Rural villages in East Africa are swept up in a storm of change. They face familiar unsolved long term issues, but now in a social and economic environment full of new pressures and challenges. They face:
Needing good and abundant water; Dwindling environmental resources; Health problems that have taken the lives of so many children; Problems in reproductive health and family size management; Food security; The possible need to change livelihoods as climate becomes less predictable and outside economic forces intensify; Women needing new capacity to take care of themselves and be leaders; Uncertain impact of urbanization and depleted rural human resources; Slow rate of infrastructure development from central governments.
Are we producers of specific commodities and our problem is to get people to want them, buy them, and use them? Or are we planning to play our part in the monumental tasks ahead for rural Africa. If we want to be more than profitable stove sales people we must not limit our imaginations with the ideology saying that scale and sustainability come only through markets. In fact, all community organizing is the creation of generalizable power out of the solution of specific problems. Let stoves be our tool. Every problem in stove project implementation becomes an opportunity for empowerment.
- For health there must be a chimney for a Maasai stove: action: organize women to be the builders and construction experts that are required.
- A chimney means a challenge to stove efficiency: action: work with women to help engineer an efficient stove, measure their wood use, and try prototypes in their homes.
- Pollution measurements must be done to prove health improvement: action: engage men and women in data analysis of monitoring devices.
- The stove is not expensive but beyond the range of disposable income for the average women. action: Organize the community to assess wealth and create a collective mentality in men that leads to them use wealth to benefit their wives’ and children’s health and comfort. New ideas about gender relations are introduced in a practical and socially serious way.
- Lack of access to disposable income is chronic among women: action: work with women to design and capitalize small businesses and plan their organization to generate money for purchasing stoves for the especially poor.
- There is a need for stove parts: action: Help local experts to start a factory, hire people and buy raw materials from local businesses.
Of course we all want the direct benefits of a good stove program: Lessened women’s labor, dramatically improved heath, and conservation of the environment with decreased greenhouse gas emissions. And a stove the women will stick with because it is what they really need.
But, most importantly, our introducing stoves must include creating general problem solving capacity and strengthened communities as the women of rural Africa are going to be living in dramatic and unpredictable change for the rest of their lives.
~ B. Lange