I just returned from Chicago where I provided a keynote presentation for the United Eye Care Professionals annual conference. In this case, the parallel between my life's work as "guide to a blind guy" and that of the optometrist and ophthalmologist and their role of improving visual acuity to their patients is fun to draw out. It all comes down being the "eyes" for the people around you....providing clarity and Vision for your team or in their case, their patients. It was a great event with Vision and Teamwork being the overriding themes.
I also had a captive and interested audience regarding the Himalayan Stove Project that I am so committed to and serve as a board member. I knew that this group of professionals would rally around the idea of improving eye health in a remote part of the world that suffers from many ailments that are a direct result of inefficient burning cooking stoves in their homes.
In poverty-stricken communities, inadequate housing ventilation and improper cooking stoves pose a danger to all inhabitants but primarily women who do most of the food preparation. Dangerous smoke released from burning unclean solid fuel sources often has no direct path out of the house due to unflued stoves. One study found that less than 20 percent of homes in poor areas of northeastern Brazil and central Mexico were safe to live and breathe in. This is because wood smoke contains many chemical products such carcinogens, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons that are bad for human health.
Many people in the Third World are forced to use such fuels for cooking because of deforestation, population expansion, and degradation of agriculture and land. In fact, nearly half the world's population prepares meals with wood or wood-replacement fuels on primitive stoves without chimneys.
Indoor air pollution takes many forms, ranging from smoke emitted from solid fuel combustion during cooking to complex mixtures of chemicals present in modern buildings. In many households, everyday exposure to air pollution may contribute to an increasing prevalence of asthma, cancer, and cataract....which is where a group of optometrists really come in.
At the Himalayan Stove Project, we provide clean cookstoves to individuals and families living in the Himalaya who now cook with traditional, rudimentary cookstoves or over open fire pits inside their homes, consuming excessive amounts of precious fuel and polluting the indoor air to dangerously unhealthy levels. Our goal is to deliver 10,000 clean cookstoves within five years.
I have spent a good deal of my life in the Himalaya and have woken up in many a smokey teahouse with my eyes burning and lungs heavy with particulates. By simply improving the efficiency of the wood burning technology, we can touch a community on so many different levels...
- Environmentally. By implementing a more efficient burning stove we are able to minimize the use of organic local fuels, therefore minimizing clear cutting and scarce wood consumption.
- Socially. By cutting down on the smoke in the room, families are more apt to gather together for meals and socializing in the main living room.
- Physically. A more efficient burning stove diminishes the incident of pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and cataract.