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Nov 16, 2017

Interviews with Proud Stove Owners

Open fire place before SosteNica
Open fire place before SosteNica

Today, 70% of the municipality of Nagarote is rural. 98% of the people living in the rural sector cook their meals on an open wood fire, always under a roof, often within the home, without any chimney.  To protect families from the health effects of smoke inhalation, SosteNica promotes an improved system of food preparation throughout eight communities:  San Antonio, Silvio Mayorga, Peña Ventosa, La Chilama, Copaltepe, La Ojeda and Nagarote.

SosteNica staff recently interviewed several recipients of our SosteNica-improved cookstoves to see how they viewed the technology.  25 year-old Jessica, who lives in San Antonio with her husband and their son was one of those interviewed.

“I wake up at 3 am to help my husband milk the cows. Then I run to cook breakfast, after which, I go to the village to sell our milk. Our son goes to school and my husband goes to work. Cooking has been very complicated for me. First, I start the fire then wait for it to heat up. Timing was one of my biggest problems. The open fire always caused a delay! Today, with the stove that SosteNica made for me, I can light the fire faster. In addition, it is less dangerous and it heats much better. I never thought that this stove could be of so much help.”

Jessica’s was only the second stove to be built in San Antonio, but when word got out, most of the women in the community wanted one.  According to Nubia, one of Jessica’s neighbors:

“In the countryside, there is no better publicity than word of mouth from people with direct lived experience.  Recently I’ve been getting inquiries from women who live in other communities about how my stove works.  I tell them that I’m very pleased because I have much less smoke in the house and my young son is no longer at risk of being burned.”

In Copaltepe, the village next to San Antonio, families with improved cookstoves now use less fire wood.  A good example is a large family, where siblings, aunts, cousins and distant relatives have all asked SosteNica to build them new stoves.  28 year-old Everth said that he was persuaded by his aunts and uncles sharing their experience with them.

“They convinced me.  We now have our own stove and what a big difference.  Even our little daughters can help in the kitchen because there is less danger than with the open fire.  Now they are learning to make tortillas.”

Copaltepe, the village that produces the most charcoal in the region, lies 15 kilometers from downtown Nagarote. In the past year, the number of stoves in Copaltepe has increased by 400%.  Everth’s sister Anielka says that, of course, her interest was in having a good working stove that would use less firewood while keeping smoke out of the house.  But for her, of equal importance was the look.  She wanted a beautiful stove with a ceramic top, so SosteNica made her a ceramic-top stove.

According to Sayra, an elementary school teacher in La Chilama:

“Stoves have to respond to the needs of the particular family, being adapted to the size and space of the kitchen.  Obviously, the most important thing is how well the stove functions.  This degree of flexibility is difficult to achieve, but SosteNica modifies its stove design to fit the needs of the family.  I have one of these stoves in my mother’s home and it works wonderfully!”

In terms of public health impacts, SosteNica estimates that over 200 people today are breathing cleaner air as a result of the 36 stoves that have been built recently.  150 children are less at risk of burns from stove related accidents, while 36 tons of firewood per month are saved thanks to the fuel efficiency of our stoves. That means less deforestation in the region.

SosteNica has a waiting list of families wanting to acquire an improved cookstove in their homes.  Thanks to your help we have achieved a lot.  With more gifts, we will be able to spread the program to more communities in Nicaragua.  Please share this great opportunity to contribute with friends and family.

Ceramic top improved cookstove
Ceramic top improved cookstove
Teacher Sayra
Teacher Sayra's new stove
Aug 28, 2017

Another great year in the Nicaraguan School Garden

Harvesting Nicaraguan squash
Harvesting Nicaraguan squash

Here is what your generosity has made a reality:

"Outside of the government, no one has ever helped our school, before SosteNica came along," observed Salía, one of San Antonio's main teachers.  "Your support has fallen, as if from the sky, like a long awaited rain after a difficult drought." Every day, Salía rides her bike over dirt roads, 15 kilometers to and from school.

There is something thrilling, especially for youngsters, about harvesting vegetables from plants you have raised.  As you can see from the photos, 2017 continues to be very bountiful for our Nicaraguan students.  And as they harvest their crops, we witness the yield, not only in terms of bio-mass, but more importantly in terms of Nicaragua's future farmers. Elementary school students (and their teachers) learn, through this exercise, the benefits of producing one's own healthy diet. Teachers at Betania, Silvio Mayorga, La Chilama and Valle de Jesus elementary schools, so taken by the mystery of their bounty, have begun tracking their specific fruit and vegetable crops, inventorying how many plants students have planted, and how much produce students harvest each day.

Rather than grow an excessive number of different crops, SosteNica's School Garden team has concentrated on only eight crops:

  • corn
  • green pepper
  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • squash
  • canteloupe
  • string bean
  • taro root

For most of thes crops, it takes anywhere from 55 to 100 days of constant attention -- weeding, watering, shielding from disturbance -- to get a single fruit or vegetable.  At Valle de Jesus school, our students have finally begun harvesting, with 41 ears of corn and more than 100 string beans recorded in their spread sheet. The students of Betania have hauled in an impressive 40 cucumbers and 20 juicy big tomatoes, with many more still on the vine.  The 8 taro plants at La Chilama won't have roots big enough to harvest for another six months, and only then if students water them constantly.  Taro root is very thirsty and requires 200 days to develop.  Silvio Mayorga won the prize for "pipian" -- a special Nicaraguan squash, similar in taste to our yellow squash.  They have harvested 16 so far.  

While the school year is entering its final months (Nicaraguan school year ends in early December), the gardens have just reached their point of peak production. Students gather up the "fruits" of their labors, eating for lunch the proof of their success.  No need for report cards in this outdoor class room.  The garden gives every student delicious and nutritious "feed back"!   In the words of Profe Luisa from Betania Elementary: "The Ministry of Education provides us with a staple of rice, beans and cereal grains.  But now, the students are adding greens to their daily menu.  The big goal now for our students is to have a better pump for irrigation. The old one is very stiff and difficult to operate for young children."  

La Chilama Elementary, even worse off than Betania, began 2017 believing that they would have to drop out of the school garden program because their hand dug well had dried up in 2016, leaving no water for the students, much less for the crops.  But our "Johnny on the Spot" delegation from Talmadge Hill Community Church dug into their pockets during their visit in April, donating funds sufficient to redig the well and install a brand new pump. Moving from scarcity to abundance, Betania has already harvested 106 individual items from their rennovated garden. 

In addition to the productive skills associated with horticulture, our students are also learning nutrition, thanks to a creative collaboration with a young Peace Corps volunteer working in the area.  At the same time Lucio, our graphic designer has stepped up to teach drawing, painting and color theory, which she brings to the important topic of recycling.  Students gather plastic bottles, paint them in primary colors, and bind them together to make recycling bins for their community.

Please assist us in expanding this important work by making a monthly donation, and by sharing this report with friends and family who care about social justice and gardening!  Thanks from all of us at SosteNica. 

Corn, cucumbers and farmers - the perfect harvest
Corn, cucumbers and farmers - the perfect harvest
Art class made practical in recycling exercise
Art class made practical in recycling exercise
Aug 17, 2017

Blasting Off with Wood Fired Cookstoves

Firewood Delivery in Nagarote
Firewood Delivery in Nagarote

In Nicaragua, firewood and deforestation go hand in hand.  Every day countless men head out into the few remaining rural wooded areas to harvest fuel wood, load it onto carts like the one in this photo, and transport it into urban and semi-urban areas to sell.  Carts such as these travel up and down, supplying cooks with the fuel needed to cook gallo pinto -- Nicaraguan rice and beans.  Because the wood is harvested at a rate that exceeds the rate of natural regeneration, the land looses tree cover every year.  As a result, springs, streams and rivers dry up, top soil is lost, and the hot sun of the tropics bakes the land, denuded of its protective cover.  Every year it gets worse.

We believe that low-income Nicaraguans can meet their basic needs without destroying the planet. With your help, SosteNica is modeling a path forward. Here is how we do it.

We have designed an earthen/brick fuel efficient stove that uses less wood than the conventional cooking technique.  The stove costs $100 to build. Because most low-income families in Nicaragua don't have $100, that would ordinarily end the discussion.  But thanks to GlobalGiving donors, we can keep talking.  If a family qualifies as "low-income" we give them a $20 discount on the stove.  That brings the price to $80.  We then offer them 80 hardwood seedlings and technical assistance to plant their own wood lot for firewood -- free of charge!  If they agree to plant and tend the trees (paid for by GlobalGiving donations), we give them an additional $10 discount, bringing the price to $70.  Then, if the family participates in a community garden project for one month, working as a volunteer for a certain number of hours, we give them an additional $15 discount, lowering the cost to $55. 

If a family qualifies, and agrees to the conditions we sign a contract. They pay $5 down, participate in the construction of the stove, and come to the SosteNica office every month for the next 10-11 months, paying a $5 per month until their "loan" is paid off.

The families are thrilled with the arrangement.  We have 25 families who will soon receive a new stove that vents smoke from their home, uses less fuel and boils rice and beans faster.  Thanks to you, and all of our GlobalGiving supporters, we are able to provide up to $45 in subsidies to each family who, otherwise, would have been unable to afford the stove.

Darly, one of our recent clients, runs a small sidewalk eatery in Nagarote.  Her daughter Wendy told SosteNica: "Mi mama esta muy contenta porque su estufa le permite gastar menos leña que antes, y es poco el humo que sale en la cocina. Esta rapido la comida y sus frijoles de la fritanga." (My mom is very happy because her stove uses less wood than the old stove, and we get very little smoke in the kitchen.  Her meals and her beans for the restaurant cook more quicly than before.)

That is how we combine public health, ecology and social justice in one package!  Thanks for your support. 


Daughter Wendy with Mom Darly
Daughter Wendy with Mom Darly
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