Notes from the Field: Paths out of Energy Poverty

clean cookstove El Salvador

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Communications Coordinator

The kitchen smelled of molasses and smoke, mixed with the thick red dust from ceramic bricks being cut and shaped. In El Salvador, it is tradition to use molasses to mix cement. They say it’s stickier and doesn’t crack as much as cement mixed with water. For a clean cookstove, this is exactly what we want.

Family in El Salvador
Doña Mercedes and her children were excited about receing a new and improved stove

Today, we are in the small farming town of El Porvenir, about an hour and fifteen minutes from the busy and overcrowded capital city of San Salvador. The Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo (AAP) team is here with us, watching Melvin Sandoval, one of AAP’s stove tecnicos, build a new Justa clean cookstove in the home of Doña Mercedes. This year alone, the busy AAP team, our NGO partner on the ground in El Salvador, has built over 500 clean cookstoves. In total, the team has built close to 4,000 of these life-changing stoves in El Salvador.  Doña Ilda, AAP’s stove promoter, says she currently has a waiting list of over 200 more families who have requested the stoves. The demand is very high and we are doing everything we can to meet this demand.

Since the Salvadoran government cut liquid propane gas (LPG) subsidies, the price of this popular fuel went from $5 to $15 in a matter of days, causing huge financial burdens for the majority of the population dependent on these subsidies. This has led to a huge spike in the use of fuelwood for cooking, making our clean cookstoves very appealing to families who have returned to cooking with traditional, open fire stoves.

old cookstove El Salvador
The old "stove" about to be retired

When we walk into Mercedes’ kitchen, a very small building connected to the back of the house, her old stove stands right in front of us, a sad excuse for a cooking “appliance.” Mercedes has been using this converted metal barrel to cook for years, essentially just an elevated and completely open fire, the back of which has melted away from the intense heat.  The walls and ceiling of the kitchen show the consequences of this type of cooking as well, blackened from smoke and soot bellowing up from daily fires. I immediately begin to imagine what it must be like to cook in here everyday. Eyes burning, coughing, clothes smelling of a campfire, constantly buying or cutting firewood, child strapped to your back, inhaling the smoke and soot. How can a woman and her children bear this for so long?

No person should have to be subjected to such conditions, yet 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, still cook over an open fire every single day. This lack of access to basic energy, such as electricity or gas, is a major inequality that anyone who has been to a developing country has seen and will never forget. The people suffering most from this energy inequality are the women and children, who spend most of their days cooking for the family. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 2 million people (again, mostly women and children) die each year from the effects of indoor air pollution (IAP). WHO also estimates that harmful cookstove smoke is one of the top five threats to public health in poor, developing countries.

Mixing cement is a team effort!

Mercedes and her children are well aware of the dangers of open fire cooking, which is why they are thrilled to see us when we show up to start construction of the new cookstove. Most of the AAP team joins us today to both help with building as well as catch up with Sebastian and Claudia, who run TWP’s International Program, and our down in Central America to visit partners and projects. As we all talk, Melvin gets started with the bricks and mortar. The molasses cement is ready to go, and the bricks are now being placed. As the afternoon moves along, we work together to mix more cement, cut out ceramic tiles that will become the combustion chamber, and take photos and video of the progress being made. Mercedes and her children keep a close eye on the project as well, eager to use their new and improved stove.

The AAP team takes a break for lunch

When you see this process first-hand, you begin to realize how important planning, logistics, and teamwork are to a successful cookstove program. This starts with having a solid team in the field. AAP is this team. Led by their director Armando Hernandez, the group is hardworking and dedicated to helping both communities and the environment thrive. They spend every day working with families who are struggling to get by and looking for ways to better their lives. Clean cookstoves provide one answer to these families.

The new cookstove emerging

As the day comes to an end, and it is time to let the cement dry, the new cookstove becomes another example of how we are educating and empowering people to become stewards of their environment. Better cooking options are available; stoves that don’t use exorbitant amounts of wood while polluting homes and the environment can be built right now. Giving communities access to this technology is the first step on the path out of energy poverty.

Notes from the Field: From Haiti, With Love

By Jon Becker, TWP Board President

A short 2 hour flight from Miami delivered me from the order and predictability of the United States into the bedlam, rubble, and breathtaking resilience of this Caribbean nation who’s remarkable history rivals any on planet Earth.  It’s not hard to imagine the tropical island paradise that must have originally existed here – before Columbus, colonization, slavery, sugar cane empires, revolutions, wars, invasions, coups, and the earthquake of January 2010.  The people here have lived through everything, tend to have very few things (from a material point of view), and somehow seem to get up every morning to do the significant work that the day brings to them.  The streets are packed with people walking; heads often loaded high with baskets of food, clothes, or other goods.  The capital city Port-au-Prince isn’t just hilly – it’s like San Francisco on steroids.  And of course the roads are bad, and overcrowded with cars and trucks and motorcycles and Earthquake debris, yet people are swarming all over like ants, going where they need to go, doing what they need to do.  Did I mention that it regularly pours with monsoon intensity at this time of year, which of course doesn’t slow people down a bit?

VJ Jahangiri inspects a component of the Zanmi Pye Bwa cookstove

Yesterday, TWP Deputy International Director, Sebastian Africano, picked me up at the airport after my arrival at 8 am.  He was already moving in fast forward (including Central America full on chaos driving mode).  We battled our way through morning traffic to the new United Nations base (the old one was thoroughly destroyed, at great cost to human life, in the Quake).  We met up there with inimitable  International Lifeline Fund field leader VJ Jahangiri.  VJ has been the feet on the ground launching and directing ILF’s pioneering stove work in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and now Haiti. We had one sit down with a UN staffer we wanted to see, the second office we went looking for had vanished.  Typical Haiti story I’m told.  The neighbors think they moved to another town, maybe we’ll find them.

Next stop is the ILF office and stove manufacturing site.  How Sebastian finds his way through the insane maze of streets, and without getting swiped by a truck or bus, or running over a pedestrian, is totally beyond me, but I’ve quickly learned not to question and to look down at my feet when it looks like collision is imminent.

A busy ILF office in Port-au-Prince

ILF headquarters is in a moderately converted house high on the hill overlooking the Gulf of Gonave.  Lots happens here, most exciting is probably the boys out back – hammering, cutting, shaping, riveting, coaxing sheets of steel into the Zanmi Pi Bwa, the “Friend of the Trees” cookstove.  Some would call them craftsmen, I prefer artists.  They’re a dozen or so young men recruited from off of the streets by TWP and ILF who create these beautiful, technologically sophisticated, life and environment altering stoves.  Everything is made totally by hand, not even a single power tool (both because these guys prefer it and electricity is not something to be so relied on here).  One gentleman cuts the disk that will be the stove’s base, he passes it to another who hammers the edge into a 90 degree bend that will mate with the sides.  Other groups work on the charcoal basket, a crucial component that needs to hold the fuel, supplying it with adequate combustion air, withstand the rigors of 1000 degrees of so temperature, last long enough to keep the cooks happy, and be easily replaced when it finally wears out.

Hard at work!

  And there’re stations for making the handles, the ash door, the pot holders, etc.  Finally, by some miracle (called production management), in the end there are the right quantity of each of these parts so that stacks of completed, ready-to-go stoves accumulate at the house rather than inventory of components.  As I write, I hear the BANG SMASH CLANG of these men at work.  It’s a beautiful sound to me (although I send my deepest sympathy to any neighbors within earshot).

 From here, we set off in a caravan that included ILF’s Patrick Chevalier and Dagne Casseus.  Dagne is one of ILF’s sharp and valuable field monitors.  One of the great lessons learned at TWP over the years is that the best technical stove design in the world isn’t worth the tin (or tile or mud) it’s made out of if it doesn’t suit the cooks’ sensibilities, which usually (but not always) means the women of the house.  The field monitors perform the indispensably crucial tasks of surveying, educating, and following up with users so that we can learn what’s working, what isn’t, and how we can improve operation, desirability, and ultimately sales of cookstoves.  We had the very deep pleasure of visiting two homes of families who not only use but are involved in the sales of the ZPB stove.  So, it wasn’t surprising that they spoke highly of them, but they also communicated (through Patrick, translating from the Haitian Creole) with real honesty and thoughtful articulation.  We got feedback on cooking, as well as pricing and marketing.

Seeing the working stoves in place in homes, and hearing how they had significantly reduced charcoal costs and improved lives was an absolute thrill for me – first day here and the trip is already more than worth it!  I reconsidered this conclusion during the two hours it took to make the trip back to our home base through rush hour and the rain, covering a distance that might take us 20 minutes back In the USA.  After dinner and a shower, I stand by my earlier impression.

Upcoming Event: “Faces of Haiti” at the Global Village Museum

Don’t miss this unique event: A special fundraiser for Haiti! Learn about Trees, Water & People’s development work in Haiti and enjoy a wonderful Haitian art and photography exhibit. All proceeds will support TWP’s clean cookstove program in Haiti.

Can’t make the event but still want to support clean cookstoves in Haiti? Click here to make a donation to this project!

TWP Teams up with Rodelle Vanilla to Bring Clean Cookstoves to Ugandan Farmers

Rocket Stoves in Uganda

* Source: Thank you to Dennis Marrero for his wonderful story about this partnership and for providing the above graphics to the public. Please visit for the full story.

Notes from the Field: A Humbling Journey to Haiti

By Richard Fox, TWP National Director

May 2011: Port-au-Prince, Haiti

While in Port-au-Prince this April I witnessed a city that is still experiencing overwhelming need. Today much of the rubble from thousands of destroyed structures remains where it fell and many people still live in tent communities. Life, though, has been slowly improving and Trees, Water & People (TWP), in partnership with International Lifeline Fund (ILF), is continuing to build low cost, fuel efficient cookstoves that not only lessen the exorbitant price families pay for charcoal, but also help relieve pressure on the disappearing Haitian forest.

After collecting valuable feedback from our stove beneficiaries, TWP and ILF worked together to design the Zanmi Pye Bwa (“Friend of the Forest”) fuel-efficient cookstove. A group of tinsmiths was then brought together to cut and assemble 1,000 Zanmi Pye Bwacookstoves over a six week period. Centralizing production without a factory site is challenging, but allows us to improve standardization of our product while offering these skilled metal workers a positive change of environment – getting them away from rough neighborhoods characterized by burning trash, dilapidated buildings, crowds, and traffic.  All in all, these workers have embarked on what we hope will be an uplifting rise out of poverty, gaining access to steady and dignified employment in what TWP and ILF intend to develop into a significant local charcoal stove manufacturing operation over the next year.

The Zanmi Pye Bwa ("Friend of the Forest") clean cookstove. A joint effort of Trees, Water & People and International Lifeline Fund.

I was greatly humbled by my journey and it reminded me once again to be thankful for all I have.  It was heartening to see how effective TWP and ILF are at utilizing our donors’ contributions and to witness the positive and lasting impact our work is having for thousand of Haitian families.

Building Clean Cookstoves in Haiti

Trees, Water & People, in partnership with International Lifeline Fund (ILF), is helping Haitian families displaced by the earthquake rebuild their lives by launching a fuel-efficient cookstove project in Port-au-Prince which will produce much needed employment and allow families to safely prepare food, purify water, and save money.

Currently, our International team is supporting the manufacture of 1,000 fuel-efficient charcoal stoves for a pilot project, working with 10 local metal workers at the ILF compound in Port-au-Prince. Take a look at the process in the slideshow below:

TWP Goes Platinum in the Climate Wise Program

TWP has been a member of the City of Fort Collins Climate Wise Program since 2007.  Now, in 2011, we have reached the highest level within the program: Platinum Partner!

Through environmental assessments and creative solutions, the Climate Wise Team helps businesses tackle modern-day business challenges that impact bottom lines and the quality of life in Fort Collins.  To date, the voluntary program has over 200 business partners.  Climate Wise staff work with these local partners to implement energy, water, transportation and waste reduction programs, saving each business money while, at the same time, greatly improving our local environment.

Trees, Water & People’s 2010 Accomplishments:

  • Planted 805,093 trees = 161,000 tons of CO2
  • Built 7,909 clean cookstoves = 59,318 tons of CO2
  • Replaced 6 T-12 light bulbs with efficient T-8 bulbs
  • Installed locking outdoor mailbox so that we could seal off the draft from our mail slot
  • Saved 1,560 gallons of water a year by installing two low flow toilets
  • Installed compost bins beneath all of our paper towel dispensers
  • Relocated our bike rack to front, covered porch for safety, convenience, and to promote bike commuting


TWP’s Co-founder Stuart Conway on Colorado Public Radio to Mark Peace Corps’ 50th

Stuart Conway stands in a Guatemalan tree nursery that he helped to start during his Peace Corps service.

Stuart Conway, TWP’s Co-founder, shares his Peace Corps experience in Guatemala and how it inspired him to start Trees, Water & People in 1998.

From Colorado Public Radio:

“This month the Peace Corps marks its 50th anniversary. We hear from three Coloradans who say it changed their lives. University of Colorado journalism graduate Josh Boissevain currently volunteers in Moldova. Former state Democratic party chair Pat Waak served in Brazil from 1966 to 1968. Stuart Conway volunteered in Guatemala from 1984 to 1987. He runs the Fort Collins-based non-profit Trees, Water and People. They talk with Colorado Public Radio’s Sadie Babits.”

Listen to the show here: Coloradans Mark Peace Corps’ 50th.