July 15, 2018

An improved stove for Almaz in Chencha, Southern Ethiopia

Editor: Vita is an Irish development partner, working to address issues of food and energy security, agricultural development and climate change. Working through partnerships, Vita engages in a number of programmes and projects in the Horn of Africa, with the aim of delivering sustainable livelihoods to rural communities. Sisters of Mercy Western Province has been in partnership with Vita since 2009. Through this partnership, Mercy provides funding, while Vita does the work on the ground.

Vita has been distributing healthier and more fuel efficient stoves to local families in Ethiopia, a project generously funded by the Western Province. Following is the story of the difference this has made to Almaz, the woman featured in this article, and to another 5,000 women in the mountains around Chencha.

Almaz making injera.

Almaz loves her little business, making and selling traditional Injera, a pancake – like bread that is popular all over East Africa. She serves her customers from her tiny kitchen in Chencha, a small town high in the hills above Lake Chamo and Lake Abaye in south west Ethiopia. 

“I meet people all the time, and learn so much from them. People from different parts of Ethiopia and sometimes different parts of the world,” says Almaz. “My customers are some of the people who come to the village for work, and travellers on their way further up the mountains. Tuesdays and Saturdays are my busiest days – its market day in Chencha and people from all the villages around come to buy and sell. It can be a hungry business!”

Improved cook stove.

Almaz has had nine children, which she thinks is too many these days for just one woman. Two of her daughters work with her in her little mountain roadside café. Up to last year, their biggest challenge was gathering enough wood and leaves to fuel the traditional stove that Almaz cooked on. “The girls used to spend three days a week gathering fuel for my stove. Its hard work and frustrating too. Sometimes they had to carry big sacks of leaves or wood from a long way and then in a day or two it’s all burnt and they have to start again!”

When Almaz heard about the Vita stove programme, in partnership with the Sisters of Mercy Western Province, she was really interested in joining. Her friends had told her that the new stoves used a lot less wood, and that the fire was enclosed, which is much safer and healthier for Almaz and her daughters.

“I went to the local village council and asked to join the Vita stove programme. They explained to me that I would need some training, and that they would help me understand why this stove was better. Its also expensive, nearly 400 Birr (€10) so I was relieved when Vita said that they subsidise the stoves, which are made by the women’s pottery co-op in the nearby village of Dorze.”

Cooking on open stoves takes a huge toll on family life in Africa, causing more premature deaths that HIV Aids, malaria and cholera put together, due to heart and respiratory illnesses. It is also a direct cause of debilitating eye diseases and a primary cause of injury in children, the treatment of which can severely deplete a family’s resources. These factors, coupled with the drudgery involved in gathering such huge amounts of wood, makes the Vita programme very attractive to women in Ethiopia.

The impact on the landscape can also be dramatic, as Vita’s programme is complimented by a tree – planting scheme with the aim of replenishing the land that is suffering from deforestation.

Almaz's daughter Rose.

There are now over 5,000 women cooking on improved stoves in the mountains around Chencha alone, and such has been the popularity of the programmes that there are now plans to scale this up to other regions in Ethiopia. This is thanks in no small way to The Sisters of Mercy Western Province, whose generosity is helping to fund this programme.

As for Almaz, she is very happy with her new stove. “My girls spend much less time now gathering wood and leaves. I used to burn five bags of leaves every day, but now I barely burn two. The stoves are much easier to clean, too – that’s my favourite bit!”

Messages to:
Ciara Feehely - VITA Head of Fundraising & Communications
Sisters of Mercy Western Province

Images: VITA

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