa. Also, corn and rice husks, peels from fruits such as oranges, paw-paw, and even dried leaves. 

The training not only aimed to restore the women’s source of livelihood but also to address environmental degradation caused by deforestation. 

Martha Adamu Adamu at work. Photo: Obidah Habila Albert/HumAngle: Obidah Habila Albert/HumAngle.

“This was the first training I got the opportunity to participate in since coming to Sangere in 2021. The training has provided me with an opportunity to produce, use and even sell these briquettes. Although I lack the capacity to produce them in bulk, it has really been helpful in supporting my children in the little way I can,” Martha Adamu said, with a glimmer in her eyes like burning coal.

“Empowered, we do not only have a source of income, but also a renewed sense of purpose and the determination to help others in similar circumstances.” 

Another beneficiary, Maryamu Isah, had also witnessed the horrors of insurgency firsthand. She had escaped Mubi with her elderly mother and later found solace and support within the Sangere community. Through the training, Maryamu acquired valuable skills in briquette production, empowering her to actively participate in providing for her aged mother. This gave her a feeling of dignity.

“We have suffered and endured so much, but now we can take control of our lives in the little ways we can,” Maryamu said.

At the training at the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, Sangere premises, participants were shown the process of turning simple locally-sourced waste material like groundnut shells, rice husks, coconut shells and corn husks into a valuable cooking fuel alternative.

Hope

The training did not only provide Martha with a means of income but also instilled a sense of hope and purpose, she says.

“Our lives were shattered after leaving our homes,” she told HumAngle. Together with her children, they had crammed into a one-room accommodation provided for them by a good Samaritan in Sangere. Martha cleaned houses and did the laundry for a living. She also did other kinds of menial jobs to provide for her children. 

Word of their newfound expertise began to spread within their communities, Maryamu continued. This served as a beacon of hope for other displaced persons. 

The charcoal briquettes do not only reduce reliance on expensive and unsustainable firewood but also minimise smoke emissions, improving respiratory health for communities.

With production in full swing, the beneficiaries witnessed the impact it was making on their own lives and the environment. The organisation continued to support them by connecting them to local markets. 

The Executive Director of SPeHDI, Kauna Hamman Kaletapwa, described the beneficiaries as women who have become a beacon of hope. They “embody the resilience and strength of humanity, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, a ray of light can ignite lasting change.”

HumAngle spoke to Sarah Yakubu, a resident of Sangere.

“I have been using the charcoal briquettes made by Martha, and I must say, it has been a game-changer. It burns more efficiently, saving me money on fuel expenses. It’s amazing to see how her life has been transformed, and I am proud to support her initiative,” she said.

Another resident, Dauda Keri just recently switched to using Martha’s briquettes. “I am beyond satisfied. It’s heartwarming to know that my purchase contributes to her empowerment and livelihood.”

But there is a problem – Martha is unable to meet Keri’s demand because she lacks sufficient funds to produce the briquettes in bulk. To scale up their business, she and Maryamu told HumAngle they will need equipment and machinery that include a grinder and drums to serve as an incinerator for burning the biomaterial wastes.


Obidah Habila Albert is a HumAngle Accountability Fellow from Adamawa. This Article is part of the project; ‘Promoting Transparency in Insurgency-Related Funding in Northeast Nigeria’ in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation


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