Part 1: The Road to Clean Cookstoves

by Valentina de Rooy

Valentina de Rooy is a Nicaraguan psychologist with experience in qualitative research about social phenomena. Her passion is working with rural communities on a diversity of issues for the community development in Nicaragua, her country of origin. Valentina became familiar with Trees, Water & People’s work through Lucas Wolf, TWP’s former International Director, whose dedication to the people and the environment inspired to engage in TWP’s mission.

I recently had the opportunity to travel with Trees, Water & People’s nonprofit partner in Nicaragua, PROLEÑA, for a clean cookstove health study. The Aprovecho Research Center and PROLEÑA joined forces to carry out a study to measure the difference in pollution from smoke emissions in households cooking with wood in traditional stoves and improved stoves around Jinotega, Nicaragua. My role was to serve as interpreter and research assistant to Sam Bentson, the lab manager for Aprovecho.

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Doña María from the community of La Cal in Jinotega, who participated in this indoor air pollution study, shows us her new improved cookstove from PROLEÑA.

For a month and a half, we stayed in Jinotega, a city located in northern Nicaragua in the dry corridor of Central America. Sam, some technicians of the NGO La Cuculmeca, and I visited more than 120 homes in six rural communities in the outskirts of the city of Jinotega.  The participants in our study received us with great hospitality, stories, and gifts of crops they grew themselves. The children of the communities satiated their curiosity by following us to each of the households; some of them were even essential to the study by showing us the route to their neighbors’ homes.

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Sam Bentson (Lab manager at Aprovecho Research Center) places a µPEMS inside one of the houses from La Cal community in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

We met so many amazing people during our stay. We met Don Aparicio, who has dedicated his life to the development of projects in his community of Saraguasca. While we were walking along the hill one day, Don Aparicio sang to us some verses composed by “Los Soñadores de Saraguasca,” a group of which he is a member and dedicates his songs to nature, its protection and conservation:

Let’s take care of the animals,

that enliven our environment,

like those found in the forest

over there at Agua Caliente.

For destroying our woodlands,

they had to be absent,

but if we reforest,

they will return.

In the last stage of the study, we met Doña Cata from the community of Las Lomas. Doña Cata and her husband Mario are pioneers in their community when it comes to crop diversification for their own consumption and they play a key role in hosting community meetings for the people engaged in agricultural projects.

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Valentina de Rooy (research assistant of the study) explains to Doña Catalina, leader of the Las Lomas community in Jinotega, the purpose of the study and how to use the HAPEX device.

Doña Cata introduced us to Idania, a young entrepreneur who runs her own cake-making business by modifying her PROLEÑA clean cookstove with two large pots in a small oven for baking cakes. Like most beneficiaries of improved stoves, Idania enthusiastically commented on her positive experience with smoke reduction and fuel saving. Now, the stakeholders are looking forward to the results of the study, hoping to know about their health condition in order to suggest changes for the future of their communities.

An update from TWP’s International Director, Gemara Gifford:

We are pleased to announce that each participant in this study who cooks with an open-fire cookstove will be receiving a brand new clean cookstove as a reward for participating in this study. For the first time, these families will be able to breathe easier and save time and money on fuelwood. Keep an eye out for how you can sponsor a family to make this a reality! If you would like to help fund the construction of these families’ clean cookstoves, please donate today! 

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Notes from the Field: Teaming with the Peace Corps to Build Clean Cookstoves

Notes from the Field from Claudia Menendez, TWP’s International Program Coordinator:

 

April 4th, 2011: La Cuchilla, Department of Chalatenango, El Salvador

Alicia (Peace Corps Volunteer) stands next to a stove beneficiary in La Cuchilla, El Salvador.

After a hot and bumpy 2.5 hour drive we reached the community of La Cuchilla (the blade), which refers to the steep mountain ridge it sits on. We’ve come to visit Alicia, a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) whose been living there for over a year and half.  Alicia is a prime example of what a PCV’s contribution to community can be as she tells us about the many environmental projects, women’s economic activities, and Justa cookstoves she’s built in La Cuchilla.

The El Salvador TWP team (Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo), Alicia and one other PCV from a nearby community, helped train a father and son team as the community stove builders.  Arboles supplied the griddles and combustion chambers and supervised the stove building, while Alicia raised additional money through the Partnership Fund, asking friends and families to donate to the project.   Alicia was able to raise $2,000 and coordinated with the Mayor of La Laguna to provide transport for the cookstove building materials.  The La Cuchilla community is made up of 80 families, 65 of them now cook daily on improved Justa cookstoves – an impressive accomplishment, especially after traveling the long and winding road up to this rural mountain community.

Making tortillas on a fuel-efficient cookstove. Helping people and the planet!

Alicia goes back to the US in August of this year.  She says that the other families don’t want to be left stoveless and are urging her to help them as they organize amongst themselves to collect materials little by little. Alicia says that building these 65 Justa cookstoves wasn’t an easy task, so building another 15 clean cookstoves should be a little easier although she awaits a challenge.

The Facts and Background:

Currently, El Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin America (after Haiti).  Today, most deforestation in El Salvador results from the country’s high population that relies heavily on the collection of fuelwood for meeting cooking needs.  Aside from the horrible environmental degradation that occurs from cooking over open fires, there are also major health issues surrounding this practice.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 2 million people, mostly women and children, die each year from indoor air pollution. A simple, appropriate technology such as a fuel-efficient cookstove will reduce  each families fuelwood consumption by up to 70% while, at the same time, reducing indoor air pollution by up to 80%; a sustainable solution that is good for both people and the planet.

Click here to learn more about TWP’s Fuel-Efficient Cookstove Program.