September of 2015, I had the opportunity to Northern Tanzania for Ripple Effect Images to report on energy poverty and the tremendous work done by Solar Sister to empower women with clean energy technologies. Solar Sister works in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria training local women to start their own clean energy businesses to sell and distribute solar powered lights and clean cookstoves to their neighbors and friends in their communities. Their model has garnered a lot of attention because of its sustainability and real impact on the ground.
After two days of travel from the West Coast, Joanna Pinneo, a former National Geographic photographer, and myself arrived in Moshi for a week of reporting. We worked closely with two Solar Sister entrepreneurs, Julieth Mollel and Fatma Mziray, to dive deep into their stories to truly understand what drives these women to pursue their business, and witness first-hand the tangible impact that their work has had in their community.
Toxic smoke from cooking fires is the single leading cause of death for women and children under age 5 in the developing world. Causing more than 4 million deaths per year it is surprisingly underreported and misunderstood. My reporting focused on Solar Sister's newest introduction of portable, clean cookstoves to the entrepreneurs' product line to tackle this issue head on.
We met numerous women who still cooked on open fires in their homes. What's difficult to fathom is not only are they cooking with open wood stoves, which can cause severe burns and produce thick smoke, but they're doing so inside of their homes in confined spaces. Filming in these situations made my nose run, my eyes water, and permanently damaged my cameras with smoke particles. To experience this myself only emphasized the importance of illuminating this issue, but more importantly, the immediacy of getting this simple technology to the women who cook under these conditions on a daily basis.
The craziest part about this is the solution is simple and not expensive. The technology exists. There is no need for drug trials or prototyping. The clean cookstoves just need to make it into the right hands.
My hope is that this short film can be a part of that solution.