Susan Otunga lives in a small, one-room home in Kenya with her husband, Kenneth, and their month-old son, Samuel. The room they live in is connected to Kenneth’s tailoring shop on the other side of a movable piece of plywood. And until recently, Susan and her family were exposed to the harsh side effects that come from cooking with charcoal over an open stove in an enclosed space. However, with a new clean-burning charcoal alternative from Sanivation, Susan is now able to cook their meals in less time and with less danger to her family’s health.
FINCA International partner, Sanivation, is a social enterprise in Kenya that is working to address both the issues of access to waste management services and to affordable, clean fuels. For a small fee, Sanivation provides a “blue box” container toilet to people who could not normally afford a toilet in their home. Sanivation collects the waste from the blue box every week and processes that waste into a clean-burning and affordable charcoal substitute.
A History of Health Concerns
Prior to trying Sanivation’s new charcoal alternative, Susan spent a significant amount of time at home cooking. The stove was always smoking and Susan—who had no choice but to have her newborn in the room with her—feared for her baby’s health, as well as hers and her husband’s.
Knowing his wife’s worries, Kenneth wanted to help. One day while walking past a local shop, he saw a new type of fuel called Makaa ya Jamii. This is a Swahili phrase that loosely translates to “community charcoal.” Kenneth learned that this new fuel, produced by Sanivation, was clean-burning, took less time to cook food, and was cheaper than traditional charcoal. With all these claimed benefits, Kenneth decided to give the new fuel a try and bought a bag. To Kenneth and Susan’s surprise, the new fuel worked better than they could have imagined. Susan explained,
This new charcoal cooks food much more quickly and it lasts for a long time. For the same number of briquettes as traditional charcoal, I can cook twice as many meals.
A Healthy Outlook
Cooking food more quickly, Susan now has extra time to help Kenneth in his tailoring shop, their family’s only source of income. Additionally, since the Sanivation fuel lasts longer, they are spending less money on fuel and putting that money to better use. But most importantly, because Makaa ya Jamii burns so cleanly, it reduces the amount of smoke produced when cooking and contributes to an improved home environment for the whole family’s health. Susan no longer has to worry about her infant son’s health.
With their health fears allayed, as well as the saved money and time, Susan and Kenneth are now able to focus more on their future with the goal of providing a better life for their son. As Kenneth put it,
My wish is for Samuel to have good health and good education and to be able to create a better life than what I can provide as a tailor.