The people of Nicaragua have been cooking on old log burning stoves ignorant of the effect they were having on their local forests. An initiative was put in place to help educate the people, preventing damage to their health and to help protect the environment.

It’s just before dinnertime in the village of Ococona in rural Nicaragua and Sonia Enriquez is busy preparing a meal for her family. Until recently, this daily chore would be accompanied by fumes of black smoke that billowed through the kitchen and the rest of the house, getting into Sonia’s eyes and filling her lungs.

“It left me half-blind,” says Sonia of the smoke that her old, handed-down stove produced, “and I’m sure it affected my breathing.” The family’s health was suffering because of their antiquated kitchen equipment, but that wasn’t the only thing at stake.

To fuel the stoves of the Enriquez’s and their neighbours, local forests were being stripped of large quantities of timber. For the people of Ococona, cooking wasn’t merely a health issue – it was an environmental one too.

A silent enemy

Recognising that the villagers’ old stoves needed to be replaced and that the villagers themselves needed to be educated about environmental issues, a DFID-funded project decided to take action.

Sonia was one of those who received a more modern cooking unit. Smaller and made from natural materials, her new stove requires little firewood and gives off heat that is much less intense than before. The house is no longer clogged with fumes every mealtime, and the family’s eyes and lungs are feeling the benefit. Importantly, forest resources are also being preserved. To learn how to use the new stoves, villagers were invited to a series of training sessions, which doubled as an opportunity for them to find out how their own behaviour – in particular their use of local natural resources – can impact on the environment.

“Before (the training), I thought only the loggers and sawmills destroyed the forest,” says Sonia, “but I’ve realised that in the communities, too, there is a silent enemy: us, the people who use the forest for firewood every day to cook food.”

Only the beginning

The project’s main aim is to reduce villagers’ use of firewood by 50%. Thanks to its work, so far over 2,500 people in Ococona and other villages in the Macuelizo area have received new stoves or attended training sessions. And the message is even spreading outside these target communities. Sonia now often receives visits from women from nearby villages who are keen to find out about the latest addition to her kitchen. Like she once did, they look forward to ridding their homes of thick, unpleasant stove fumes – not just for health reasons but also because of the wider costs.

“We’ve improved our knowledge of taking care of the environment,” says Sonia, enthusing about the changes that she’s seen amongst her neighbours and near-neighbours, “and that’s only the beginning of the great things we can do!”

Facts and stats

• The project in Macuelizo was carried out by the UK-based non-governmental organisation Progressio

• Between 2005 and 2007, DFID contributed £8.4 million towards Progressio’s work in Nicaragua. A further £10.31 million will be provided from 2008 to 2010/11

• Progressio is also working with the Macuelizo’s Environment Secretariat on an innovative project to improve the management of water sources in the area, in keeping with Progressio’s aim of preserving the area’s natural resources

• Specific objectives of the water project include improving the quality and quantity of water in the Ococona and El Zursular basins. This requires rescuing and protecting the main tributaries

Progressio is a progressive independent charity with Catholic roots that enables poor communities to solve their own problems through support from skilled workers. And we lobby decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor.

Source: http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/themes/care-creation/stories/ecofriendly-dinners-nicaragua/

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