Did you know that countless women in Africa cook the family meals on 3-stone fires? I don’t have statistics, but I see the evidence all around us both in the city of Bamenda and when we go to the Village. I have mentioned building improved wood stoves frequently since our arrival here, and many women say “I want one”, but it took initiative and some funding (VSO thank you) to actually start building.
It’s a project!
Wopong Jocelyn Achu asked me to come and teach 15 women in the small community of Pinyin in Santa, to the South of Bamenda. She is working as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) national volunteer for HEDECS (Health Education Development Consultancy Services).
We set the goal to build one stove with the women in a workshop, perhaps start a second one and then leave supplies for them to build another five stoves by the end of the month of January. We hope that this will trigger further stoves to be done under people’s own initiative.
Some research into the topic in combination with my own experience from previous stove projects produced a handout with mostly visual instructions. I know what it feels like to learn something in a workshop and try to do it alone the next time: a guideline is helpful, and since not all women read or speak English, it had to be visual.
To make things affordable and easy to repeat I looked for simple, local solutions for elements like form work, chimney building, tools and materials.
We left Bamenda in the early morning by shared taxi to Santa, from where we carried on by motorcycle to Pinyin. Mountainous terrain with densely farmed valleys, this is a highly productive region for vegetables that are distributed throughout Cameroon and beyond.
The women gathered in front of Lillian’s house, where we would be building the stove under a good sheltering roof next to the front door. But not just women wanted to learn, a group of secondary school girls attended as well and many men and youth came by during the course of the day.
The list of materials :
Claysoil ( the pit was in the yard)
Two sacks of sawdust
Small quantity of sand (most precious there because it is brought in)
Tools to have at hand:
Tropical hoe to dig and mix clay
Measuring tape (if unavailable use body measurements)
- Take the largest pot that will be used on the stove and determine its volume
- The volume relates to the size of combustion chamber and heat path through the stove (all the same cm2), a simple chart is available to look this up: download publication
- The width of the stove will be determined by the diameter of the pot plus insulation plus bricks
- The length of it is the sum of the first pot plus a second, smaller pot, plus chimney plus edges and channels.
- Finally the height of the stove as illustrated in the sketch
Building the stove:
- Prepare a 1:1 (by volume) mix of clay and sawdust (estimated 4 wheelbarrows of clay) and a clay mortar mix
- Layout on the ground: position pots, mark center lines and edges on the wall
- Set edges with bricks and configure firewood feed and combustion chamber (considering 5cm insulation)
- Build up edges and combustion chamber.
- Insulate combustion chamber. We used banana stems as guides which I saw in my research, but decided to pull them up as we built up instead of leaving them to rot in place, as suggested)
- Fill voids with compacted earth or bricks
- At appropriate height set the first (larger) pot in place and fill around it with insulation mix.
- At the same height the channel to Pot 2 will be built with insulation mix, followed by pot 2 set into place
- Continue building up around the pots to desired height.
10. Make a channel to the chimney and set up a form to build the pipe (banana stem works here too)
11. Remove the pots and smooth all edges and surfaces inside, scraping down the surface around the pots to create hot air circulation. Place three clay supports to lift the pot- allowing heat to move under and around the pot.
With the experience the women had – they already know how to mix mud, make bricks and lay bricks- we accomplished the first stove in about 4 1/2 hours- with much deliberation and figuring out the process.
To my great surprise everyone got up after the meal that followed, and carried bricks to the next house. And then the women went ahead and within 1 ½ hours built another stove with little input on my part!
We will return to Pinyin to do some surface finishing and to see how things are. And we hope to light the fire in the first stove at that time. When all is done and our feedback is in, I will publish a full report and make it available for download.
At time of publishing this post, the women have built three more stoves and are on track for the last 2. I am now working with another group of women on constructing a cabin, an oven and a stove….stay tuned!