A TEACHER whose eye-opening trip to Africa led him to founding his own eco-friendly charity has been honoured with a university doctorate.
Ken Dunn developed an interest in education for sustainable development after mountaineering expeditions to the Yukon in Canada, the Kashmir Himalaya and the Andes in Bolivia.
But the 57-year-old, who was presented with a doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University last Friday, said it was after he won a trip to South Africa that he saw things that truly changed his life.
“I entered a photography competition in the Observer and the prize was a trip to Africa for six weeks,” he said.
“It was only when we saw people living hand to mouth that I knew I wanted to change what I was doing and work with the communities rather than just pass through them.”
The result of this awakening was Africa’s Gift, the charity which Ken, of Parkfield Road, Clifton, now uses to build bridges between communities southern Africa and elsewhere.
His work with Hallam includes a partnership with schools in South African, which sees English trainee teachers visiting the city of Port Elizabeth every year, and regular visits by students, including from Rotherham schools.
But arguably his greatest success has been the uptake of the pioneering slow cooker known as the Wonderbag, a device invented in Africa which dramatically cuts the amount of wood needed in cooking.
His doctoral citation acknowledges this, reading: “Ken’s work with the transformational thermal cooking bag, Wonderbag, is changing lives, improving nutritional intake, improving health and reducing the consumption of natural resources.”
Ken also takes parties of students, school pupils and adults to Lesotho and South Africa to provide practical help.
Explaining how his African connection had developed, he said: “I just happened to be in Lesotho with this family were running tourist lodges and ploughing the profits back into the local community. When I asked how she was doing it she was getting help from universities in South Africa.
“I decided to get people to come from the UK and work with them and it just grew from there.
“I never thought it would change my life but it has and it’s made quite an impact in southern Africa.
“I remember one woman using a Wonderbag said: ‘Thank you for giving me my life back’ because her life before was harvesting wood and standing round a fire for five hours a day.
“It’s important to me that what we do is sustainable, practical and developmental rather than just aid.”
Ken said he was hugely honoured to receive an honorary doctorate, adding: “It’s a really endorsement of the educational value of what I’m involved with.
“I wish to dedicate it to my family, who have supported and encouraged me lovingly in this work.”
Ken said he hoped the award would help raise the profile of his work, which includes encouraging people to cut their own carbon footprint and embrace sustainable tools like the Wonderbag.
“I use it every day to cook porridge,” he revealed.
“The bag was invented in Africa and that cultural change is coming from Africa.
“Each bag is found to save between 1.6 and two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Each of us are responsible for up to ten tonnes each a year.
“I am encouraging people to make small changes in their own homes. It is up to us to make the little changes that we can ourselves.”
Visit africasgift.org to find out more about the charity.