Written by our fellow, Surya who is working closely with our field partner Mahashakti in Bolangir, Odisha. The excitement that captivates us when we wait for long to pursue something interesting is immeasurable. It was a like experience for me as I headed to Muniguda, a rural area in the Rayagada district of western Odisha, India for my first field visit as a Milaap Fellow. The area saw a rise in its fortunes of late due to its proximity to Vedanta’s aluminium refinery in Lanjigarh, around 25 km from here. I was received by the Branch Manager of Mahashakti Foundation’s Muniguda Branch, Mr. Mahendra Sethi. He is an easy-going person with a good sense of humour in his late 20s. Soon after reaching, I checked-in at a local hotel and headed with Mr. Mahendra to MSF’s office to meet the other employees.During my field visit in Muniguda, I interacted with 2 borrowers in the energy sector who purchased improved cook stoves with the loans. The first borrower I went to meet was Ms. Nisa Kusulia. She lives with her two daughters and the husband of her elder daughter, who runs a vegetable business. Her elder daughter has two very young kids- one of them 7 months old and the other 3 years old. Unfortunately, Ms. Nisa was out for work when I reached her house. However, the timing couldn't have been better; her daughters were preparing food using the new cook stove when I reached her home. Even before I picked up a conversation with her 2 daughters, the big smile on each of their faces spoke everything about their experience with the cook stove. With the new improved cook stove in place, they take no more than 1.5 to 2 hours to cook food. Hitherto, while using the older cook stove, they had to spend over 3 hours every day in the morning and in the evening. None in the family ever suffered from major health problems associated with older cookstoves but it’s more convenient to use the new one as they are not exposed to the smoke emanating from the burning fuel.
Daughter of Ms. Nisa Kusulia preparing food with the new cook stove.The old cook stove once used by the family required wood fuel while the new one requires charcoal. The latter has a cost-advantage, says the younger daughter. The family purchases fuel once in every 15 days. The charcoal fuel for the new cook stove costs them Rs.100-120 while the wood fuel for the old cook stove used to cost them Rs. 150 every fortnight. Also, while using the old cook stove, the utensils would turn black and the food tasted unusual due to the smoke from the burning wood. Now, they don't encounter such problems with utensils or food quality. However, a major advantage they witnessed is the ability to cook food with kids close to them. The elder daughter says "let alone my children, it used to be difficult for myself to stay in the vicinity of the old cook stove. Very often, I had to leave my children alone inside the house. Now, I can take better care of them as I can cook food with them beside me in the backyard".The change story of Ms. Madhavi Kandhapani, the second borrower I met, was no different. She is a married woman with 2 school-going kids. After purchasing the new improved cook stove, her kids don't go to school hungry anymore. She is able to cook food by 8 am, 2 hours earlier than she did previously while using the old cook stove, and hence, provide her kids with breakfast. Also, she is able to generate some savings from the decreased spending on fuel. She had to purchase wood fuel worth Rs. 100 every 15 days while using the old cook stove. But now, she purchases the same worth of charcoal fuel, for the new cook stove, once in 2 months. Also, she feels that the food prepared using the new cook stove tastes better than that prepared using the old cook stove.The problems- high cooking time, health problems, etc.- addressed by the new cookstoves and the corresponding solutions are universal to all users and can be quantified. However, the end impact created or the change brought in the lives of the users mean different to each one of them, and is priceless. The enhanced care of a mother for her kids, as it was evident from the borrowers I interviewed during the first day of my first field visit, is one such outcome.