Publication Date: February 18, 2015
Publication Location: WASHINGTON
Contact: Kathryn Schoenberger   |   [email protected]

World Learning congratulates Charlotte Munson, the newest recipient of the Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship, which returns alumni of its undergraduate study abroad programs to their host countries to conduct human rights projects.

Munson, of Brooklyn, New York, is a spring 2010 alumna of SIT Study Abroad’s Mongolia: Nomadic Culture & Globalization program. She plans to use her fellowship to build a biodigester, which uses human waste to create biogas, an alternative, clean energy source, for a community in the Ger District of Ulaanbaatar. During her SIT program, Munson became interested in the Ger District community, and after her program ended she continued to research issues this community faces. She soon discovered that Ulaanbaatar has the second worst air pollution in the world due in part to the coal used to heat homes in the Ger District. Additionally, the expanding Ger District community does not have efficient waste removal systems. Munson began researching home-grown methods to address these issues and learned about biodigsters, which could address both the waste removal and air pollution issues faced by this community.

“I like the efficiency of turning waste into fuel” Munson said, “I want to find ways of dealing with the necessities of human life in a way that makes sense for both the environment and people.”

During her fellowship, Munson will design and build a biodigester which will use human waste from a communal latrine to create biogas. This alternative, clean energy source can be used for cooking and heating gers, reducing the use of particulate-producing coal. Mongolia’s cold climate will be a challenge – biodigesters are typically designed for warmer climates – but Munson is working on an alternative model using psychrophilic methanogens, a bacteria that thrives in the cold, that she hopes can serve as a pilot project for a development model that could be used across all temperate climates.

Munson holds a M.A. in anthropology and international development from the London School of Economics, and a B.A. in anthropology and Asian studies from Hamilton College. She currently works for a medical humanitarian organization.

The family of Alice Rowan Swanson created the fellowship as a living tribute to Alice, an Amherst College alumna who died in a 2008 bicycle accident in Washington, D.C. Rowan Swanson was inspired to work in international development and human rights following her SIT Study Abroad experience in Nicaragua in 2006.