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Fuel-Efficient Cookstoves – transforming communities and benefiting women in Eritrea

The traditional stove in Eritrea is called the ‘mogogo’ and, like most homes around the world, forms the central focus point of family life. Here is where women – like Tekea and Desey – spend a significant part of their day, preparing meals, heating water, and feeding the voracious open flame an endless supply of wood gathered from the ever-sparser countryside.

 

 

However, the problems these stoves evoke on both individual and community levels are numerous. The open flame produces a lot of smoke that is often detrimental to family health, as well as contributing significant emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. This environmental impact is compounded by the stove’s appetite for firewood, contributing to already arid conditions as further trees are cut down to meet demand. This also means that women and children spend increasing hours of their day foraging for fuel – time that could be spent in education or galvanising income. This is an image of Africa we frequently see represented – women and children walking long distances carrying heavy bundles of sticks.

 

 

Tekea was one such woman, gathering sticks three or four times a week and carrying them many miles back to her home in Adi Tekelezan, or spending her little amount of cash buying them instead. . Like more than 30% of women in Eritrea, Tekea rears her family of seven children alone. The time that could have been spent earning extra income for her family or enjoying quality time with her children, was instead taken up with the drudgery of gathering sticks.

Tekea joined Vita’s community-led cookstove program – an initiative that puts women at the centre of the project, providing them with the supplies, skills, and knowledge to build and then maintain an improved and more fuel-efficient stove. Using locally sourced materials, Tekea built her own stove with the help of the other village women, hand painting it with flowers and leaves to show its importance in her home. These stoves are not only safer for the women and families using them but also better for the environment.

 

 

Tekea is now a trainer, and works with Vita’s home economists to bring the programme to the wider community to ensure that no family gets left behind. Passing on her skills beyond her own home means that Tekea’s village continues to feel the benefit of the cook stove program, as more and more families benefit from the training and knowledge of the village women.

However, perhaps the biggest advantage of the cookstove, especially for an exceptionally busy mum like Tekea, is its reduced fuel consumption. Using nearly 60% less fuel than the traditional stove, Tekea, no longer needs to spend 20 hours a week gathering sticks and instead is focusing on working to better her future and that of her children. Money and time that would have been spend on firewood is now used to generate extra income that buys milk and help pays for her children’s education. This, for Tekea, is the best possible outcome. “My children have the chance of a better future – and that makes me very happy!”

Tekea is not alone in her happiness. Desey Tsehaye is a 47 year old grandmother who lives 12 km south west of Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara. She has eight family members living under her roof including her husband and three children aged 10, 12 and 17 years as well as her adult daughter and three young grandchildren.

 

 

The area where Desey lives is almost completely deforested so her family spent a lot of money buying firewood to fuel her traditional cook stove. An improved cook stove was installed in Desey’s house through Vita’s fuel efficient cook stove project. Vita worked with the local women’s association in the village to engage women in the project even though Desey herself, when first invited to participate in the project, was initially reluctant:

“When I was invited to have an Adhenet stove my mother had just died and I told Vita that I was grieving and not in the frame of mind to have this new kind of stove. Then they offered to construct it for me. Once it was built I really blessed them. Now I see that this stove is a precious item that everyone should have. I’m telling all my friends and neighbours about the benefits of it of this stove.”

Working with the local women’s association to provide Desey and other women from her area with training on stove maintenance proved very successful and has helped build grassroots support and interest in the improved stoves. The interest has been so great in the community that these stoves, as Tekea, Desey and many other women can attest to, are called the Adhenet or Saviour stove. The stoves got this name because of the time, drudgery, and money they save women and girls collecting firewood. Desey now has no need to buy firewood as twigs and leaves are enough fuel for her improved stove. Her family are now able to spend this money on buying a wider variety of food and making improvements to their well-kept house – important factors that are greatly improving Desey and her family’s quality of life.

 

The cookstove has also drastically improved Desey’s physical health and wellbeing. When Desey was using a traditional cook stove, the harmful smoke affected her health, causing eye problems and chronic headaches from the fumes. Futhermore, the smoke would dirty and destroy her clothes whenever she cooked, a factor that made her reluctant to visit neighbours and reduced her willingness to attend social events. These problems are a thing of the past. The closed flume chimney of the improved stove means there is no smoke indoors and Desey is now enjoying newfound health and wellbeing – as well as a much improved social life!

Tekea and Desey are just two women Vita works in close partnership with, to enable a better quality of life and a more hopeful future for their families. The impact of these self-built cookstoves on both Tekea and Desey’s health, incomes, communities, environment, and general happiness represents Vita’s holistic approach to improving livelihoods. These women don’t just enjoy a stove that makes it easier to cook delicious Injera, the traditional bread eaten all over Africa. They enjoy autonomy, being able to maintain and repair their own stoves and teach other women to do the same. They enjoy increased income, having more time to spend on generating income or more money to save from reduced firewood costs. They enjoy improved health, due to a wider diet made possible by more income, as well as a reduction in diseases caused by harmful fumes. And, perhaps most importantly, they enjoy the luxury of having more time to spend with their children, their families, their friends, as they no longer have to spend hours collecting wood to keep their fires going!

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