Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fireless Cookers and Informed Giving

I am a BIG fan of appropriate technology solutions, particularly when they are created by the end users themselves.

Today on Amazon there was a story about a product called Wonderbag with the tag line "one of thousands of innovators changing the world on Amazon." Of course, my interest was piqued, and I had to learn more.

Immediately I thought, "Hey, I have something remarkably similar in the trunk of my car." At the moment, I don't have a kitchen, so my car has become storage.=)

Mine is handmade and was purchased several years ago from a Kenyan woman.  While there are some design differences, they are remarkably similar products.  The Wonderbag definitely allows for more flexibility in pot size, which is a plus. The engineer in me wants to do a side by side comparison of heat loss over time.  =) Our team has used fireless cookers like mine to make yogurt, cook beans, and keep food warm for years.  

The fireless cooker is not a new idea.  Appropriate technology solutions to global problems are being used by smart and resourceful people around the world, and sometimes they make it to U.S. markets and are called a great new innovation.  I don't know if I would call it innovative, but I do highly recommend fireless cookers! 

It really is a fabulous cooking tool, and you can probably make one yourself for a lot less than $50.  If you would like to purchase a Wonderbag because you aren't crafty and Amazon delivers it right to your door, go for it!  But if you are purchasing a Wonderbag because the idea of having one donated to a family in Africa appeals to you, I suggest you do a little research first.  It took me about 15 minutes to find the answers to these questions online.  

1. Where are the bags manufactured? Who is being employed to make the product? 
2. Is there follow-up for those who have received a free Wonderbag to ensure proper usage? *
3. Did they do their homework? Are they measuring results? **

I'd love to know a whole lot more about their theory of change, sustainability, and local markets, but finding answers to those questions would have taken longer than 15 minutes. =)

But it really doesn't take long to find out the basics, and you don't need a degree in International Development be an informed consumer and giver! 

And if you are waiting for the part of the post where I tell you if buying a Wonderbag will make a difference, it isn't coming. Wonderbag may have a positive economic, environmental, and social impact on the community.  Or it might not. I don't know enough, and even if I knew everything I wanted to know, it would still be hard to make that kind of definitive statement.  But there are best practices out there including manufacturing locally, following up especially when things are given for free, and measuring results.  

Want to make your own basket? Here is one design that is very similar to my own basket, but there are MANY others.  


*Keeping food at lower temperatures for extended periods of time can increase bacteria growth, which is great for making yogurt, but not great if you are serving a meat dish and don't heat to the proper temperature.  

**Measuring impact (including spiritual metrics for Christian development practitioners) is often extremely challenging, but worth it in my opinion. 

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