Bartholomew Segu, T’16, travels around Tanzania with a gospel message and a ceramic insulating rocket stove design. The rocket stove is just part of his calling.

Segu says, “In my view, the Christian call to priesthood is a holistic one, involving evangelism and social action. Evangelism includes the sacraments and preaching. Social action includes socio-economic, political, gender, religious, and environmental justice.”

Segu says the cook stove project falls under his responsibility to care for God’s creation and seek environmental justice. “The fall of humans negatively affected their relationship with God, with themselves, and with nature. Hence, the ministry of Jesus was holistic, aimed to liberate humans from all the complex dilemmas affecting them.”

Cooking technology is one area where Segu recognizes this brokenness. While much of the world has transitioned to gas and electric stoves, around half the earth’s population continues to burn solid fuels like wood, coal, and biomass.  In Tanzania, most cooking takes place indoors. Some households have a metal charcoal stove. Other people cook over firewood, in a pot placed on three rocks. Ventilation is poor or non-existent.

Hundreds of millions of people in developing countries breathe excessively high indoor pollutants due to smoke and fumes produced by poorly ventilated household stoves, according to the United Nations Environment Programme/World Health Organization Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS). Women and children are the most affected, resulting in acute and chronic respiratory diseases, cancers of the respiratory and digestive organs, burns, eye diseases, low birth weights, and increased mortality.

Cooking presents an occupational hazard for food vendors and preparers, and the smoke is a significant factor in outdoor pollution. Worldwide, acute respiratory infections have been named as the leading cause of burden of disease, accounting for the deaths of four to five million children under five every year.

Segu grew up in Busunzu Village, a rural village in Kibondo District, Kigoma Region, in the western part of Tanzania. Local church leaders recognized Segu’s call to ministry and encouraged him to pursue ordination. He was ordained to the deaconate and priesthood in June 1997. Segu completed a three-year certificate in theology at St. Philip’s Theological College in Kongwa, Tanzania, and that was only the beginning of his theological education. His degrees include Bachelor of Divinity (Honors, 2009), at St. Paul’s University in Kenya; MAR (2012) at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania; and STM (2016) at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Segu is currently a Ph.D. student at St. Paul’s University in Kenya, studying systematic theology.

As Segu began his pursuit of theological education, he continued planting churches and living out his commitment to the calling of evangelism plus social action. In 2016, a colleague in New York introduced Segu to Reid Harvey, a ceramics designer with TAM Ceramics in Niagara Falls, New York. Harvey shares an interest in solving environmental health problems in Africa.  His history includes numerous development projects with ceramics in Africa, especially ceramic water filters and rocket stoves.

Harvey sent instructions and a design to Segu, certain the new stove could save lives in Kibondo District. By the end of the year, Harvey traveled to Tanzania to oversee the installation of the first stove. “But when I got there, they’d already built it! Incredible!”

One of the first new stoves was installed in the district hospital kitchen in Kibondo. The previous stove had consisted of a concrete table with a hole for the cookpot. The design was inefficient and an occupational hazard for the kitchen workers. The new stove uses one third as much fuel and burns very hot while remaining cool on the outside. It has a chimney for venting carbon monoxide. It produces no smoke at all.  

Since the project began, 48 stoves have been built. Two stoves, for demonstration, were constructed at Bishop Mpango’s secondary school. Another 46 stoves were constructed in Biturana Village under the sponsorship of 24 Sun in the United States. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wellsville, New York, is sponsoring the construction of another stove, which will be built this fall at Malaagarasi High School.

In 2017, Segu formed the NGO now called Advocates for Social Cohesion Foundation (ASCF). Through local community organizing and a growing support base on several continents, ASCF tackles issues ranging from gender-based violence to albinism awareness. Spreading cookstove technology remains at the forefront of ASCF’s aims. You can follow the work on Segu’s facebook page:

“Father Bart’s devotion to the task is inspiring,” Harvey says, “and his integrity is beyond question. Advocates for Social Cohesion is a lot more than stoves, it’s more than water filters. Anglican clergy like Father Bart are some serious developers of the region.”

Harvey anticipates work with several universities to promote adoption of the stove. “This stove is the most genuinely sustainable model, with remarkably low cost, and it is a design that can make entrepreneurs of the poor. It can be implemented almost anywhere with no outside resources. The bricks can be made onsite, and clay workers are everywhere.”

The world is ready. As the population in developing countries continues to grow, the increase of smoke multiplies harm to humans and animals. Segu cites Genesis 1:28 as a mandate to act as a steward of God’s creation. Genesis 3 informs his belief that humans have negatively affected their relationship with God, with themselves, and with the universe. For the cure, he turns to Revelation 20-22, summing up the message this way: “The return of Christ will mark the restoration of all creatures to their original state.”

Segu does not sit back and wait for God to enact this restoration by divine fiat. He puts on his collar, packs the drawings for the rocket stove, and travels to the next village.