In the heart of the Gamo-Gofa zone in southern Ethiopia lies the community of Otolo Kamba Zuria, a place where traditions run deep and the interconnectedness of actions and consequences becomes all too apparent. Like all of us, the people of this village have found themselves trapped in a cycle of harmful practices, where change seems elusive.

For generations, 95% of households in Otolo Kamba Zuria have relied on a cooking method known as Sost Gulicha. This traditional approach involves setting three stones on the ground, arranging firewood between them, and lighting the flames to cook their meals. However, this seemingly simple method has far-reaching consequences for both their health and the environment.

The smoke generated by incomplete combustion fills the air with soot, causing chest and eye infections that affect the households’ health. Tragically, pregnant women have suffered miscarriages due to these health hazards. Beyond the human toll, the environment pays a heavy price as well. Deforestation is rampant as trees are burnt to feed the flames, contributing to significant carbon emissions.

The depletion of community forests has far-reaching effects, forcing women and girls – who bear the responsibility of wood collection – to walk longer distances, straining their bodies and time. The open flames also pose burn hazards, and the unstable boiling pots add to the list of dangers.

To help assist rural communities transition to safer and healthier cooking technologies, Vita promotes the use of fuel efficient cookstoves, an alternative to the traditional open flame, three stone cooking through a Community-Led Total Adoption of Improved Cookstoves (CLT-Stoves) methodology, a comprehensive approach that goes beyond mere technology distribution.

CLT-Stoves process focuses on igniting a change in cooking behaviour and fuel procurement, rather than distributing cooking technologies. It does this through a process of social awakening that is stimulated by facilitators from within the community. It concentrates on the whole community rather than on individual behaviours. On collective benefit that arise from eliminating cooking with inefficient methods. This encourages a more cooperative approach. People decide together how they will transition to improved cook stoves (ICS).

The process unfolds through a series of carefully planned activities, guided by both the community and Vita experts. Pre-triggering and Triggering activities mark the initial steps of the transition. During Pre-triggering, community members and experts gather, fostering dialogue and rapport-building. The diversity of responses highlights the uniqueness of each community, with some embracing the change readily and others requiring more time.

Natural leaders emerge during this stage, individuals like traditional and church leaders, health professionals, and teachers, who hold authority in influencing community behaviour. As the momentum builds, the community embarks on a journey of self-realization. They delve into their cooking methods, the origins of their wood fuel, the time-consuming collection process, and the subsequent health effects. Visual aids such as maps, charts, and self-produced posters serve as tools for this introspective exploration.

As Triggering unfolds, the community arrives at an awakening, acknowledging the shortcomings of their current practices and proposing viable solutions. The Vita-approved Fuel-efficient cookstoves emerge as the better, more affordable alternative. Simultaneously, inter-generational discussions occur. Children conduct their own triggering exercise, bridging the gap between generations and sparking a desire to safeguard the remaining trees.

At the core of CLT-Stoves lies the determination to phase out the use of Sost Gulicha. This pivotal step acts as the catalyst for behavioural transformation. By guiding the community to examine their natural resources and community well-being , CLT-Stoves brings the consequences of their actions into sharp focus. Through observation, analysis, and reflection, the community begin to understand the consequences of their daily cooking energy choices.