Life is hard for the 1,350 women living
in the camp for displaced people in Mai Wurray, some 80 kilometres south-east
of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. These women and their families fled
their villages in 1998, during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Now,
four years later, conditions still do not allow them to return home. Camp
life has become somehow routine, but it is not easy. To collect firewood
for cooking, the women and their children have to walk more than four hours
under the burning sun. Half of the wood is used to bake ingjera, a traditional
pancake that is basic to the Eritrean diet.
In February 2003, the ICRC started up a pilot project to help these women by training them to build improved ovens, which require only half the firewood. The ovens were developed by the Eritrean Ministries of Energy and Agriculture and the Eritrean Women's Association. Skilled women sent by the regional authorities and paid by the ICRC have begun to train the first group of 30 women over a period of two weeks. The trainees will then pass on their newly acquired knowledge to other camp dwellers. The entire project will last three months and generate 300 ovens capable of baking enough ingjera for the entire camp population of about 5,000 people. Some of the materials required, such as clay and stones, can be found near the camp. Others are being provided by the ICRC.
The improved ovens will allow the women to save valuable time collecting wood and help protect the fragile environment in a country already suffering from heavy deforestation. Chimneys will channel smoke away from the ground, thus reducing respiratory illnesses, and added height will allow women to stand instead of kneel while preparing the ingjera, making the work less fatiguing.
Once the displaced women and their families are able to return to their villages, they can use their new skills to build similar ovens at home.