While travelling through Asia, I often saw women cooking on an open fire. As cooking is done most often inside the house, kitchens get filled with smoke.
Once, during my stay at Mr. Vanxaythor’s place - he is an English teacher in a small mountain village in northern Laos - I really had no choice but to leave the kitchen for a breath of fresh air.
The women, who usually do the cooking, cannot escape as they have to look after the meals. They, as well as their young children, suffer the most from this nasty smoke.
Inside, the walls and the roofs of these houses are covered in a thick layer of soot and tar. It is a shocking sight that makes you realize immediately how easily this substance can penetrate into people’s lungs. Indeed, there is no such thing as a quiet night in these houses. There’s always someone coughing or clearing his throat.
Of course, this problem became one of the topics of conversation with Mr. Vanxaythor. He was convinced immediately when the idea of a chimney came up. I began looking for a solution that would allow cooking without being “smoked” yourself.
Google led me to Philips. Their website mentioned that 1.6 million people die each year as a result of inhaling smoke from cooking on an open fire. This staggering figure is the shocking proof of the danger residing in contaminated air. On top of that, the indoor smoke also causes quite a lot of eye ailments.
Philips Design instructed a team of engineers to find a solution for this problem.
To address local needs and cooking habits, the engineers based their design on the traditional Chulha stove. Elaborate trials an numerous adjustments led to a nice prototype that already has won three design awards.
A Chulha stove is made of a set of casted parts. This is why the stove is affordable and easy to assemble. Its modular design makes it light to transport and simple to repair. It is a design that perfectly suits the needs of households in remote villages. For these reasons, I decided to send Philips an application to get their approval for a Chulha production unit in Laos. After a short visit to Eindhoven, Philips gave me the green light. They gave me a free intellectual property license to produce Chulha stoves.
The aim is not to let some giant cement supplier make extra profits by mass production of Chulhas. We do want the locals to produce their Chulhas themselves. For this I want raise funds to build and equip a workshop/depot/showroom and to train a team of local Chulha experts.
These experts will do the quality control of the concrete castings and the functioning of the Chulha assembly line. They also will have to motivate the customers to maintain their stove, since the soot filter and the chimney need regular cleaning for the stove to work well.
When the villagers in Mr. Vanxaythor’s neighborhood saw pictures of the Chulha, they were immediately convinced. He received 50 purchase orders right away.
Philips works with a small subcontractor in India to produce the casting moulds. I bought a first set of these polyester moulds in order to start up the production of the stoves in Laos as soon as possible.
According to my initial calculations, one Chulha will cost something like 15 to 20 Euro. This is quite a lot of money for a poor farmer in Laos. My estimate does not cover the costs of purchasing and transporting the casting moulds from India. Neither did I take into account the expenses to buy and equip a workshop.
During the Easter holidays I am going back to Laos to launch this project on the spot and to make some practical arrangements. During the summer break I will return to actually start up a workshop and to train a few people so they can cast the first stoves.
If you want to support us financially, you can make a donation on account number
Chulha IBAN: BE27 7785 1748 7173
Your donations will be used for
purchasing the casting moulds in India
financing the transport from India to the north of Laos
the equipment of a roofed workshop
purchasing materials such as cement and chimney pipes
minimizing the price of a Chulha (30 Euros is quite expensive for most Laotian families)
You do get something in return: the nice feeling of knowing exactly how well your money is being spent. Everything is earmarked for the project itself. There are no wages for administrators, nor will there be fringe benefits for civil servants.
A follow up is already planned. This website will bring you a newsletter and pictures of the ongoing activities and the progress we make.
All the best and thank you very much.
Want to know more? Click here for the mainpage of the Philips Chulha Website.
Find more pictures from the project in Nong Oln here
Here is a 12 minutes movie showing daily live and our project in the mountains of Xieng Kuang Province.
Link to the VIMEO website and the same movie in higher resolution
You hear traditional music from Laos
The movie begins with the national instrument of Laos: the KHEN
Then you hear handclapping women in front of bamboo tubes from different lengths.
Later, gongs are accompanied by hitting broken bamboo sticks on the floor.
At the end of the movie you hear a harp made of a bamboo tube. The strings are made using the bark of that same tube.
How we make and install smokeless stoves in Laos
Camera by Christina Gaio and Harald Voglhuber (see contact page)
December 2013: The new Chulha workshop is ready; the building is 5 X 10 meter.
In april 2013, Harry and I went back to Laos. We did bring money for building a dedicated Chulha workshop.
We did print 60/120 cm posters to hang in hospitals and public places in the area around Nong Oln
Vangyeng and his Chulha team cast and install the stoves in an area of 70 km around Nong Oln.
Wednesday, June, 2010
Great news out of Vientiane!!!
Thierry from Jules Classic Rental received two crates with moulds from India.
What a relief !!
On Saturday we set out on our journey to Laos and Monday the big adventure can begin.
Saturday, June 27, 2010
If you live in Belgium, sending two crates with casting moulds from India to Laos is a venture that requires a lot of patience and perseverance.
My adventure took off in January when Philips Design gave me their approval for a Chulha production unit in Laos.
After countless e-mails and telephone calls, today I finally got the good news by mail: “The shipment to Mr. Toon is on its way to Laos.”
I want to thank here all the friends who helped me to solve the shipment problems.
Specially Mr. Bas Griffioen from Philips Design and Mr. Thierry from “Jules Classic Rental” in Vientiane.
Mille Mercis, Thierry !!!
Last year and in April, I did rent a Honda FTR (250 cc) at Jules Classic Rental. On that bike I need two days to reach Nong Oln, where the first Chulhas in Laos will be casted.
Jules Classic Rental only rents bikes with personality and they provide a great service. Take a look: http://www.bike-rental-laos.com/
Sunday, April 25, 2010
With a lot of good luck I made it back to Belgium on Friday afternoon (5 days later than planned due to the volcano ash).
My trip to Laos was very useful. Already, some appointments have been fixed with suppliers, with craftsmen and with the first customers.
I was able to find, compare and buy all raw materials such as cement, gravel, metal for the reinforcement of concrete, metal plates for the stove chimney, and so on.
Also, the building site for the very first production unit has been pinpointed.
It is a convenient house in Ban Nong Oln with a large open yard near the main road, easily accessible for lorries to unload things like gravel.
There is enough free space to produce and pile up the casted parts.
What is convenient is that the village has 4 taps for water, one of which is situated on this future manufacturing yard.
The locals are very excited. They are waiting impatiently until their cooking stoves are produced and installed.
Finally, one important remark: the problem has spread further than I initially thought. It is not just in mountain villages that people still cook in this unhealthy conditions, it is also quite common in urban areas.
Tuesday, March 29, 2010
I wish to thank a few generous donors. With their contributions I can already finance the purchase of casting moulds!