When Ohio State students observed countless women spending hours standing over smoke-spewing indoor stoves in a remote Nicaraguan city, they decided to come up with a safer way these women could cook.
An hour walk from the nearest hospital, Rancho Grande is not the place to take preventative health care lightly. These stoves are not only a danger to the lungs of those inhabiting the houses, but also to small children who get burns from falling into the uncovered heat.
While all of these projects are important, Project Nicaragua’s Director of Research and Development, Lauren Lin, said the group is focusing on health solutions for the community. The stoves are an important step in that process.
“It’s a pretty simple design,” Lin said. “The stove is made out of concrete blocks, and there’s a clay chamber in the middle. There’s also a chimney that leads out of that chamber and outside the house. It heats the stovetop faster so they don’t have to spend so much time hovering over the stove, and it also pipes the smoke outside so they’re not breathing it in.”
Mikafui Dzotsi, the outgoing co-president and a fourth-year in public health, said when she was in Nicaragua observing some of these installations, the majority of the families were skeptical at first.
“Obviously they are these new, shiny cool stoves so they were really hopeful, but a lot of them were also nervous because they weren’t sure how they were really going to work and if they were going to be better than their old stoves,” she said.
Project Nicaragua was started in 2009 by Ohio State students with the goal of improving the quality of life in Rancho Grande. Its most recent endeavor was to purchase and install safe cooking stoves in 30 homes, and it plans to increase this number.
“In the summers we figure out which families we are going to take, and then in the winter we install the stoves. We have installed 10 stoves each winter since 2015,” said incoming Project Nicaragua co-president Kassidy D’Annolfo.
D’Annolfo, a third-year in industrial and systems engineering, said this project is one of the many initiatives Project Nicaragua has worked on over the years. Students have built a school, taught literacy and created business opportunities through teaching marketable skills.
The latest project might have been questioned by locals at first, but it seems as though the final outcome is positive.
“We have a lot of success stories where the families are really happy with the stoves, but we also have a couple of random ones where it hasn’t worked out quite as well as we liked, so we are really trying to look at those and figure out how we can improve that going forward,” D’Annolfo said.
“We are hoping that the project will help us better understand why families are getting the stoves. That way when we do reach out to communities, we can market it in a way that says: This is beneficial because ‘blank’ but there’s no point in installing stoves if no one really knows why they are getting them,” Dzotsi said.
While most of the installation process is done by those who live in Rancho Grande, Project Nicaragua hopes to one day create an easily accessible location for people to obtain and assemble the parts for the stove. This way the community is not dependent on Ohio State students to bring the stoves.
“It’s a long-term goal to have the community build their own stoves, but it’s been tricky because the place where we get our stoves from is far away – it’s probably about a five-hour drive,” Dzotsi said.
Whether they accomplish this goal, Project Nicaragua will continue reaching out to this community, assessing needs and helping to meet them. Many members in the group have taken multiple trips to Nicaragua and have enjoyed the connections they make there.
Lin said she was involved in research and development for Project Nicaragua for two years before she got to go.
“But then to actually be there and see the community and meet the people who I had heard so much about was really heartwarming,” she said.