“I don’t breathe in smoke anymore and I can cook rice, stew and make tortillas all at once. The griddle heats up really well, cooks fast, and my pots stay clean.”
After a hot and bumpy two hour drive up a steep, winding road we reached the community of La Cuchilla (“The Blade”), El Salvador, a reference to the mountain ridge that it sits atop. We’ve come to visit Alicia Cock, a Peace Corps Volunteer who’s been living here since August of 2009. Around the table, Alicia shares with us a list of this year’s projects, including promoting economic opportunities for women and the introduction of Justa cookstoves to La Cuchilla. While only 80 families live in this tiny community, 65 of them now cook their meals on clean-burning Justa cookstoves, an accomplishment that Alicia speaks of with great joy.
The remoteness of villages like La Cuchilla can be a challenge for coordinating a clean cookstove project. Some supplies like wood ash and clay can be contributed by the locals, but the griddles, combustion chambers, and chimneys must be supplied by Trees, Water & People’s Salvadoran partner, Árboles y Agua para El Pueblo. When extra funding was needed, Alicia raised an additional $2,000 through the Peace Corps Partnership Fund by asking her friends and family to donate. Once the supplies arrived, she provided training to a father and son team who became the resident cookstove builders (tecnicos).
Blanca Lilian Ebarrá is one of those cookstove beneficiaries. She’s a bubbly young woman who was happily making tortillas when we arrived to say hello. When asked how she liked her new Justa cookstove, she cheerfully shared with us all the benefits and ways her life has improved. “I don’t breathe in smoke anymore and I can cook rice, stew and make tortillas all at once. The griddle heats up really well, cooks fast, and my pots stay clean.” When asked about firewood consumption, Blanca said she noticed right away that she was cooking with about half of what she habitually used. She said that she doesn’t have to buy firewood because her husband goes up the hill and prunes the trees instead. “But now with this stove he goes less often and he’s very grateful for that!”
When Alicia returned to the U.S., she happily reported the 15 families, who originally were not interested in improved cookstoves, are now asking to be included in the project. The families we visited said that they’ll be sad to see Alicia go, but will remember her fondly as they cook on their much appreciated, clean and economical Justa cookstoves.