Healthy women, healthy environment
Unlike most 20-somethings, Diksha Mishra did not plan a vacation with her friends after finishing college. Nor was she looking for a job. She had her mind set on a different agenda – to volunteer her time for rural development, especially for women. So at 23, she packed her bags and left for a remote and nondescript tribal village in Dang, Gujarat to work on a project to improve women’s health and create an alternate source of income for them.
At first she hoped to create a viable market for locally produced poppadum but something more pressing caught her attention. Over 90 percent of households she visited were battling with thick indoor smoke from traditional cookstoves. Not only were women most adversely affected, it was a health hazard for the whole family.
Diksha addressed the problem by developing smokeless cookstoves with L-shaped chimney to avoid making holes in the roofs of the kaccha or mud houses. The cookstove is made from mud and locally sourced material. She added an iron grate on top of the cookstove, which allows food to be cooked faster. This innovation has reduced firewood consumption by nearly half. Earlier if cooking one meal required 10 logs of wood, this cookstove uses only five, which means women spend fewer hours collecting firewood and have more time for themselves.
To ensure the sustainability of the project, Diksha invited experts from a nearby village to train 21 women from local self help groups to build and install these cookstoves themselves. Today eight women travel within Dang district, building and installing these cookstoves for INR 400. This includes a labour charge of INR 100. These easy-to-make cookstoves require only one hour and women can easily make three to four such stoves a day. This earns women an additional INR 2,000 every week.
Working with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Diksha has now expanded her pilot project to 4-5 villages in Dang and one village in Bihar. In all, she has installed over 30 smokeless cookstoves and the demand is only growing.
Pullout quote: “I have learnt is to be patient. At first, tribal women didn’t even talk to me. Now they are my friends and accept my guidance. If you want to see results, that’s the way to go.”
Diksha Mishra is from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Delhi and a Diploma in Human Rights, with specialization in Women’s Rights from the Indian Institute of Human Rights, Delhi.