Improved Cookstoves in Peru: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Greg “Goyo” Plimpton, PCVC WASH, Peru 18

For the more than 3 billion people around the world, who still cook and heat with open fires inside the home, the improved cookstove is a development technology that reduces the health hazards associated with breathing smoke. In rural Peru, I used funding from the USAID/Peace Corps Small Project Assistance Agreement to introduce my community to this brilliant technology by building 15 stoves and training other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), NGOs, and local masons in the stove construction, use, and maintenance techniques.

A successful and sustainable project requires good cooperation between the PCV and the community partners. My first challenge was finding a household that was willing to test a stove, with only my explanation and a diagram. Felicia, who became a tireless advocate and “salesperson” in the community, took that leap of faith and patiently worked with me as we sorted out the details on the construction and use together.

One of the truly unique and powerful aspects of the Peace Corps service is that we Volunteers live for two years in close proximity to those we serve. This gives us the advantage of trust, familiarity and, most of all, time. This gave me the opportunity to revisit all of the families, multiple times. The feedback from my community was instrumental in showing me that the improved cookstoves required the user to make many behavioral changes. I also observed many benefits and challenges with the clean cookstoves.

The improved cookstoves not only required more work to start a fire, but they needed smaller sized wood. The stoves only allowed for a limited amount of pots, of a specific size, to fit the stove, and even then, some stoves only allowed 2-3 pots to cook at a time. And in small homes, the larger, improved cookstoves required more floor space, which was a challenge.

However, the health and safety benefits were profound. The open flame and smoke that traditional cookstoves produced was no longer causing issues like damage to lungs or eyes, or causing burns. Cooking fuel was reduced by 50% and the stove resulted in faster cooking times.

Since completion of my project, over one hundred stoves have been installed– a very gratifying and sustainable result. Moreover, it was a real joy to see mothers no longer having to wipe tears from their eyes due to smoke irritation, toddlers no longer getting close to an open flame, and walls and ceilings no longer covered with nasty soot. Folks spent less time or money acquiring firewood, and to my benefit, I was invited to stay for many meals. This face-to-face contact with those we serve is one of the many rewards of Peace Corps service.

About the author: Greg Plimpton of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is currently serving in Peru as a Water and Sanitation volunteer. Plimpton began his service in 2011, and is currently the Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator (PCVC) in charge ofEnergy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) , renewable energy and climate change projects.

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