After five weeks of planning, discussing, disagreeing, failing, replanning, rediscussing, reagreeing, and finally coming to a consensus: we have ourselves a project! Alhamdullilah!
The idea was planted during my second week of work when we did home visits with the enfermerias (nurses) around to the community regarding how to care for chiquitos (children from ages 0-6). One of the houses that we visited sticks to my memory in particular not because of the appearance of the house, or even how many children were living in a single room—but because of all the excessive smoke that occupied the kitchen area. After taking a closer look at the family’s kitchen set-up, I then realized that the women in these families had been using an open fire in an old trash bin as their stove, with a large, metal pot placed on top to cook the food. Upon further investigation, it was brought to my attention that in fact, many rural Nicaraguan families use this method of cooking for a number of reasons:
1. Tradition—Nicaraguans have used open fires to cook for generations and generations.
2. Simplicity—it is just a fire in a trash bin, right?
3. Double Function—not only does it cook their food, but it also allows them to burn their trash, plastics, and bottles as well.
As a result of using open fires to cook 3 times a day, everyday, they are exposing themselves (and their families) to dangerously high levels of soot, smoke, and other toxic fumes without even realizing it. The same communities who use these methods of cooking often contain the same families with cases of asthma, troubles breathing, and even respiratory diseases such as lung cancer. From an environmentalist’s perspective, these open stoves also plummet the air quality of the surrounding community to exceedingly poor levels not only through the amount of smoke released, but also from burning plastics. Many of the families in rural Nicaragua do not realize the risks involved with indoor smoke hazards and continue to use these open fires when cooking meals throughout the day. This is where our project comes in. After additional research on ways to make Nicaraguan cookstoves more green, and better for the respiratory health of the Bombonací community—we have modeled our project after something called Rocket Stoves. The idea is simple. Concentrate the fire in a contained space….and the benefits are countless. Concentrating the fire leads to using less firewood (leña). The need for less firewood leads to the women having more time to use efficiently because they don’t have to spend as much time as they normally do gathering firewood in areas surrounding their houses. Less time spent searching for firewood leads to more time at work, which inevitably leads to more income for the family. Have I sparked your interest yet?
On the financial aspect of things, the project is in fact, viable. After rampaging the streets and markets of Masaya, we eventually found all of the places/factories for the necessary supplies. Our supply list is simple: ladrillos, cemento, y un metallurigo (bricks, cement, and metallurgy to help us design the outside of our stoves).
After meeting with Geovani Mendoza (a great asset to the clinic), he linked me up with Erwin Lopez—the leader of the Bombonací community. The Bombonací community lies right outside of the Centro de Salud clinic and is our target community for the cookstove project. After meeting with the leaders of the Bombonací community (Erwin and his wife Maria), they understood the parameters of our project (sustainability, our work plan, and other loose ends). The most rewarding part of this entire process hasn’t been running around town looking for bricks, cement, or even sitting in a complete stranger’s house asking about measurements for the metal part of the stove—but has been the excitement and genuine interest in improving the environment’s air quality and the community’s health conditions from the Bombonací community itself! Originally, I was apprehensive about addressing an issue such as cooking methods in these communities because I wasn’t sure how the community would respond to altering such an important aspect of their daily lifestyle…when in fact, this wasn’t an issue at all. Perhaps the most satisfying stage of this project has been helping the community identify that cooking with open fires is, in fact, a problem and being there to assist them in the necessary steps to make a positive change for the future of the environment and the future of their children as well. Sustainable development at its finest!