women are making stove at Htee Chi Baw (4)“Even though stove-making is hard work, I like it!” Naw Thee Eh Mu declared. “I can do it close to my village, and it provides me with a way to support my family.”

Thirty-two-year-old Naw Thee Eh Mu is a tall woman with a commanding presence, but don’t let that fool you. She also has a great sense of humour. Within minutes of taking the stage at KESAN’s 2011 Annual Partners Seminar, she had the whole audience laughing with her enthusiastic presentation of her project.

Naw Thee Eh Mu has a lot to smile about. In her home village of Htee Pa Doh Hta, in Bee Lay Township, Doo The Htoo District, she is one of the leaders of a project that has revolutionised the lives of local women. KESAN has funded and trained local villagers to create and sell fuel-efficient charcoal stoves. Not only do the stoves bring in much-needed income for the women and their families, but they also reduce indoor air pollution (a serious health issue, especially for women and children) and reduce the time spent collecting firewood, which is already a scarce resource. Naw Thee Eh Mu stated, "Before this project, we had to carry 10 cartloads of firewood, but now that we have our new stoves, we only need 2 cartloads."

The stove-making project began in 2010, and by 2011, it was completely independent of KESAN funding. The sale of the stoves more than covers the project’s costs, and the profits go a long way towards improving the lives of women in the township.

Before the project began, she explained, women would have to hire themselves out as labourers outside of their villages in order to afford these basic household necessities. Not all the village women have the money to buy a stove for themselves, but Naw Thee Eh Mu and the project committee have come up with an ingenious solution: they allow impoverished village women to purchase stoves with labour, rather than cash. That way, the project is more productive, the stoves reach the villagers who need them, and more women develop the skills needed to make their own stoves and become self-sufficient. In 2011, the women produced 22 stoves and generated a total income of 49,000 kyat (approximately 1225 Thai Baht).

“The money we make from selling the stoves, we can use to buy things like fish paste and salt,” Naw Thee Eh Mu reflected.

It’s this self-sufficiency that is at the heart of the Htee Pa Doh Hta project. The project, run by a predominantly female committee (who range in age from 24 to 50), has empowered local women by giving them a way to earn a living on their own terms, and provide a vital benefit for their community at the same time.