Cal Poly students, Proworld Service Corps and Peruvian families at the site of one stove. These stoves had an adoption rate of 70 percent in Cusco, Peru. James Keese | Courtesy photo

Cooking for many people is enjoyable and relaxing. However, for about three billion people worldwide, making a meal is detrimental to their health and contributes to climate change through the use of traditional stoves throughout developing countries, according to geography professor James  .

“The traditional stove is basically an open fire inside the house. They put adobe blocks in a horseshoe with a pot on top and just light a fire in their house generating smoke everywhere,” Keese said.

As families use these biomass open-fire stoves, the smoke exposure puts them at risk for respiratory infections, heart disease, illness, eye irritation and many other health threats, according to Keese. 

“This especially affects women and children who spend a disproportionate time inside,” Keese said.

Cal Poly Global Program: Cal Poly in Peru was created by Keese and political science professor Craig Arceneaux in 2006, as a four-week summer program, but it has transitioned into an eight-week spring program. Cal Poly students in this program participate in an ongoing project that helps design and install clean burning stoves for indigenous communities within the region of Cusco, Peru, according to Keese. 

Cal Poly works with Proworld Service Corps, a non-governmental organization (NGO). Environmental management and protection sophomore Lauren Zaragoza knows how paramount this project is. She took part in the Peru program in 2017 and discussed her experience installing news stoves.

“I thought it was more important that the NGO we worked with were closely affiliated with the communities that they built stoves for. Designing a stove that fit in culturally with their cooking style was way more important than just giving a fancy, new stove,” Zaragoza said. “The ones we built were very similar to an open fire stove except they had a chimney as an escape for the smoke. The design served purpose for large pots and kept the taste of food the same,” Zaragoza said.

Since the acknowledgment of this global issue, many projects to install new stoves have erupted, but the problem is that stove programs around the world have low rates of adoption by the indigenous communities, Keese said.

 “In reality, if the stove doesn’t work well or if it is not easy to use, it is not a matter of teaching people how to use it,” Keese said. “If the stove is inferior and if it is not equivalent or better than what they are using now, they are not going to use it.”

But Cal Poly’s work in Peru has shown to be a major success in a follow-up study conducted in March 2015. The adoption rate of the new stoves was 70 percent, according to Keese. Anthropology and geology junior Anna Williamson said she enjoyed the full circle nature of the project. 

“It was really nice to learn about the project beforehand, and then go in ourselves and actually build them,” Williamson said.

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