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Nancy Sanford Hughes describes her efforts to establish StoveTeam International to prevent smoke from indoor cooking fires from killing individuals.

Nancy Sanford HughesNancy Sanford Hughes is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in being a Rotarian.

I am thrilled and honored to be selected as a 2013 White House Champion of Change for my efforts in establishing StoveTeam International, an organization addressing the leading cause of death for children under age five.

Smoke from indoor cooking fires kills eight times as many individuals as malaria, and StoveTeam International is working to provide alternative cooking solutions to protect those most vulnerable: the women who cook over open fires.

In May 2001, my husband died after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. The following year my life took a new direction when I volunteered with a medical team in Guatemala. I volunteered for three years, and one day a young woman named Irma came into the kitchen where I was working and asked if she could speak to us. She had fallen into an open fire at the age of two. Her hands had been burned shut. For sixteen years she had prayed for a miracle, and our medical team restored the use of her hands. We were her miracle.

We needed to prevent these burns, but burns were only part of the problem. The babies strapped to their mother’s backs were breathing in the equivalent of three packs of cigarettes per day, and I learned that the leading cause of death for children under five was a lower respiratory infection caused by open cooking fires. Guatemala alone needed six million stoves, and I knew I had to do something.

The only solution was to make and sell safe fuel-efficient stoves that would save lives. Within a year, and with the help of the Eugene Southtowne and San Salvador Rotary clubs, I raised money and wrote a grant for stoves. Within the next few years we developed the new safe, portable, affordable fuel-efficient Ecocina stove that produces very little smoke. It saves both forests and lives by reducing wood consumption by 50% and carbon emissions by 70%. Once we tested the stoves, we helped a local entrepreneur start a factory to produce them. In the next few years, with his help, we set up more factories. There are now six sustainable factories in five countries with three more factories in development.

StoveTeam International continues to work with these local entrepreneurs who have created their own businesses and produced and sold over 30,000 stoves. Through our mission we have already improved the lives of over 240,000 individuals in Mexico and Central America—but we’ve only just begun. Learn more about StoveTeam International and how you can help here.

Nancy Sanford Hughes helped found Stove Team International.