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Meet Binta: Clean Cookstove Entrepreneur and Inspiring Leader

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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Binta (with glasses) at the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training.

Binta Yahaya is a member of the Women of Vision Development Initiative (WVDI), an NGO active in grassroots entrepreneurship, community mobilization and environmental advocacy in Lere Local Government, a rural town in Kaduna State, Nigeria. She was part of a team that successfully led women to advocate for changes to land inheritance laws and campaigned for political inclusion of women in wards and village councils. She also promoted tree planting for erosion control and anti-desertification campaigns, trained women to use organic manure for fertilizing farmlands to mitigate the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers, and advocated for household sanitation and personal hygiene among women in rural areas as a means of controlling the spread of communicable diseases.

Binta primarily used a traditional firewood stove for all her cooking needs but became interested in our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training Program when she began to recognize her cooking fuel must be toxic. She said “on the top part of the stove, there is accumulated soot”, which she imagined was “dangerous to inhale.”  She became aware of the health, environmental, and livelihood problems such as air pollution, illness and disproportionate negative impacts on girls and women in her community stemming from this traditional method of cooking and wanted to bring home a solution.

Upon being selected to participate in our Clean Cookstoves Training, Binta received technical and entrepreneurship skills training, a seed grant, ongoing peer support, and access to a global network of women leaders like herself. After the first week of capacity-building training, Binta was inspired by the life-saving importance of the clean cookstove technology and immediately started selling. She returned to her community with greater knowledge of the health, safety and security risks associated with cooking with firewood and gained credibility in clean energy, clean cookstove options and utilization. By the time Binta returned for the second week of training, she had already sold 70 clean cookstoves to her local community!

Despite losing her father shortly after the second week of training, Binta managed to channel her grief and energy into becoming the first woman entrepreneur in our program to reach our target of 120 clean cookstoves sold within five months. One of Binta’s customers used to spend 200 Naira ($0.55 USD) on firewood every day but, since buying a clean cookstove, she repurposes the 150 Naira she saves every day to buy fabric for her new clothing enterprise. Another customer was frequently treated for eye irritation from prolonged exposure to smoke. Since buying a clean cookstove from Binta, her eyes are no longer irritated and she is able to save the money she previously spent on medicine.

But Binta didn’t stop there! After recognizing the primary market in her community was made up of artisanal farmers, she embarked on a complementary business venture to produce and sell charcoal briquettes made from any unused agricultural waste, which can be used by households as a clean source of fuel for cooking and heating. With the $50-120 profit she earns from selling clean cookstoves each month, she has been able to invest in new machinery for mixing, molding and cutting to help streamline the charcoal briquette making process. For perspective on the success of her business, one of these machines costs roughly $800-1,000 USD. Binta now has her own growing business and has become recognized as a leader and role model for young girls by both women and men in her community. This is especially significant in a society where women rarely hold such accolades.

Binta has also designed her own version of a clean cookstove, modeled after one of the current cookstoves on the market (Nenu cookstove). The dimensions of the stove are a bit smaller and, uniquely, has two compartments instead of one.  This extra, lower compartment gives a woman the added flexibility to bake bread or dry fish in the compartment while she is cooking. She had a prototype made by a local artisan, which she is currently testing with the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (NACC).  She gifted the first prototype to our partner, WISE (Women’s Initiative to Sustainable Environment), as a sign of gratitude. “You have already changed my life but you don’t know it…because If I had to pay for what I learned from you, I don’t think I could afford it. I have no words to say thank you.”

For more information on our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, visit our project page and to learn more about WISE’s work, please visit their website.

Together for H2OPE Project launches storytelling workshop

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Here at WEA, a core component of each of our projects aims to encourage our partners to create and collect compelling emotional stories that help to link the women-driven, environmental work they do with our collective global community. These stories — told and shared by the women who experience them — ultimately strive to educate and inspire, change attitudes and behaviors, and can even be a call to action for critical movements supporting women’s leadership, land rights, climate change, and strong and healthy communities.

We’re excited to share with you a recent update from the launch of the storytelling component of our Together for H2OPE Project in Assam, India. Together for H2OPE, a partnership of WEA, Numi Foundation, Chamong Tea Company and local NGO partners such as Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET), aims to ensure clean and safe drinking water to all 6,500 residents of India’s largest organic, Fair Trade tea community, for generations to come.

Last month, our Together for H2OPE team invited Nassif Ahmed, a local cameraman and filmmaker, to the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to lead a digital photography and storytelling workshop for community members. This 3-day workshop focused on training participants in how to handle the technical aspects of cameras as well as some technical photographing principles such as the rule of thirds. Nassif also showed participants how to use their own smartphones creatively, since they can often be less intimidating to subjects and are easily accessible. 

Nassif was joined by fellow trainer Banamallika Choudhury (Mamu), who led discussions during the workshop on taking a feminist approach to digital storytelling. Together, Mamu and Nassif teamed up to lead demonstrations and exercises which allowed participants to gets hands-on experience and support with the skills they learned. In one such exercise, participants spread out over the tea garden to take photos that they then presented to the group along with the story they hoped their photos conveyed. Nassif and Mamu were then able to provide constructive feedback on ways to improve both photos and stories so that it truly conveyed the narrative and experience participants were “shooting” for.

We’re honored to have had Nassif and Mamu lead this important training, and look forward to the photos and stories that Tonganagaon residents are able to share with their new skills.

Thank you to the entire Together for H2OPE team for all you do, and to Nassif and Mamu for sharing your knowledge and expertise!

To learn more about the Together for H2OPE Project, please visit our project page.

Together for H2OPE begins training community leaders in WASH

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Our Together for H2OPE: India Project team  — led by implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) — recently brought together a group of community leaders and volunteers from the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to build good practices in water management, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) through demonstrations, home visits, and educational events. The goal of this “Training of Trainers” (ToT) program is to give these volunteers the background knowledge, skills and experience that would be helpful to them as they go on to provide training and technical assistance to members of their community.

One of the primary activities of the ToT was the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) activity facilitated by a water expert from the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). The activity asked participants to draw a map of the tea estate using different colors to represent different areas (e.g. roadside, temple, etc.) and highlighting where open defecation still occurs — an ongoing and complex issue in India. The water expert then led a discussion of where this fecal matter goes and how it travels, and participants were able to make the connection that some of it might even flow into the food they eat and water they drink.

It’s been incredible to support these community leaders as they step into their new roles as trainers, growing their own commitment to providing their families and neighbors with critical information on access and practices to ensure safe and clean water.

In addition to the CLTS activity, the ToT phase of our Together for H2OPE Project also included a trip for these emerging trainers to Digboi College. There, they were able to view water samples under a microscope, learn the more technical aspects of safe versus contaminated water, and solidify their awareness about the water their tea community consumes and where it comes from.

We look forward to seeing these leaders implement their new training skills as they share their knowledge and expertise with other members of the Tonganagaon Tea Estate. This is truly a community-led efforts, and we are honored to be a part of it!

To learn more about our H2OPE project, please visit our project page.

WISE Clean Cookstoves Training: An update from our Clean Cookstoves Women Entrepreneurs

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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On August 15th, the Atan Care Business Enterprise Team (one of the 15 two-person teams participating in WEA and WISE Nigeria’s Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training) hosted a community outreach event to share more about life-saving clean cookstoves with women in their local village.

Countless studies point to the adoption of affordable, effective, and durable clean cooking technologies as a key influencer on our planet. WEA works in Nigeria with women-led NGO, WISE, to train women in clean cookstoves entrepreneurship and to build a replicable training model for other regions. Around 93,000 people die each year of smoke-related illnesses in Nigeria, and globally 3 billion people cook over open fires, producing 2-5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting to clean cookstoves reduces emissions while also protecting women’s health.

The training participants (in teams of two) have returned to their communities, equipped with new skills and seed grants to launch clean energy initiatives based on their business plans. They’ve hit the ground running – hosting outreach events to demonstrate the benefits of cookstoves and to motivate community members to purchase this life-saving solution.

Check out photos from an outreach event below, where clean cookstove entrepreneurs Anna Avong and Angelina Boye presented clean cookstoves to their community. Anna and Angelina’s Atan Care Business Enterprise Team chose to demonstrate the benefits of these stoves by cooking Nigerian jollof rice – a local favorite. Not surprisingly, participants immediately lined up to purchase stoves!

It continues to be such an honor to stand alongside these women leaders as they grow their business and advocacy skills, and create demand for clean cookstoves in their communities. It’s even more uplifting to see the collaboration, support and solidarity they offer each other – the key to success in our WEA training model.

Photos: WISE

To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training, visit our project page here.

WEAre Together for H2OPE: How Tea Saved a Village

Project: Together for H2OPE

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In the Spring of 2016, Numi Foundation and WEA launched the Together for H2OPE Project, an innovative partnership to ensure clean, safe drinking water to the 6,500 residents of the Tonganagaon tea community in Northern Assam, India. Since its launch, our project team on the ground has been busy building partnerships, hosting capacity building and leadership trainings for community members around water, sanitation and hygiene, and growing our own knowledge about the challenges and needs of women and families in the tea community.

In this blog post featuring Project Partner Numi Foundation, blogger Hannah Theisen invites you on a journey to the Tonganagaon tea estate (the largest Fair Trade tea estate in India) to learn more about the history of this once-struggling tea community, and how a little bit of “H2OPE” allowed it — and the thousands of men, women and children who rely on it for income — to thrive.

Photo: Hannah Thiesen

It’s a monumental task, and one that would be impossible to tackle without partners willing to pay a fair price for the tea the estate produces. Companies like Numi, who pay fair trade prices for each kilo of Tonganagaon tea, have provided much of the funds used to improve standards of living in Tonganagaon’s villages with items like cooking stoves and other household goods (Numi alone has contributed more than $100,000 in fair trade premiums to-date in Assam). Numi and Chamong’s partnership on the Together for H2OPE campaign is a beautiful example of the change that happens when both producer and consumer care about the people behind a product.

Before I visited Tonganagaon Tea Estate, I wasn’t sure exactly what story I wanted to tell… Little did I know that the story that would inspire me the most was learning about how tea “saved” a village, and how companies like Chamong and Numi are making unconventional business decisions that put people’s lives before easy profits.

Read the full blog post here, and for more information on the Together for H2OPE Project, visit our project page.