Nicaraguan Baker Using a Fuel Efficient Double Barrel Oven, Photo Self-Help International

Nicaraguan Baker Using a Fuel Efficient Double Barrel Oven – Photo: Self-Help International

After my book came out, I hoped to learn of additional efficient, affordable, well-designed tools to help global women escape poverty to promote and share. I was thrilled when an email from Self-Help International appeared in my inbox titled  “Submit A Solution.” Beth Grabau, of Self-Help in Iowa, had read my book and was eager to share their success with double barrel ovens. They were interested in trying out things they learned from my book, as well, which made my day. Their stove project, and its implementation, beautifully pairs poverty-busting and women’s empowerment, and provides additional educational and health benefits.

Self-Help is an Iowa-based NGO working in Nicaragua, one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries, and Ghana. Iowa generosity and farming know-how has provided over 60 years of success in helping smallholder farmers thrive. Their definition of a job well-done: when their clients no longer need their help. That means they can help more families; indeed demand for their services in Nicaragua has been exploding.

The double barrel oven, promoted by the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, is very large, intended intended for commercial use; it costs around $200. A single barrel oven, less than $100, can also be used for commercial baking.  The oven looks like a horizontal oil drum with racks inside. While wood-fired, they use just 75% of the fuel compared to conventional stove. This provides multiple benefits:

  • Cutting fuel costs by 3/4, increasing profit margins (and helping pay for school expenses!)
  • Decreasing deforestation by 3/4, restoring and conserving local habitat
  • Radically decreasing smoke emissions, improving respiratory health
  • Decreasing black carbon (soot) emissions, combating global warming
  • Contributing to the local economy, since they are constructed of readily available materials

Yummy breads are a popular snack as well as staple in Nicaragua. Beth reports that women in their micro-lending program are trained in how to use the stoves to bake “white flour breads, corn based sweet breads like empanadas and pillow breads, donuts, cookies and churros.” Along with mastering baking skills, participants learn the basics of running a business along with family health and nutrition: simple profit and loss record keeping, market saturation and active marketing, how to effectively operate small businesses.

Self-Help Bakers with their Double Barrel Oven

Self-Help Bakers with their Double Barrel Oven

When women earn their own money, it empowers them in many ways. They gain confidence and skills. Self-Help helps women construct their own stoves, overcoming their traditional marginilization from technology. The added income from their businesses give them more say in family financial decisions, allowing them to invest in their children and family. Securing their children’s education, improving the family’s diet, and raising the family’s health profile all follow from women’s empowerment, helping them get on the exit ramp out of extreme poverty.

All from  panaderias (bakeries)!

I am delighted to be visiting Des Moines, Iowa, next week where I will be speaking at Self-Help’s Women’s Empowerment luncheon on Monday, Dec 14, and in the evening, at 7:00. My book will be available for sale, with 50% of the proceeds going directly to Self-Help International.