One Kitchen at a Time

For many of us, cooking is a pleasure, and for others it’s just a pain. For Albertina Grandados in Tepititán, El Salvador, cooking is dangerous. Unfortunately, it’s also a necessity which means that she and her children are exposed to the dangers of cooking almost all day long, day in and day out.

This is because she has been cooking over an open-fire stove most of her life. To prepare breakfast lunch and dinner this way means keeping a fire going and managing the wood and coals for beans to turn out just right.

I’ve cooked with babies in my arms and toddlers scuttling around. It’s not easy. It’s unnerving. And even though she has been doing the same for years, for Albertina it is scary.  That is because burns from fires used to cook are common among women and children in El Salvador, and among women and children throughout the developing world where approximately 3 billion people cook over fires fueled by wood, dung or coal.

Respiratory Illness

Even more common than burns, are respiratory infections caused by the smoke and toxins emitted from fires for cooking. The smoke Albertina inhales each day from cooking is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Albertina does not smoke, and neither do her small children, but they all inhale the same fire smoke as they sleep, play and even pester her by the hearth as she cooks.

The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely from illnesses related to indoor air pollution that comes from things like fires for cooking.  Women and children that suffer the most, with 50 percent of pneumonia deaths among children under five being attributed to the same indoor pollution.

Making Homes Safer

woman cooking on a new stove
Albertina preparing pupusas and plantains at a recent stove distribution celebration in Tepetitán, El Salvador

In El Salvador, LWR is helping improve conditions for cooking and breathing in homes. Through our partner CEPRODE, and as part of our Disaster Risk Reduction project “Building Resilience,” supported by the US Agency for International Development, LWR recently distributed dozens  of “Ecocina”  cook stoves to women — stoves that produce almost no smoke. These women were chosen because they and their families are considered most vulnerable to the illnesses and dangers of cooking over open fires.

The stoves don’t look too fancy, but they are miraculous. Designed by Stove Team International and built by Salvadoran employees in a small local factory, these stoves emit 90 percent less smoke than cooking fires, and still cook food faster than is possible over an open flame. The stoves even remain cool to the touch while in use. It is estimated that when used, these stoves impact the lives of six family members by reducing respiratory ailments and burns among them.

Protecting the Environment

These stoves not only help reduce illness and death among children and women, they also help the environment. The stove cuts C02 emissions by about 70 percent and uses 60 percent less wood than traditional cooking methods. This is critical for countries such as El Salvador where natural resources have been pushed to the brink and forest conversation is a must for human survival.

Saving wood also means saving women time in collecting it, and saving families money.  According to Tepititán City Council Member, William Portillo, families purchasing wood spend about 30 percent of their income on it.  Expressing enthusiasm over the stove, Portillo explains, “Buying wood is a burden, but to maintain our environment we simply need these stoves.”

Improving Lives

Portillo likes the stoves, but more importantly, so does Albertina.  “I like these stoves. They save wood, and they are not smoky. I have little kids in my house, so you can imagine how much this helps.”

I can, and after observing this stove distribution in El Salvador, I don’t have to imagine how LWR’s work is helping women and children in Latin America.  I see it clearly in these little stoves.