A new way to fuel tomorrow's Education

Claudine Yankurije, a student at Stella Matutina Secondary School in Rwanda, says the new biogas system at her school makes it easier to learn.

Rows of green cabbage, banana trees and healthy cows lead the path to Stella Matutina Secondary School in Rwanda, where student Claudine Yankurije sits huddled over a gas flame. As she studies intently in her school's science laboratory, the flame not only helps her science experiment, but it also represents an innovative approach to energy. The flame is fuelled by her school's use of natural resources to create bio energy. "It's easier to learn by experiment in the biology lab,” she says. "The biogas that we harness here at our school really adds to our learning experience.”

With the support of the UN in Rwanda, Claudine's school has developed a unique and efficient way to create bio energy to power schools.

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"Biogas is made from decomposed gas, waste from toilets, animal houses and decomposed plants,” says resident Soeur Auree N. Ngomituje. "By using biogas, we have cut our cooking costs by fifty percent, because we no longer use wood-burning  stoves.”

 "The money saved with biogas will be used to buy books, teaching materials, and better food for the students,” says teacher Soeur Aurae N. Ngomituje of the school's innovative energy system.

With the help of UNEP, a biogas system was constructed to treat this waste and convert it into energy. Waste from ten specially designed latrines goes to an underground receptacle, where it is combined with manure from the school's livestock. When methane rises off the tank, it then flows into the gas lines that funnel into the school's kitchen, thus fuelling the school's cooking burners.

"The money saved with biogas will be used to buy books, teaching materials, and better food for the students,” says Soeur Auree. The school also uses the same natural fertilizers to help grow its crops, and the result has been better quality in the production, which benefits both the students and the community. "By eating well, they grow better and are stronger, and by being stronger they can follow their studies more effectively,” says Soeur Auree.

Besides the extra money, she adds that because they no longer use smoke-producing fire, there is less pollution around the school. All of this goes to improving the learning environment as well as the natural environment. Auree says that by not using wood to make cooking fires, trees are saved in the area. It is estimated that each biogas unit reduces deforestation by 37 hectares per year.

 Because the biogas system uses human waste to partially fuel the school, the students say they keep the bathroom facilities cleaner and have improved their hygiene

And biogas is not the only new technology UNEP helped introduce at the school. In addition to setting up ten toilets for biogas conversion, UNEP and the school authorities also constructed a rainwater-harvesting tank, anti-erosion trenches and established an environmental club.

For a sustainable outcome, UNDP teaches educators and students integrated resource management, and they have created an Education in Action school for environmental education.

If the electricity goes out, the school can use biogas for lighting the classrooms and continue with the education. As an added bonus, Claudine says that because the students know the waste from the toilets go toward the biogas system; they take better care of the restrooms. "Because we're conscious of the whole process, we naturally keep the toilets clean,” she says. "And since we're often thinking of hygiene, we always remember to wash our hands to keep ourselves healthy.”

With biogas, the 430 girls at Claudine's school have a more efficient way to ensure their education-and their future-stays on the right track.

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