Catherine sits with the cookstove she has just made in Malawi

Team player

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By Hannah Hillebrand

We set off on a blessedly overcast morning. Catherine is in a chintenje and a pair of slip-on shoes that remind me of TOMS. For a brief moment, I wonder if she has exaggerated the difficulty of our walk. But the climb is no joke. One thing that’s true of mountains everywhere: the first three times you think you can see the top, it’s a false summit.

An hour into our climb, we stop to say hello to a family whose house intersects the path we are following. After noticing their three-stone fire, Catherine talks to them about the risks. They tell her how much they would like to have a cookstove.

It’s not part of our plan for the day, but 26 bricks and 40 minutes later, Dafuless Nyirenda is the proud owner of a new fuel-efficient cookstove.

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Catherine works on Forest Conservation. Building cookstoves is not her area of focus. Our objective today is to reach Chikuni Mulingwa to meet with some of the community volunteers who are working to conserve the forest there.

But the beautiful thing about a good, strong team is the way they advocate for each other’s projects and help ease each other’s burden of work when possible.

Catherine knows that fuel-efficient cookstoves directly benefit forest conservation, and she has an inspiring work ethic and desire to be a positive force of change in her community.

A week later, we return and luckily so. They have been waiting for our OK to start using it. We give them the go-ahead and they happily move their fire to the new stove and begin cooking.

They are thankful for Catherine’s expertise. The cookstove is safer and will save them wood, directly benefit the surrounding forest.

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Photos taken by Hannah Hillebrand. To read more of Hannah’s work visit: Blog — Alaska Light Photography

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