Smokeless ovens

Autumn 2013 has been a VERY exciting time! All at Friends Reaching Out have been extremely busy and there have been some great positive leaps forwards to report, the down side of being so busy is finding time to make the reports on progress. This will be the first of our autumn feedback posts and while it’s a relatively small development it is one that will change lives and is quite literally ground (termite mound) breaking.

Earlier this year Nathan Page collected sponsorship for taking part in the Reading half marathon, Nathan’s efforts raised a total of £375 to install smokeless ovens at the kitchen of our senior students dormitory. Nathan’s fantastic efforts have in fact enabled the construction of FOUR ovens, which is just amazing! That may sound a little extravagant, but in fact each oven is built to be used for a specific size of cooking vessel and so having four ovens in one kitchen will make life much simpler for the cook.

traditional kitchen

A traditional kitchen using the three stone cooking method

Traditionally food is prepared over an open fire, with a vessel supported on three large rocks, whilst it is effective it is not very efficient and is also a health hazard. The primary health risk comes from the inhalation of smoke on a daily basis, secondary to the smoke issue is the risk of burns and accidents from the open fire. Finally this traditional method uses large quantities of fire wood, a resource which is being quickly depleted. The smokeless ovens combat all three of these issues in an ingeniously simple design.

Constructed entirely from locally sourced materials, when complete the oven(s) maintain a consistent temperature with the fire itself safely contained within a combustion chamber, they use a fraction of the firewood of traditional cooking and all the smoke is channeled away from the cooking area via a flue. The construction material used in largest quantities is mud gathered from termite mounds. Due to the process by which termites produce their mounds, mixing it with saliva, the mud is extremely strong and durable for this kind of application. When combined with chopped dry grass, saw dust and water it becomes a cob like mix that will withstand many years of use.

Gordon collecting water

Gordon collecting the first of MANY jerry cans of water

We begin by gathering together the necessary raw materials. Great piles of mud and grass, bags of saw dust, jerry cans of water and a few clay bricks (bought locally) and we’re ready to go. The lion’s share of the work is mixing everything together in the right quantities, it’s punishing work and takes some significant man hours. While the mixing is underway the room is prepared, the floor cleaned of loose debris and leveled.

Preparing the floor

The kitchen floor is cleared ready to begin

The foundation of each oven is a course of local clay bricks which need to be very well dried as any moisture within them could later cause them to crack during the ovens first firing. We collaborated again with UK based charity Uganda Development Services (UDS) who provided the expertise and very hands on guidance in the form of the highly motivated Andrew Yiga. During the course of the oven construction the local workforce have the opportunity to learn the skills involved to then go on and complete oven builds (on a smaller, residential, scale) in their area.

Chopping dry grass

Andrew of UDS chops dry grass to mix with the mud, saw dust and water

Foundation brick course

The brick foundation course set and ready to begin building upon

The oven is formed for the most part around sections of banana tree, which are later removed, and built up with the mud render and the occasional brick bat for rigidity and form; the cooking pot itself is also used in the later stages of shaping the oven to ensure a good fit for maximum cooking efficiency.

Andrew forming the oven

Oven two of four nearing completion, Andrew forms the opening for the cooking pot

In the above picture you can see behind Andrew a banana tree trunk used to form the opening into the fire chamber for one oven, you can also see that particular oven is at an earlier stage of construction, having not yet been built up to a more complete form. It’s messy work and takes a lot of manual labour, thankfully there is no shortage of willing people who are happy of the opportunity to earn some additional income and pick up a useful set of skills in the process.

Mixing the mud

Mixing the mud is a relentless task, someone was always mixing up the next batch

More mud please

Steve, Ellen and Gordon take a breather from mixing

Over three days the four ovens were finished and then need to be rested for a period of three months, ahead of the first firing, to allow them to dry out. The ovens were completed in early October, next week the flues for each oven will be attached (we will add new pictures as we get them) and the ovens first use should be just in time for the children’s Christmas meal . . . though I’m not sure any of them will fit a turkey.


An oven named Mike, after charity co-founder Mike Parsons

We’d like to extend a huge thank you again to Nathan, from all at Friends Reaching Out and all the children in Uganda, for his great efforts to raise the funds for this project!