Supplying Central America with safe, fuel-efficient stoves
Top: StoveTeam International cofounder Nancy Hughes. Bottom: Factory owner Gustavo Peña (far left) demonstrates use of the Ecocina stove to a group of women in El Salvador. Photos courtesy of Nancy Hughes
Six years ago, Rotarian Nancy Hughes had a career-defining experience as a volunteer with a U.S. medical team in Guatemala.
She met an 18-year-old indigenous woman who had lost the use of her hands at age 2 after falling into a cooking fire. Hughes learned that the common practice of cooking over open, indoor fires led to a high incidence of burns and smoke inhalation, especially in children. The team’s doctors restored function to the woman’s hands, and her expressions of gratitude spurred Hughes to search for a way to prevent such injuries.
In 2004, Hughes, a member of the Rotary Club of Eugene Southtowne, Oregon, wrote the first of five Matching Grants that provided more than 2,300 safe stoves in Guatemala over a three-year period.
She discovered a less expensive, lighter prototype, however, in a 50-pound portable stove called the Ecocina. The stove resembles a large cement flowerpot and has a partially covered top and a sheltered opening on one side. Designed by Larry Winiarski and Eugene Southtowne Rotarian Ken Goyer, the Ecocina is insulated to prevent burns and requires up to 50 percent less wood than an open fire. It also reduces smoke and carbon monoxide output by at least 70 percent.
In 2008, Hughes and five other Eugene Southtowne Rotarians founded StoveTeam International. Aided by two Volunteer Service Grants, she and others from her club traveled twice to El Salvador and Guatemala to scout locations for Ecocina factories and educate communities and local organizations about the stoves.
That same year, a group of volunteers, including Hughes, constructed workbenches and storage areas for a factory near Sonsonate, El Salvador, that employs up to 15 workers. Two Matching Grants supplied raw materials and helped subsidize the $40 cost of the stove to buyers. In its first full year of operation, the factory produced 6,000 Ecocinas and is now self-sufficient.
“We decided we were not about producing stoves; we were about producing factories to produce stoves,” Hughes says. “And I really like the idea that we are providing people with employment.”
“We are all very grateful because this has changed our lives,” echoes factory owner Gustavo Peña, pointing to the company’s positive impact on “all who do the factory work” and “all those families who receive an Ecocina.”
Peña coordinates village Ecocina demonstrations with Peace Corps volunteers and solicits outside interest, including a recent order from the Mexican government for 3,000 stoves. He has also helped train owners for three factories in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These Matching Grant-supported factories started producing Ecocinas in early 2010, and a fourth, independently funded factory will begin operating in Nicaragua in April. Rotary clubs in El Salvador and the Guatemala Sur club in Guatemala have contributed to the effort by overseeing distribution, assisting in construction, and offsetting the cost of the Ecocinas to buyers.
Since its founding, StoveTeam International has received approximately $370,000 from 40 Rotary clubs, Foundation grants, and private donations.
“Demands for new factories arrive in my e-mail every week,” says Hughes, who is planning operations in Fiji, Mexico, and Paraguay. “New factory owners are learning stove production and business practices and more and more people are receiving fuel-efficient stoves every day.”
Written for Reconnections