Burning Away Poverty

Self, Health , Poverty

Contributed by: Food for the Hungry Canada

Birhane bends over the open fire in her one-room kitchen. Coughing and wiping her stinging eyes, she carefully ladles batter onto a round skillet to cook injera – Ethiopia’s trademark flatbread made from the indigenous teff grain.

Birhane has cooked this way since she was a child learning the family’s delicious recipes from her mother. Now, herself, a 30-year-old mother of five with a 12-year-old daughter by her side, she worries that this cooking method could be harming them.

“There was a big challenge for cooking and baking by firewood in my community,” she explains. “It was so tiresome and used time consuming techniques. Myself and my family suffered from the woodsmoke emitted at the time of cooking. I had to consume many bundles of firewood for cooking and baking.”

Cooking over an open fire in a poorly ventilated kitchen like Birhane’s caused respiratory problems for many of the women and children in the community of Feyine Terano in the Sasiga Mid-Highlands. The inefficiency of the open fire consumed more fuel and increased cooking time. As a result, children spent hours scouring the bush for firewood instead of attending school. Precious time and energy that women could have used tending their food gardens was lost walking long distances to look for cooking fuel and spending hours in the kitchen.

“I felt hopeless,” Birhane shares. “Living in a situation with no rest because I am always working. It was a lot of stress.”

That was before FH Ethiopia began a partnership with her community. It’s been seven years since they began their transformative journey together and a lot has changed. When FH started up activities in the community, Birhane was eager to join in. She was excited to take workshops on vegetable production and compost preparation. But the training that made the most difference in her day-to-day life was learning to construct a fuel-efficient stove simply out of mud.

Instead of bending over a wood-devouring open flame for hours choking on thick smoke, Birhane now cooks on a raised, home-constructed stove that conserves fuel, protects her from breathing toxic fumes, saves hours of time, and gives her back a break. In addition, her children no longer wear themselves out wandering deep in the bush searching for firewood, and they have more time for their studies.

FH Ethiopia has also increased the number of clean water sources in the Feyine Terano—digging wells and developing natural springs. By providing improved vegetable seeds and hand farm tools, they’re raising the nutrition level of families. All these initiatives are working together to increase the health of families like Birhane’s, especially for women and children.