Imagine spending nine hours, three days a week, traveling five miles to find wood so you can cook food for your family. You search everywhere for wood to gather, but to no avail. Tired and hot, you finally come across some. As you struggle to carry the 55 pounds of wood on your back, a stone smashes into your shoulder. In your reaction to the pain, the wood falls to the ground. As you go to pick it up and get on your way, the men who threw the stone, grab you. You plead for them to stop. “I only wish to feed my family,” you say. Unable to resist, you are raped and left on the ground, the men take the wood, and you return to your temporary home in a foreign country, empty handed, sense of dignity violated, unable to feed your starving children.
This sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but it is reality for the Somali women in Ethiopian refugee camps. This is not just an anecdote; many surveyed in these camps cite that either they or someone they know has been raped when gathering wood. Despite this risk, women had no choice but to continue to gather wood to cook.
“I was beaten by farmers. I had marks and bruises on my body; I felt a lot of pain. The farmer owns the land. There is some rape.” – Refugee in Kebribeyah Camp
The implementation of clean cookstoves in these refugee camps has allowed the women to cease gathering firewood almost entirely. These stoves use ethanol as an alternative to wood, and alcohols have been demonstrated to be both a cleaner and more efficient fuel. UNHCR, Project Gaia and other donors provide both the fuel and the stoves for free to the refugees. In some camps, every household now has access to these benefits. The refugees no longer have to face the risk of rape in order to cook for their families. More over, they report that because of the stoves, they now have extra time to properly care for and supervise their children. In some cases, the time saved allows them to receive an education, or start a new business.
When I first learned about Project Gaia, what I immediately gathered was clean cookstoves positively affect the environment and the health of women and families. I did not immediately grasp the extent to which gathering wood was such a hardship and physical risk. After discovering this, I can see one more vital issue that these cookstoves significantly improve. By eliminating completely the need to gather wood, these cookstoves empower the women and give them an opportunity for a better life.
By Nick Lorenz