We recently interviewed Meliza Nuñes Rosales, a Maestra Fogonera, or master stovemaker. Meliza works with Asociación de Juntas Administradoras de Agua del Sector Sur de Pico Bonito (AJAASSPIB), one of EcoLogic’s local partner organizations in northern Honduras.
EcoLogic began this specific program to empower rural women in the community by directly involving them in the process of building the stove, teaching them about effective stove use, how to maintain stoves in working order, and conducting follow-up visits. These stoves help decrease local deforestation while also improving air quality in the home. This is where Meliza comes in. Her job entails building fuel-efficient cookstoves for rural families to provide them with a stove that requires less firewood than their traditional cooking methods, while still generating enough heat to prepare their meals and morning coffee. has been building stoves since 2005, but perfected her craft to work on the more efficient Justa 2×3 stove model in 2013.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that she enrolled in a course where she was certified as a Maestra Fogonera, or master stovemaker. This Maestra Fogonera course empowered her to start her own stove-making business! Meliza took the time to speak with us about how she began this journey, the challenges she faced, and what she plans to accomplish in the near future.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Melissa! Can you explain a bit of your past experience? What did you do before working with stoves?
It started in 2005, I worked with another local organization as a stovemaker, building Lorena model stoves, then they asked me to work as a social worker for 28 different communities. I worked directly with schools, with environmental groups, and community water councils as well, all community members in general. That lasted for 5 years before their project ended. Then I started working with a different organization, a network of village water councils, AJAASSPIB, as a field extension worker as well.
How did you start working with stoves? What drew you to this work?
Well, I have been building older model stoves since 2005. But in 2013, AJAASSPIB and EcoLogic started collaborating with Asociación Hondureña de Desarrollo, S.A (AHDESA) and I was put into contact with them. They provided the training and certification to construct these stoves—in particular the combustion chamber. There, I learned how to build our current Justa stoves that we use now. From then on it’s been great, such an impactful experience!
What has been the most challenging part of working with stoves? Oftentimes, the people in the communities are not able to contribute monetarily. This is why we don’t ask people to pay, but rather ask individuals to provide the adobe and collect local materials for the project. For example, we arrive at a home and we tell them we will provide the construction work and specialty materials, such as the chimney, stove top, and bricks. However, there are lots of local materials that are available. Nevertheless, some individuals don’t want to go search for these materials, so they decline the offer. That initial step can be the most limiting aspect of my work.
Given these challenges, what have you done to increase the usage of stoves within communities? After we build the stoves in a community, we give the people an incentive. We go and teach them how to cook different meals on the stoves. We use this to demonstrate to them that the stove is able to cook with much less firewood than before and still work to its full capacity! However, the only difficulty with that is that some people don’t like cleaning the stoves. This really is a challenge because the stove can accumulate a bit of ashes in the lower portion and in the chimney, but it has to be clean to work well, especially when the temperature drops. This makes it difficult because people will then tell me the stove isn’t heating up, but in reality it just needs to be maintained. We’ve created a solution that seems to give good results, though. Ten or 15 days after installation, we go show the new owners how to properly clean and cook with the stove and they’re pleased with the results!
“I love working with these stoves! I love seeing the look on the owner’s faces immediately after we finish building the stove and we light it for the first time. They get so excited, we even put water to boil and make delicious coffee! It’s beautiful. To me, this makes me so happy!”
Meliza Nuñes Rosales, Maestra Fogonera
What has been the most rewarding part of working with stoves? I love working with these stoves! I love seeing the look on the owner’s faces immediately after we finish building the stove and we light it for the first time. They get so excited, we even put water to boil and make delicious coffee! It’s beautiful. To me, this makes me so happy! I love coming back and hearing from them how much they’ve been able to save on firewood and how proud they are of the smoke reduction in the kitchen. To me, this is definitely the most rewarding part of building stoves.
What’s the most impressive thing you’ve learned from working with stoves? I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve learned to choose the firewood, to collaborate as a team. I think this specifically, as you interact with so many different people and personalities, that you learn to work together and interact with one another.
Why did you decide to take this special training course to become a Maestra Fogonera? Because I really love building stoves! I can build four stoves in a day and people will assume I’m tired, but to me this is just something that brings me so much joy. I love being able to teach others, too. Building stoves has truly helped me.
Meliza provides the necessary maintenance for a stove.
So what did you like the most about the course? I learned a lot. I was able to meet people from all over Honduras. I learned different aspects of the stoves, especially small details about the design that have helped me improve my understanding. For example, the chimney has to be a foot above the roof, the base of the stove has to be in a specific location in the kitchen. You definitely learn a lot about the stove.
Is there anything about the course that you would like to change? Honestly, no. I love the way it was taught. I still keep in contact with everyone from the team. They’ve even offered me more materials! They’ve been so generous as to donate enough materials for 25 stoves. However, we’ve now gone from a starting group of 135 that were trained to 35 Maestros Fogoneros that are active.
You mentioned the group has shrunk to 35 builders—why? Well, they challenge us to find clients at the beginning of the course. So, many people just weren’t able to find any clients. However, I was able to find many more than before! I left my zone and went into another community and had great success. Really, because of my previous work in the other communities, I know the people and was able to obtain many clients.
What do you plan to do with the new training you’ve received? I’d like to be able to teach others that don’t know about these stoves. I’d even like to go and teach in our places outside of the country! I think it’d be a great experience.
Last question! What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a Maestra Fogonera like yourself? Do it! I’ve been able to raise my 3 children as a single mother because of my stoves! It’s been wonderful.