When Fred Colgan retired, he had just one plan: to make a difference, however possible. As fate would have it, he met someone with the same goal.
“It was magic,” Colgan said. “A friendship instantly blossomed. We were in sync, and wanted to spend the remaining years of our lives giving back to the world.”
Colgan and his wife, Lise, had moved to Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 2004, and restored an old slaughterhouse on their property. Wanting to use their new space for good, they leased it to the Aprovecho Research Center, which was working on efficient stove technology. Colgan decided to start volunteering with the center, and met Damon Ogle, an engineer who was designing an institution rocket stove to be used by people around the globe in need.
“Damon and I started talking and immediately built a partnership,” Colgan said. “I was intrigued with Damon’s work. I liked his approach, I liked his ethics, and I liked his reasons for doing what he was doing.”
The Colgans, Ogle, and his wife went on to start the Institutional Stove Project using their own money. Eventually, that became Institutional Stove Solutions (InStove), an independent, nonprofit humanitarian organization. InStove delivers 60L and 100L cook stoves which replace the need for a three-stone fire – the way more than 3 billion people in all corners of the globe cook.
“Institutional Stove is very descriptive to what this device is,” Tom Tomlinson ’66, a member of InStove’s Board of Directors, said. “It’s aimed at being in institutions around which people gather. It’s in many schools, hospitals, and refugee camps.”
The InStove reduces the amount of firewood used by 90 percent, saving up to 88 tons of firewood a year. It is not hot to the touch, and cannot be tipped over. There isn’t any heavy smoke, alleviating indoor air pollution, and women who are afraid to cook outdoors for safety reasons can easily use the InStove inside. It can also be used as a medical sterilizer and water pasteurizer. A 60L can prepare up to 100 meals and a 100L can make up to 180.
Since starting, Colgan and Ogle have never looked back, and today are coming up with “better and better ideas to make cook stoves even more functional,” Colgan said. “We agreed we wanted to dedicate our efforts to bringing the best, most innovative technology to the people who need it most.”
InStove works with different aid organizations to place stoves, and private donors can also purchase stoves at cost and donate them to hospitals, schools, refugee camps, or orphanages. It costs about $1,000 for a stove to be built and transported.
Over the last four years, Colgan has visited 20 African countries and 17 refugee camps to deliver InStoves. “It’s very hard to describe when everything falls apart,” he said. “There you are with nothing but what you carried on your back. Your home is gone, whether it’s from war, conflict, or a natural disaster. It doesn’t matter. It’s mostly women and kids, and it is heart wrenching. It’s hard to describe the affect it has on your soul.”
After spending 11 weeks going from camp to camp, Colgan found it impossible to speak about what he saw, but his resolve to deliver InStoves was strengthened. “This level of need has really inspired me to do more to bring relief to these people,” he said. “That’s what keeps us going, is the overwhelming need and grace. It’s very humbling. They still have a sense of humor and generosity.”
When it came time to put together the Board of Directors for InStove, Colgan thought of Tomlinson, an old friend. The pair first met 52 years ago as freshmen at the University of Redlands, where Colgan attended for three semesters. They had lost touch, but would hear about each other through mutual friends. Tomlinson had just retired, and intended to be “very selective” with the organizations he would be involved with.
“I had worked at very fine colleges and universities fundraising, and spoke fluent philanthropy and fundraising,” he said. “For me, this was exactly the kind of organization I wanted to be part of.”
Both Colgan and Tomlinson thought the InStove could be a teaching tool at colleges and universities – students could discuss the environmental impact of air pollution, the ethics of helping others, the economics of starting a company that provides cook stoves. In late September, the pair visited the University of Redlands, and met with students for demonstrations on how the InStove works and question and answer sessions on the organization.
“We marvel at the kids at universities,” Tomlinson said. “If I had to compete with these undergraduates, I’d be selling peanuts in Des Moines, Iowa.”
During one session, the InStove was shown to students in the physics department, which Prof. Eric Hill thought was a wonderful learning experience. “It was great for my students, many of whom are interested in going into engineering and would love to be working for a worthy cause,” he said.
It’s people like that, who want to give back and change the world, that Colgan hopes will become part of the InStove team.
“I’m a dreamer,” he said. “I think I was meant to be here, that I’m not here at Redlands accidently after 52 years. We look to people younger than us for better idea to grow the organization. The ultimate goal is to find people to carry on this work if we retire.”
For more information on InStove, visit http://instove.org/
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