The Fireless Cooker
Fighting indoor air pollution
Vincent Okello, Area Co-ordinator for Lake Victoria, is based in our Eastern Africa office in Nairobi, Kenya. Read more about our work on the ground tackling indoor smoke pollution and Vincent’s personal experiences of development.
How long have you worked for Practical Action – can you share a little about the projects/areas you have worked in and what inspired you to join the organisation?
I have worked with Practical Action for just under ten years, in various capacities and with different responsibilities. I joined the organisation as an assistant, but my regular field visits drew me closer to the issues affecting the communities we work with. The Stoves Project brought me into direct contact with women potters and stove manufacturers, and the successive Smoke Research Projects took me into people’s kitchens where the stoves were being made, sold and put to the test.
These simple technologies worked, and the logical progression was to scale this up to the urban areas as well, where the fireless cooker has found a niche as an energy conservation technology. I have designed two integrated fireless cookers during the smoke research projects, and sharing this research with households has transformed their lives. I am currently working to increase access to smoke-reducing solutions in areas around Kisumu, west Kenya, while also supporting program development work in the Lake Victoria area.
What makes you so passionate about the fireless cooker – in what ways can it help families to live better lives?
The fireless cooker allows ‘women of the kitchen’, those who get smoke in their eyes when the firewood is poorly prepared and the stove is traditional; whose clothes the smoke clings to as she nurses her children; the one whose children rarely have the fresh maternal smells of cooking and feeding – it allows this woman to become a technologist and provider for her family, enabling her to participate in the solutions that open up new worlds of energy conservation and better kitchen techniques. It goes beyond tangible technology and becomes an open door of opportunity, releasing the woman from the tyranny of tradition to the possibilities of modern energy for poor households.
Which project you have been involved in that has had the biggest impact on you personally?
When we brought food into a research household in order for the woman of the household, a mother of three sickly toddlers, to cook and ‘generate enough smoke’ for us to monitor. I still remember her three year old toddler, and can see him in my mind, looking like a ten month old infant, with large, dull and tired-looking eyes, spindly legs and hands, silent and unresponsive to the visitors in their kitchen. It brought home the dehumanising reality of food and energy poverty that is a common feature in many of the communities where we work, and the pictures have stayed with me forever.
What are biggest challenges in delivering the work day-to-day?
Some of the vulnerabilities that we have been trying to address for a long time have now taken on new dimensions within the rapid onset of climate change, environmental degradation and energy crises. It means that both the numbers of poor people and levels of deprivation are increasing, and as an organisation we are hard pressed to adjust to the new realities of these times.
What makes you most proud/satisfied about working for Practical Action?
Practical Action gives its staff the opportunity to develop solutions with communities, and to interact with people at the heart and hearths of these communities. It allows its staff to get into households, kitchens, ablution facilities, meeting halls, water points and leaders’ offices, and to listen to positive stories of change and those stories of increased poverty, and to suggest solutions that are received with attention, implemented with religious fervour and guarded like jewels.
What do you see as the biggest needs facing vulnerable communities across Kenya? In what ways will Practical Action Kenya help to address these in the future?
Practical Action reflects an ethos that I think is closer than ever before to the hearts of the communities that we work with. With the increased scopes and depth of the poverty experienced by these people, Practical Action will continue to operate from the inside track, working with these communities to determine their solutions and destinies. Nonetheless the challenge of communal adaptation to these increased vulnerabilities remains, and it is only through our determination to work with these communities that we will challenge poverty.
Just £16 could could provide two families with a fireless cooker, enabling children to go to school. If you are able to, please make a donation to Practical Action's work today.