The passion that Rui Leonardo Madime (’13, Mozambique) felt for biodigester technology took him to Yucatán México, where he had a very successful internship experience in 2012. Despite the many challenges he faced, his work yielded incredible results. He was able to persuade families and install 46 biodigesters in less than four months. His experience was so successful that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that also financed the pilot project decided to finance the installation of 1,000 additional systems in the peninsula.
When he started bringing the first biodigesters to a handful of families in the Yucatan region of Mexico, many people were surprised. They didn’t understand how such a strange-looking contraption could produce fire. Slowly, the word spread throughout the rural area and families clamored for the opportunity to participate in the project. It was there that Rui earned the nickname “the man with new fire”.
Before coming to EARTH, Rui spent years working on cattle farms in Mozambique as a veterinary assistant. At the time, he never imagined that later in his life the excrement of these animals would become a great passion.
During his first few months at EARTH, Rui learned the basics of biodigester technology, and discovered the hidden potential in animal excrement that opened up a world of possibilities. In his first two years at the University he did his own research about this technology that converts waste material into energy. As Rui tells it, “Since my first year, I have tried very hard to better understand this technology, and in my second year where we had options to choose elective topics, I always chose biodigesters.”
In third year, all EARTH students are required to find a professional internship for 15 weeks in a foreign country or in their home country. For many students, this represents their only chance to visit their families during the four years of their studies, but for Rui his most important goal was to find an internship that permitted him to get experience in the subject he was passionate about.
“To me, it didn’t matter what country, but what I wanted was to learn about the technology and Biobolsa was the company that offered me that opportunity,” affirmed Rui.
Despite the fact that the Mexican company Biobolsa didn’t offer paid internships or provide food or lodging, Rui found financial support from the Open Society Foundation, the same entity that financed his education at EARTH. Thus, after leaving Mozambique and spending two and half years in the Costa Rican tropics, Rui Madime arrived in Yucatan, Mexico.
He went through a week-long training in Puebla, Mexico and then moved to the Yucatan where the company was organizing a start-up project. Rui earned the trust of his supervisors from the very first week, demonstrating his skill in the field by offering solutions to technical problems in systems that had already been installed.
While living in the Yucatan, a completely indigenous Mayan región, Rui also depended on the multi-cultural skills he had learned at EARTH to communicate and establish ties with members of the community.
“I undertook a double challenge, going to an unknown region and learning about a new culture and different way of life, and teaching people about a brand-new technology while I was still learning at the same time,” said Rui.
The International Institute for Renewable Resources Mexico (IRRI Mexico), with financing from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, managed the donation of 50 biodigesters to be installed in the Yucatan region. Rui’s challenge was to select 50 families, make sure they complied with the necessary conditions, help them install the new systems and teach them how to use the methane gas instead of firewood.
In his first weeks in the Mani community, he created an alliance with the Its ka án School, an agro-ecological school that works to promote raising a species of native pig known as the black bald Mexican pig. With the cooperation of the school, Rui selected a team to help him find families suitable for the new technology and that were willing to raise pigs, now that they could use the excrement as fuel.
For Rui, his professional experience was enhanced by the cultural enrichment that allowed him to learn more about the Mayan culture, language and lifestyle of the indigenous people that call the rural Yucatan home. His desire to share his knowledge and help the communities didn’t end with bio-digesters. When he realized that the staple diet in the community revolved around the consumption of pork, Rui organized in coordination with the agro-ecological school, a series of culinary workshops to encourage consumption of plants and vegetables found in fields and backyards to highlight them as a potential source of food.
His passion for biodigester technology yielded incredible results. Despite the many challenges he faced, he was able to persuade families and install 46 biodigesters in less than four months. His experience was so successful that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation decided to finance the installation of 1,000 additional systems in the peninsula.
Now in his last year at EARTH, Rui is preparing himself to return to his country with his graduation project. He continues working on generating energy from waste but with a new focus on adapting the technology to the climate in his country. Currently, he is researching the possibility of a dry anaerobic reactor, due to the fact that in Mozambique there are long periods of time when water is scarce.
“The fact is that EARTH has this environmental consciousness, and living here and seeing how we use this technology allows us to create solutions for communities like mine. You come here, you watch and learn, and then go out into the community and implement this knowledge,” Rui concludes.
“The man with new fire” is very close to returning to his homeland, bringing with him much more than just “new fire”. Rui hopes to share what he has learned and make productive changes that his community needs.
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