In the highlands of Honduras, where tourism and coffee production drive the country’s economic engine, a social revolution is taking place.
The Santa Barbara Mountains, known for their beauty and diverse ecology, are home to some of the most impoverished populations in Central America. Small towns spread across Honduras’ western flank belong to an unpretentious statistic: More than 60 percent of Honduran citizens live below the poverty level. Five out of 10 live without basic amenities that often include adequate living conditions, nutritious food, and the means to improve their standard of living according to the World Bank.
But one partnership of nonprofits and local businesses is working to change those statistics. Their strategy starts not with rebuilding Honduras’ economy, or lobbying for international food aid, but in changing one modest household feature: the kitchen stove.
It’s a transformation that, surprisingly, has taken years to realize. As Dee Lawrence, co-founder of Cool Effect points out, these changes reduce the many risks that come with wood-burning cooking stoves.
“The traditional open-fire cook stoves waste valuable fuelwood, are dirty, can cause burns and are inefficient” explained Dee Lawrence, who also serves as the director of Proyecto Mirador. “Smoke contains 32 known carcinogens in addition to CO2, carbon monoxide and methane and for this reason emitting large amounts of wood burning smoke into the atmosphere is problematic.”
In 2004 Richard and Dee Lawrence helped to found Proyecto Mirador in an effort to change those statistics. They started with a handful of remote, rural homes that faced the classic problems of 21st-century Honduran mountain households: cooking stoves that take massive amounts of wood to maintain, emit noxious fumes and are often a significant fire risk.
Fueling those stoves also creates another set of problems: sourcing wood requires long treks to forests, consuming valuable working and schooling hours. Heating with wood also contributes to deforestation in lush, green mountainous areas, some of which would later become protected parks.