Nearly three billion people around the world cook their food and heat their homes with traditional cookstoves or open fires. The smoke exposure from these methods is said to be behind 4 million premature deaths every year. But with the support of the American Red Cross, a Red Cross volunteer from Uganda, and a proud female community leader, that reality is changing in rural Binga District, Zimbabwe.
In 2012, clean cookstoves did not exist in Binga District, Zimbabwe. That is, until Christopher Odeke, a Uganda Red Cross volunteer, traveled to the Binga District to teach the national Red Cross society how to build them. Part of the Building Resilient African Communities (BRACES) program, the cookstoves are just one element of a larger collaboration by the American Red Cross and the Zimbabwe Red Cross to reduce the risk of disasters in the region. A small scale activity with a huge impact, cookstoves reduce deforestation because of less need for firewood and keep dirty smoke outside, leading to less health risks. They also increase the amount of time between firewood collection, allowing more time for other activities such as farming and education.
Margaret Sialinda’s home was the site for the first test cookstove Christopher built during a training of the Disaster Management Committee (DMC); possibly the first cookstove in all of Zimbabwe. Members of the DMC then go on to build cookstoves for their neighbors in the community, so far more than 110 have been built with plans for many more. A chairperson for the DMC of Siamwinde 1&2 in Binga, she was selected by community leaders because of her interest.
A mother to 20 year old daughter Kudzai Mukuli, she said her new cookstove has allowed her to spend more time with her family and less time collecting firewood and cooking. Because of the lack of open flames, small children are less likely to get burned. And where as women used to cook in the morning for food to be eaten in the evening, leaving food exposed to flys carrying diseases such as cholera, the new cookstoves cook faster, meaning food can be prepared shortly before it’s ready to eat.
“I enjoy being a leader in my community, it is interesting to work with different people and know their ideas and share with them,” Sialinda said. “My daughter helps me, she says she feels safer now because of cookstove. She wants to be a volunteer. After Christopher taught us how to build cookstoves, he said to go out and teach others. I do that and my hope is that everyone will one day have a cookstove.”
As a chairperson, Sialinda promotes cookstoves in her community, advises other committee members and works with local health and government officials from the district.
“They respect us; they respect the job we are doing. They tell me, ‘You are doing well by us.”
For more information on the American Red Cross in Zimbabwe, visit redcross.org.