According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.6 million people (majority women and children) die each year from issues caused by smoke inhalation from preparing food. Those who spend time in an environment where smoke is repeatedly (or constantly) inhaled suffer from asthma, pneumonia, a weak immune system, runny nose, and vision problems, among other conditions.
Yet, cooking over fire is the method of choice in Africa. Small structures built separate from the home, often with no windows or air ventilation, are used as kitchens in the majority of Ugandan homes.
Because of the repeated health issues our friends face due largely to the current construction of their kitchens, we saw the need to help bring change. In the bible, participation in kingdom activity always includes participation in the preservation of life. One way we can preserve life here in Uganda is to think of new ways to protect the women who spend a large portion of their day cooking in a harmful environment.
Our friend and partner in ministry, Francis, has a home on the outskirts of Bombo town, Uganda. His wife, Annette, always cooks the family’s meals under a tree near their home. But when the rains come, cooking is a problem. Thus, the need arises for an enclosed structure. Francis, a builder, began making plans to construct a kitchen. Due to the issues surrounding smoke inhalation in most Ugandan kitchens, we engaged in many conversations about different possibilities for a kitchen that would meet the needs of their family and provide a healthy environment for Annette to work in (one free of smoke). Through dialogue, the idea of building a wood-burning stove was examined. This type of stove allows food to cook using less firewood and also trap the smoke and funnel it out, using a chimney.
Now, the kitchen is close to completion! Annette is excited to use her new stove. Neighbors and others who pass by are constantly asking questions about what is being built, which gives Francis and Annette an opportunity to share about the new stove (including its benefits).
This new stove will prevent Annette and her children from dealing with long term health issues due to repeated smoke inhalation. It also empowers Francis and Annette to share with others what they have learned in order to help prevent similar health issues in their neighbors and friends.
The stove is still in process, and the kinks are currently being worked out. It is quite the feat to determine how to channel a fire’s smoke elsewhere, while still allowing it to emit enough heat to cook food quickly. We are hopeful that we can eventually perfect the process and that many can benefit from an inexpensive and easily replicable wood-burning stove system.
By: Joshua Kurtz