Mrs. Mbewe is fast becoming a role model for her neighbours.
Despite being over 50 years of age, she has retrained in stove production even though she failed at that business in the past, when she stopped producing when she couldn’t find a market for her business and turnover was not very good.
She used to make pottery vases and pots for flowers and plants, so she was not entirely new to working with baked clay. Just last year she relearnt the entire process of making a Chitetezo Mbaula from treating the clay; moulding the stove; placing the pot-rests, handles and door; to drying and finally firing the stove in a fuel efficient kiln.
Only one year later by September 2014, she can mould up to 25 stoves per day and in the past year alone, herself and her co-workers have made over 1,500 improved cook stoves.
Mrs. Mbewe has also been linked with markets and is now supplying over 2,000 workers and out-growers of the Tea Estate, where she lives, with stoves for their homes. Once she has met the immediate needs of the Tea Estate, there are other estates nearby and she would love to be able to access those markets.
Before she found it really hard. But recently she has bought herself a phone, for the first time, clothes and kitchen utensils. She also supports her husband financially.
“I get paid for each stove of good quality that I make. It is not easy as sometimes the stoves crack if they are not dried and fired properly, which results in a loss. But I have learnt the technique and I have learnt the business.”
“With determination and hard work I have been able to benefit. I often use part of my house to store stoves so that there should not be a break in production. Right now I have over 200 stoves ready for collection. I sell the stoves to the Tea Estate and they collect from me. From the payments I receive I have been able to buy land and build two houses for both my daughters (aged 33 and 36). As long as there is a market for the stoves, I will continue to make them.”
“I no longer use the 3 stone fire. I threw that away a long time ago.”
Almost all of her neighbours have followed suit and are using the improved cook stove and reaping the benefits.
“I like the mbaula (stove) because it saves firewood, it cooks fast and now I don’t have teary eyes and frequent coughing.”
Some of the younger women are interested in learning how to make stoves and have approached Mrs. Mbewe. One of her co-workers, Mrs Rose Chengeni said that “I discovered that my neighbour Mrs. Mbewe is benefitting a lot from her business financially and I see what she is able to do on her own.” Not only are they producing stoves that can help their neighbours with less smoke while cooking and less time and effort sourcing firewood, but these ladies are doing it on their own and creating quite a stir in the process.