I helped to improve a family's wellbeing forever

22 July 2014

Today‘s blog shows how smokeless stoves change lives – from the perspective of someone who has helped to build one. But it’s not just the recipients who feel the difference. If enough people take an interest and investment capital is available, the effect on the local economy could be significant – as Ned Dwyer of this July’s Harambee volunteer team explains.

John Thibiu lives in a smallholding near Londiani in western Kenya. He is part of an extended family of eleven that also includes his mother, aged 101. All their meals are cooked on a traditional three-stone fireplace using firewood collected in the forest. Two of John’s daughters make the three-hour round trip to collect firewood four times per week. They carry the firewood on their backs in bunches of 40 sticks per load, each of which they have to pay for. They need to make so many trips because John’s mother sleeps in the kitchen to keep warm. That means the fireplace is kept lit most of the day. When the fire is lighting, the kitchen fills with smoke.

Things are even worse in the wet season, when it is difficult to dry the wood. John’s mother, his wife and the children who use the kitchen all suffer streaming eyes, and have chronic coughs. Indeed John’s mother is almost blind, with the smoke constantly irritating her eyes. However today, I helped to improve this family’s wellbeing forever.

New smokeless stove

I was part of a team of local Kenyan workers and Irish volunteers, which removed this traditional fireplace and replaced it with a smokeless stove. The stove is constructed from bricks, mortar made with clay and water and an aluminium chimney which removes all the harmful smoke from the building. All of these materials are sourced locally

This new stove will almost entirely eliminate the streaming eyes and the coughing. It’s also much more efficient. John’s daughters will still have to make the long journey to the forest for firewood, but much less frequently – and they will also save money.

Lighting the fire and seeing all the smoke go up the chimney is a moving experience, as you know that this family’s life has just changed for the better.

And with the success of Friends of Londiani’s stove-building projects, more and more people are becoming interested in smokeless stoves. With the recent expansion of microfinancing in this area of Kenya, there is the real possibility of a sustainable industry growing up around stove building, as people can now begin to borrow the money required to purchase the chimney and the bricks. This will increase the need for these materials and create jobs in the local community. That in turn means that everyone can start to benefit from a smokeless stove future in the Londiani district.