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My Rare Experience during the Student Challenge – Digitizing Cooking in Rural Zambia

By, Seneliso Sikalangwe, Mulungushi University/ Zambia

Long distance travel - a childhood dream

Mulungushi University, Lukanga Hostel, it was 4:30 in the morning, I was late but very sleepy, was chilly but I had to take a cold bath yet, I was excited deep down. From My Early childhood, I had always been a fan of long-distance travelling and this day is the day I had been waiting for, for the past months.

I had been in online brainstorming sessions with my fellow students from different partner institutions in the project. I was excited to meet all of them as we sought to conduct a co-creation study. The study was to assist in recognizing the importance and 1 urgency of leveraging the potential of academia and industry collaboration, in coming up with innovative solutions to overcome the intertwined social, economic and environmental degradation of climate change effects on livelihoods that are inclusive and sustainable.

The aim of the trip was to further identify, understand the barriers and opportunities for digitizing cooking in rural Zambia.

We aimed to draw knowledge from knowledge systems, including Indigenous people, small-holder farmers, processors and marketers for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems which will create a learning environment for rural children especially the girl child.

When there is a will, there is a way …

I rushed to take my bath, prepared and started heading out to meet my fellow Mulungushi students just outside the University gates. We had arranged for transport but our commuter let us down and our phones kept buzzing because our supervisor was worried that we were running late and so as students, we had to get creative.

We made the craziest plan and stopped a truck heading to Lusaka, hopped in heading for Kabwe to meet our supervisor who had arranged for transportation to proceed to Lusaka then Monze.

Face-to-face for the first time

Eventually, we got to Lusaka and met up with fellow students from HAMK, UNZA and Aalto University. We had connected for the last few weeks via Zoom and WhatsApp but there's nothing like a good old-fashioned face-to-face meet-up. It was a hilarious re-union but not on the social media space or online platform. The energy was good and the friendship was instant as cultural barriers were broken and there was blending. We immediately started heading for the outlying areas of rural Monze.

I wish to thank Afstor company providing this rare opportunity of providing digital cookers to communities that are totally excluded in the so called ‘civilized eco-system’.

The home of cattle farming - Monze

The drive was hot as it was the peak of the hot season, but we soldiered on and 4 hours later, we were in Monze, the home of cattle farming in Zambia. We settled in and started planning our activities for the next two days. Thanks to the facilitation, mentorship and guidance of experienced Professor Marko Nieminen/Aalto, Ms Ulla –Maija Knuutti/HAMK and Dr. Rebecca Lubinda/Unza, our confidence levels were boosted like the Covid-19 boosters for immunity.

Time was not on our side but we did the best to make sure that we attain our goals and planned activities. At some point, everybody was on the same page but tired finally and had to get some rest as day 1 came to an end with all of us reaching a zone of compatibility.

Chiyumn Village

I woke up at 7 AM and took a good shower, headed for some breakfast and into the bus, on our way to Chiyumn village, it was a good drive full of conversations whilst looking at the landscape. It was a dive into nature but the effects of deforestation were visible and honestly sad to look at. We soldiered on and got to the village, don't get me wrong, the village wasn't that close, it was a 3 hours drive on a gravel road but I want to tell you the good stuff.

We arrived in Chiyumn village and we were greeted by pupils at the local school who were very excited, and happy to see us and the feeling was mutual as we reciprocated the energy because it was equally as exciting for us. We divided ourselves into teams as planned before we got to work.

Interacting with the Pupils

The pupils were quite shy but once the ice breakers were brought in, it was a smooth ride. We had conversations whilst discussing and interviewing them on the stoves and what they think its features like the internet and electricity would do for them. The interchange was lovely as the answers gave us a much deeper insight.

We broke off for lunch where we enjoyed a traditional Zambian meal with some good village chicken and Chibwantu. After lunch, we swapped teams and interviewed some other pupils in other classes including teachers who gave us a much more detailed insight on the benefits and potential benefits of the stove. The day was an absolute success and around 5 pm, we started heading back to our place of stay. Upon arrival to our accommodation, we still had to discuss our findings although everyone was tired. We made the most of it as we compiled our findings and planned for day two.


The third day had a very similar setting to day two with the biggest difference been that, when we got to Chiyumn, we interviewed the older people in the informal sector. Unfortunately during day 2, we were told that, most of the adults had gone for a funeral because, the village headman had passed away and the burial was on that day.

We were amazed that they made a tremendous effort on the day and came through to interact with us. The interview was conducted in teams but before breaking into teams, we had a very nice introductory round and we were introduced to senior local leaders including subjects to the chief and the village headmen.


The student challenge experience during this Monze consultation meeting was compiled and analyzed by the different student teams.

The results will inform work on the development of guidance for strengthening co-creation and innovative interfaces as well as evidence-based processes for digitizing cooking in rural Zambia. Our findings will help to ensure that effective business and policy decisions are made based upon satisfactory, appropriate and reliable research based evidence.


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