REFRESCH’s introduction to Gabon began with an invitation from Ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo to address a number of challenges in Gabon in the areas of food security, distributed energy, and employment opportunities. In response, REFRESCH spent time in two villages during the 2014-2015 school year, working with the communities to identify their needs and develop potential solutions. During stays in Ayémé Agoula and Massenguelani, members of REFRESCH, both students and faculty, worked with the local people to explore and develop solutions for renewable energy and lighting, crop protection, bee keeping, clean cookstoves, and water treatment approaches that demonstrate potential to improve quality of life and livelihoods.
An example of REFRESCH’s collaborative design approach can be found in the project’s work in the community of Ayémé Agoula in March 2015. In the beginning stages of cookstove construction, the REFRESCH team led the effort while a few community members, including two village chiefs, contributed labor and knowledge of local materials. Towards the end of the project, community members initiated their own design alterations to better fit their preferences and led the final construction themselves. REFRESCH is continuing its communication with these villages through return visits and is conducting to a workshop this year in Lambarene, Gabon.
Education is a critical component of REFRESCH, especially in the emphasis on bi-directional engagement and capacity-building with communities and partners in Gabon, and REFRESCH’s ongoing work reflects that focus. REFRESCH is engaging with professors from L'université des sciences et techniques de Masuku (USTM) and Université Omar Bongo (UOB) and conducted a workshop in May 2016 in Lambaréné, Gabon that brought together an international group of educators and people from small communities. The workshop on the grounds of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital explored and demonstrated sustainable, successful activities/products that communities can take ownership of, engage in, and benefit economically from. It also included educational components and hands-on engagement with technology. A particular goal of this workshop was to facilitate collaboration between rural communities, academic institutions, the private sector, development agencies, and government, creating a process through which formally and informally educated participants can learn from each other. A second goal is to identify collaborative efforts in the areas of energy, water, and food that will be feasible and beneficial for stakeholders.