Smokeless stove celebrities!

12 November 2014

In today’s blog Claire Hallinan and Jane Stanley continue their adventure (and hard work!) in Londiani with a fascinating, and revelatory, stint as stove installers.

On Friday the 7th of November we returned to two houses in the Chebowar community to install smokeless stoves in place of the traditional indoor, non-ventilated clay stoves. We first visited Tulwap and Chebowar on Monday to carried out surveys of households. To say that these first visits were an eye-opener is an understatement. Not only were the people we met overwhelmingly welcoming and eager to feed and water (or chai!) us, but experiencing the discomfort of standing in a smoke-filled room for even a couple of minutes made us realise what a positive impact the simple yet ingenious smokeless stove would have on the health and well-being of the householders, and especially the women and girls who spend so much time collecting wood and cooking for the family. The enthusiasm of the local children, who insisted on giving us almost a guard of honour during our visit, is not something any of us will easily forget.

The installation process at the end of the week was an exciting event for the entire extended family and neighbours. While none of us are builders by trade we enjoyed getting our hands dirty, helping to mix cement and lay the bricks. But this experience was not just exciting or enjoyable. It was also truly encouraging and worthwhile as within the space of three hours we saw a visible and real improvement in the living conditions of the families we were helping.

Almost immediately, formerly smoked-filled kitchens were smoke-free — and more importantly, safe. No smoke means fewer respiratory and eye infections or burns within the family. It has other benefits too, which we learned while also gaining an insight into the role of the mother within the family unit.

We had known from surveys that the mother and daughters collected all the firewood — a task that can take as long as five hours — as well as cooking and tending to the farm. However, we were shocked when we saw a pregnant mother lifting large sacks of clay and mixing cement while the men stood by, observing. It really brought home to us the inequality between men and women in rural Kenya, something we both found quite upsetting. However, there was a lot of comfort in the knowledge that the new stove would make a real difference to the health of this mother-to-be.

Leaving the houses, we felt like celebrities such were the number of photographs we were asked to pose for with each and every member of the family and any neighbours passing by. We returned to St Kizito’s looking forward to a hot shower, dinner and an early night in preparation for a weekend of trekking and luxury camping in facilities that our CEO is currently constructing. At least we were told it was luxury...