Using the Reach of Rotary to Expand the Impact of Fuel-Saving Stoves

Rotarians from Abingdon Vesper Rotary continue to promote fuel-saving stoves

chimneys for the new school stove
chimneys for the new school stove

Karen Eveleigh, 16th December 2021

There are three billion people across the globe cooking on open stoves and four million people die each year from smoke-related diseases. Supported by Abingdon Vesper Rotary, at least 2,000 fuel-saving stoves have been built in homes in the Mubende region of Uganda. Stoves have also been built in 50 schools in the region. As the success of the project has been shared at the Rotary International Convention, in the Rotary GB&I magazine, and at meetings of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG), the reach of our Rotary networks has been clearly demonstrated and the impact of the project continues to grow.

Members of Abingdon Vesper Rotary have been visiting and supporting projects in the Mubende region of Uganda since 1997. Projects have ranged from desks and computing equipment for schools, building classrooms and setting up school feeding programmes, to training on animal care for subsistence farmers and micro-credit schemes for people wanting to set up new businesses.

Over time, members of the club discovered that there were some traditional African stoves which use up to 70% less firewood and greatly reduce the amount of smoke from cooking compared to the open fires used by many families and schools. As the environmental impact of the loss of trees has become more obvious, the club focussed its efforts on these fuel-saving stoves.

The stoves have multiple benefits: less firewood hence less time spent collecting firewood, more time therefore available for other activities including schooling, less exposure to smoke in kitchens and homes, and less cutting down trees which leads to a reduction in water retention, and an increase in soil erosion.

Abingdon Vesper Rotary and in particular Maya and Paul Smeulders have been very active to ensure that the success of the fuel-saving stoves project is shared. And this has of course led to increased interest from others within Rotary who want to support the project. 

The project won the Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland Rodney Huggins Environmental Award in May 2019. 

The project was featured in the magazine for Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland in February 2021 and from this Maya received enquiries from twelve clubs. This included clubs with projects in Kenya and Gambia who were interested in adding the stoves to their projects. Maya was also approached by Jersey Rotary who subsequently successfully applied for a grant from Jersey Overseas Aid and this will fund 40 stoves for schools in Mubende.

Maya took part in a break out session at the online Rotary International Convention in June 2021. This was with the Rotary Action Group for Community Economic Development and it resulted in enquiries from Rotarians in Entebbe Uganda and from West Africa.  

Maya is a member of ESRAG, the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group. She is also co-chair of the Cleaner Cooking Taskforce within ESRAG and so regularly discusses cooking projects on Zoom with Rotarians across the globe. ESRAG in Great Britain & Ireland is promoting projects on a daily basis through December as an email advent calendar. The fuel-saving stoves have already been featured and this resulted in an enquiry from a Rotarian in Scotland who was about to travel to Malawi to visit a Rotary re-wilding project in the Zomba Plateau. No time has been wasted and now Rotary in Malawi is on board and there are plans to set up a project for fuel-saving stoves in homes. 

The club president of Jinja City Rotary attended a recent ESRAG meeting. Maya got in touch using the chat function in Zoom, there has been a follow up meeting with members of both clubs and there are plans for another meeting in January. The current plan is for two of the Mubende trainers to train up a team in Jinja so that they can build the stoves in their region. 

Rotary in Mubende has worked with Abingdon Vesper Rotary for many years. The Rotarians have helped with promotion, including on local radio, and have demonstrated the stoves to local families. 

Maya & Paul hope to visit Mubende later in 2021. 

This is a great example of a low cost project using local skills and free materials with immediate benefits.  We also have here a great example of how we can use our Rotary connections, our magazine, our international convention and our action groups to grow our projects and make an ever increasing impact. 

Visit the Abingdon Vesper Rotary website  

Read the article in the Rotary GB&I magazine

Visit the ESRAG website  

Contact Maya Smeulders for more information about the stoves project   

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