Self-Help International Reaches New Communities on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua

Training participants with country director, Jorge Campos.

Out in the middle of the waters of Lake Nicaragua sits Ometepe Island, a lush, green piece of land stretching 19 miles long and and six miles wide. This year, in response to an invitation from the Flora and Fauna International Foundation, an environmental conservation organization, Self-Help International took the existing modern oven program from the micro-credit training at the Fred W. Strohbehn Training Center, adapted it, and set out across Lake Nicaragua to introduce and teach about a more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional Nicaraguan oven.

Flora and Fauna selected a group of ten women and six men to attend the oven workshop to learn about constructing the new ovens and to promote this technology in their own homes and in their communities.

Training participant handling oven.

Participants came from the surrounding towns of Moyogalpa, Balgue, Altagracia, Las Pilas, El Pull, Mérida, La Palma, San Fernando and Santo Domingo.  In addition, Self-Help had the leadership of the technical and professional team from Flora and Fauna, including Angélica Maria Valdivia Delgado, Carlos R. Barrios Álvarez, and Keyla Mena.

With the promotion of the improved oven in the community of San Fernando on Ometepe Island, Self-Help is helping families who have used a traditional oven for many years. The new ovens improve lives in San Fernando by saving firewood, which helps mitigate locals’ impact on the environment; bettering people’s health by reducing harmful exposure to the heat and smoke generated by the traditional ovens; and demonstrating how the local environment changes with less smoke and decreased collection and consumption of firewood.

“This new technology saves people time and money, and little by little improves their family living,” said Jorge Campos, Nicaragua Country Director, who worked on the training session about constructing the first set of improved ovens on Ometepe Island.

Doña Maritza Paisano, a beneficiary of this project, told Self-Help, “Well, I thank you very much for coming so far to help us learn about this improved oven, and Flora and Fauna for choosing me. I’ve worked with Flora and Fauna for seven years, and they’ve seen how much I was working with the traditional oven. I prepare all types of bread for the restaurants in the tourists areas, like whole grain bread, french bread, donuts, cornbread, cakes for birthdays, and pastries.

Training participants constructing oven.

“Flora and Fauna chose me, and I’m very thankful to them. I see this new oven has many  advantages, and I’ll be able to use less firewood than I did with my other oven,” Doña said. “I’m going to encourage my friends to come and bake bread and other things with my new oven. Also, I’ll support the project so that women from other communities can learn how to construct the new oven for their own use.”

Carlos Barrios from Flora and Fauna said, ” It’d be good to coordinate future construction of the barrels that are used to make the ovens. We won’t forget this new knowledge, but we can see that we’ll need to buy the barrel already constructed by an experienced craftsman. Here on Ometepe Island, there are good artisans, but it might be too expensive to buy barrels from them.

“If it’s too expensive, then the search for an unused barrel of good quality will be a bit more complicated,” Carlos added. “Despite the challenges, we will support this initiative so that many more women like Doña Maritza can build their own improved ovens.”

Sandra Méndez, another training session participant, arrived to the training with her son, Salvador Barrios, and she was surprised to see that the ovens were fairly easy to construct.

“It’s not hard to build it, you just have to take into account all of the construction recommendations” Sandra said. “We can do that by ourselves. The only thing we’ll need to coordinate is the making of the barrel and bringing it to the port of San Jorge. From there, we can take charge ourselves. ”

Self-Help was able to share how to construct an improved oven with the women of Ometepe Island thanks to Flora and Fauna’s help facilitating the program. By helping us identify program participants and facilitate the program, Flora and Fauna enabled us to share the information from the Fred Strohbehn Training Center.

Self-Help International is putting more efficient technology into the hands of rural families. The improved oven they promote is part of Self-Help’s mission by improving women’s health and reducing pollution in families’ homes.  Because of the new ovens, the women are no longer exposed to direct heat and smoke when they’re cooking. It protects the environment, helps save firewood, and lowers the costs of running a business.