We in the western world take healthy cooking completely for granted. You turn the knob on your stove and magically gas or electricity heats the food before you. Many people in the world aren’t that lucky however: much of the worlds population still use indoor wood stoves of questionable design. They pump smoke into the surrounding air, use many more trees than necessary and eat up the income of people already living on the edge. Now, the organization Enlace is working to bring smart and simple eco-stove designs to the people of the world, beginning their life saving mission in El Salvador. They call the project Cooking Up Love.
We caught up with Michelle Bueno, part of the team behind this important effort, looking to see what the project entails. See our interview below, check out their graphic to see the numbers behind the project, then head to Cooking Up Love to show your support.
This is a project which promises to make many peoples lives better. What was the original spark which made the founders of your group say “we’ve got to do this”?
Eco-stoves are such a simple solution to a pervasive and devastating problem. The simplicity and adaptability is the “spark”. Respiratory infections caused by kitchen smoke kills more than a million children each year worldwide. This is more than HIV and second only to water-borne illnesses. In El Salvador this preventable problem affects families in a variety of ways: Eighteen percent of children die due to infections caused by chronic smoke inhalation; non-efficient wood-burning stoves contribute to deforestation; and poor families lose money, time and energy buying and or collecting wood.
Our particular story with eco-stoves began years ago and is tied to our mission as an organization. ENLACE’s core mission is to help local churches work with their communities, responding to their particular needs that they prioritize. Embedded within that approach is a commitment to seeing through an “opportunities-based” rather than “need-based” lens. In lieu of these commitments, back in 2004 as we were working in a very remote and poor village called Abelines, a small local church (20 members, members who often did not have an education beyond 3rd grade), had begun to connect to its community by meeting with them one-on-one and at community association meetings. As they got to know their neighbors more, one of the biggest health problems after the need for clean water that they confronted was acute respiratory infections that plagued women and children. Most of these infections (about 60 percent) were found to be due to the chronic inhalation of kitchen smoke. At that time, a missionary who was working with us was an expert in appropriate technology. He helped to train ENLACE technical staff and gave workshops in the community. Inherent in the eco-stove’s design are three things: 1) use of local, easily available and affordable materials (stoves can look pretty different in each community; sometimes made with bricks, sometimes sealed with molasses, etc.) 2) burns fuel more efficiently; 3) does not change cooking method or require a “foreign” idea to be adopted in order to be successful. (For example, in some communities a metal cooktop is preferred whereas in others, the terra cotta “barro” surface is used.)
Once all the materials for construction are collected, how quickly can one of these stoves be built?
With the help of a friend (often a church member that’s been trained on stove construction and has worked on building many stoves) and an ENLACE technician, a stove can be built by a family in about four hours.
Can you give us an example of one family whose life has been changed by having one of these stoves?
Esperanza is 39 years old and has three children. She lives in a poor rural village in El Salvador with the hopeful name of La Bendición, the Blessing. Like many of her neighbors, Esperanza and her children have developed respiratory infections due to the constant smoke they inhale from their home’s open cooking fire. Every time she cooks, she coughs. Her two-year old son has had bronchitis on and off since he was born and experiences a breathing crisis at least twice a month. Esperanza’s twelve-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with asthma and she worries about her fourth child, who will be born into these conditions.
One day a local church member named Juan told Esperanza about a stove that would change the very air her family breathed. This stove would channel smoke through a chimney and enclose the fire, burning wood more efficiently. Understandably, Esperanza was a little nervous about trying something new. While she understood that cooking smoke makes their conditions worsen, her way of cooking is all she’d ever known.
Still, Esperanza thought of all those hours that she and her children gathered wood from the mountainside. If a stove would burn the logs longer, she would use less wood and have more time and energy for other tasks. So when Juan helped her family by carrying the bricks for the stove to their house, Esperanza rallied her family to gather other materials like a sheet of aluminum for the chimney and even molasses which would be used to seal the stove’s seams.
With their new eco-stove Esperanza and her children are breathing easier and have begun to experience a much better quality of life. Esperanza’s name means “hope,” which the family now has. Hope not only for them, but for her unborn child who will now be surrounded by more love and happiness than smoke.
Thank you Michelle for sharing these inspiring words with us. Readers can find out how to help at cookinguplove.org.
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