My eyes were greeted with a sartorial explosion of patterns. Vibrant kitenge threw into sharp relief my rather bland clothes which I should have, but forgot to change out of when my husband came to look after the children. I knew that life would be somewhat different for these ladies, and I realised that even more when Priska, mother of six, told me with a wry smile regarding the fuel-efficient stove: “My husband is happy because when he comes home late, he can still have a hot dinner and I don’t have to cook again. There is less conflict. He respects me more”.
I was talking with a small group of artisans about the impact that the ‘Safe Stove’ and Solar Lamp initiatives, run by Azizi Life’s NGO, has had on them. They had all received an interest-free loan to purchase these items. We sat on grass woven mats in the Azizi Life garden, dappled sunlight falling all over us. Trucks rattled past on the road adjacent to the compound, but we were tucked away in the cosseted beauty of a loosely manicured garden.
Priska is doing her best to raise her six children, including an adopted boy. She weaves beautiful sisal bowls and baskets for Azizi Life’s Abahuje Cooperative. Now that she doesn’t have to spend as much time tending the fire for cooking, she has more time to give to her craft, which is supplementing the family income. With all the responsibilities her and her husband have, the fuel-efficient stove has made a noticeable impact on family life.
The stove uses a small amount of wood and can cook food at a high-power capacity, and coupled with the ‘Wonderbox’ which comes with it, a thermally insulated container that retains heat, it saves time, money, and protects the environment by reducing firewood.
Priska told me that she can now use just one thin piece of wood, which will cook food for all the family throughout the day. Furthermore, she can budget more easily for the whole year, using the savings she makes to put toward domestic animals as an investment.
Less time collecting firewood also means that the children can spend more time doing schoolwork and working hard for their future. She paused thoughtfully, then lit up when explaining to me how less time collecting firewood has also meant more time for her and her husband, who are Christians, to read the Bible, pray and share in devotional time together.
Sitting next to Priska, was Beathe, a widow and mother of six. Having sat there the whole time looking rather sombre, she suddenly became animated when she explained how her mother, her biggest influence in life, taught her to weave and helped her raise her children. Now, with the help of the solar lamp, she can continue her income-generating craft into the evening if she needs to. “My children can revise their lessons and complete homework after school when it’s dark” she added. They do this safely using the solar lamp as opposed to petro-chemical burning kerosene lamps, which are damaging to both the lungs and eyes. The benefit is threefold: she protects her family’s health, saves money by not having to buy kerosene, and eradicates the danger of open flames near mosquito nets, a common cause of fire outbreaks in the home.
When asked what their main challenge in keeping the home and raising their family is, all of the women agreed that finding enough nutritious food for their children, as well as finding the money for school fees, books, pencils, clothes and uniforms were constant concerns. They all want their sons and daughters to have a good education, work hard and have even more opportunities than they have had. I think of my own children. Myself and these women have had such different experiences of life and speak a different mother tongue, and yet, on that front, we speak the universal language of motherhood.
The call to prayer wisped through the warm air from a nearby Mosque as we said our goodbyes. Priska and Beathe began their journey home; homes which have always been brimming with busyness, chock-full with chores, but now, primed with renewed possibilities.