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Tree Planting Video
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Photo Gallery

Stoves and Trees

Background: Much of Central America’s forest cover has been lost, devastating rural communities. With few trees to hold the soil in place, erosion is a major problem: valuable topsoil washes away and ends up clogging rivers and waterways below barren hillsides. Many endemic forest species have virtually disappeared. In addition, the burning of wood in inefficient stoves contributes to global warming. In El Salvador, a principal cause of deforestation is the use of firewood as the primary cooking fuel in many households. A typical family spends 80 hours a month collecting firewood, or up to a quarter of its income to buy fuel. Many people cook indoors over open fires. Constant exposure to wood smoke harms people, especially women and children, many of whom have serious respiratory problems.

In August 2006 a group of four Bostonians - Avi, Claire, Donna, and Joan - travelled to Suchitoto in El Salvador. There we were joined by Rene and Roberto from El Salvador, and Austin from Great Britain. We worked with REDES, a Salvadoran community development organization, and women from cooperatives in the villages of Los Almendros and Santa Anita to build energy-efficient stoves in their homes and plant trees in the villages.

Energy efficient cooking and lighting are vital to the well-being of the Salvadoran people, as they rely on wood as their principal cooking fuel, and kerosene or gas lamps to light their homes. The combination of the disasterous civil war, the use of wood as the primary cooking fuel, and a history of poor farming and forest managment strategies has striped the lushness of this tropical country, leaving it 96% deforested.

laying out the stove

On our first day in Los Almendros Claire teaches the women how to lay out the bricks for the stove.

Marina leveling

Here the second stove begins to take shape in the school at Los Almendros. Marina (in blue) who learned to build the stove during the first few days is now teaching the students how to lay out and level the bricks.


mixing the mud

The mortar for the bricks is made of black earth, molasses, salt, and water. The traditional method of mixing is to use both hands and feet!

muddy hands

(Below) Austin is preparing to drill the holes where the feet of the plancha will sit. The plancha is used to cook tortillas.

drilling the holes for the plancha


cutting rebar

Rebar is cut into lengths to form a support for cooking pots over the fire. Below: The rebar then needs to be carefully leveled so that the pots will sit securely.

putting rebar into place

Below: At the end of the first stage all of the brick is covered in mud and allowed to dry for several days. The open spaces are then filled with dirt and sealed with another mud layer, making thick walls that retain the heat efficiently.


Below: The chimney pipe is cut to size, and a slit is cut for a damper so that the heat of the fire can be controlled. In traditional stoves there are no chimneys, leaving the smoke inside the kitchen - a leading cause of eye and lung disease in women and children. The triangular design of the fire box in these stoves helps channel the smoke to the chimney, and out of the kitchen.

cutting the chimney


donna attaching the chimney

Above: Donna and the women are leveling and attaching the first pipe for the chimney.

through the roof

Above: Avi is illustrating how to cut a pattern so that the correct sized hole can be cut in the roof where the chimney will emerge.

avi and pedro on the roof

Above: Avi and Pedro, in Santa Anita, have just passed the chimney through the roof.

final coat

Once the chimney is in place a coat of cement is put on to cover all of the mud and bricks and make the stove weather-proof. Above one of the students applies the cement at the school at Los Almendros, below Joan works on the stove at Santa Anita.

joan cement


finished stove
Above: A finished stove in use. It is estimated that these stoves burn about 50% of the word burned in a traditional stove.
In return for materials, instruction, and help in building the stoves the women organized the planting of more than 700 trees in each of the villages. The trees were provided by the Mayor of Suchitoto, the municipality that includes Los Almendros.
school planting
Planting trees at Los Almendros.
donna planting

Contact: For more information, please contact Avi Davis at 617-939-6400 or