Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day 280: Cocina Mejorada What?

Libby Skolnik
Musho, Ancash, Perú 8

The cocina mejorada (improved cook-stove) is a relatively simple idea. Using 42 adobe bricks, create a base for your new stove that is raised off the ground and includes a storage cupboard for pots, pans and other kitchen necessities. No longer will the family cook have to suffer back problems induced by stooping over the ground-level, campfire-style cooking ring. Sufficient air circulation and a brand new chimney will help to ensure that the smoke has an outlet, ideally reducing respiratory illnesses and vision problems. A metal stove top with three cooking surfaces, specifically fit to the family’s pots, helps to create a more efficient cooking system and, thus, reduces time spent cooking and the amount, and related costs, of firewood needed to cook each meal.

There are articles and manuals, websites and testimonies, all intending to inform interested parties on the benefits and practicalities of building a cocina mejorada in the home. When an international NGO working in the area asked us to join with them in a Healthy Homes initiative, including the installation of cocinas mejoradas, we were thrilled. Planning meetings and brainstorming sessions helped our multi-sector team (Peace Corps Volunteers, NGO, and the local health post) to work out a number of kinks, decide on our initial pilot project beneficiaries, and create an ambitious work plan.

Unfortunately, the differences in our visions created a fissure in our schedule of activities.
Our (Peace Corps) end goal: Work with the local 15 health promoters, spread amongst the five communities, in transforming their homes into ‘Healthy Homes.’ Installations in the health promoters’ homes would include cocinas mejoradas, sinks and faucets connected to the chlorinated water system, connection to the sewage system or a sanitary latrine, chicken coops, and guinea pig cages, among others. A series of open-houses would then allow the health promoters’ neighbors to visit the newly improved healthy homes, learn about the project and join a large version of Healthy Homes in the next NGO fiscal year. Their (NGO and health post) end goal: Successfully spend the available project budget by the 15th of August, a goal accomplished by installing 60 cocinas mejoradas in the community. In the end our Healthy Homes project will start by fulfilling their goal. We were, however, successful in convincing our team to consider a number of nonformal education techniques in the installation and learning processes.

Into the field…

It was a sunny Tuesday morning in Musho. After days of community walks to inform the invited families of our demonstration session, we walked down the hill to the specified meeting location. There, at a curve in the dusty, dirt road, stood almost 50 local women, all of whom had arrived at least 15-30 minutes early for our noon departure. In the next hour 15 more would arrive, making our participation rate almost 100%. And so, in two combis and two taxis, our group of almost 70 barreled down off the mountain, through the valley, and back up into another canyon. Nearly two hours later we arrived at our destination – a small town located at practically the same elevation (3000+ meters), sharing many of the same living conditions and traditions with the families of Musho.

Our combi ride had been a flurry of questions and concerns, complaints and excitements. But here, in this new village to which only one of our members had ever visited, we were introduced to the ‘cocina mejorada.’ We entitled the day ‘Sesión Demostrativa de las Viviendas Saludables y Cocinas Mejoradas.’ Met by several of the town’s members, Musho’s ‘cocina mejorada’ beneficiaries were invited into the homes, presented with the verbal testimony of families who already benefited from many of the Healthy Homes installations, and allowed to observe and ask questions. Concerns ranged from ease of cooking to building specifics. It made sense. It was no longer an unimaginable combination of words. Finally, the cocina mejorada was a reality.

Two days later, our multi-sector team invited the beneficiaries to their first training on the project. Again, with nearly 100% participation, we explained the various aspects of the project and the required responsibilities for the beneficiaries. Responsibilities include 100% participation in all technical trainings, attendance at nutrition and hygiene educational sessions, a pre and post survey to measure changes in behavior, and provision of manual labor in the building of their cocinas mejoradas. Additional installations include family vegetable gardens and animal cages for their guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens.

Our next steps include a technical training on building the cocinas mejoradas and the beginning of a series of educational health sessions. While the challenges are varied and sometimes seemingly insurmountable, we will seek to teach in a manner that will open people’s eyes to new ideas, allowing them to personally decide to improve their lifestyles by providing the technical support necessary.

This is a picture of what Mushinos are cooking on currently. As you can see, the pot is balanced precariously on the rocks and there is no chimney for the smoke to escape. The walls are black, and you can only imagine their lungs.

Another cook-stove in Musho, this time made out of adobe. Again, note the black walls. Many Mushinos, especially the women, spend most of the day in the kitchen preparing food for their families (sometime more than 15 people eat in her home for every meal). And, as the sun sets and the air gets icy, the whole family migrates to the warmth of the kitchen... and so the lungs are blackened of all.

Ahh, the cocina mejorada (or improved stove). This is the stove model that we saw on our field trip (see article above). This stove is also made out of adobe, but has been covered by plaster to help maintain a cleaner kitchen, and maintain the integrity of the stove. The cupboards below help the family keep their pots and pans off the dirt floor. Also, the height of the stove allows the cook to stand and not hurt her back by bending over a floor level firering.
Here you can see the metal surface of the stove, fit with tops that help keep the stove hotter and more efficient, as well as keep the smoke flowing toward the chimney (see back right corner of the stove.) As a part of the Healthy Homes project, families can build cages for their guinea pigs to keep their kids from playing with them, avoiding the spread of disease for both the animal and the kids.
Same thing goes for the chickens. And this way the chickens don't eat their vegetables in the garden or lay their eggs in hidden nooks and crannies. More protien (chickens and eggs), and more vitamins and minerals (veggies!).

And finally... The latrine. Crucial. For all of the reasons you can think of and more.

Here one of our participants takes notes on the engineer's description of how to build the stove.
The day ended with one final question and answer session in which our Musho Moms got really excited to start up the project in Musho!