Sommay Khamhoung, a mother of two, opened her small restaurant in 2010 selling spring rolls, crepes and desserts in Haisok village, at the heart of Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
Sommay attracts customers by offering tasty warm meals cooked on the spot, mainly to office workers in the city centre. For this, the stove must be kept burning the whole day. Sommay's younger sister and her mother, in her seventies, help set up her stove, using traditional fuels, such as firewood and charcoal while she does the regular shopping for the ingredients. This constant use meant that Sommay had to buy a new stove every five months and at least four sacks of charcoal (25 kgs each) every week.
Her business routine followed the same path for nearly three years, until the constant increase of the price of charcoal coupled with her dependence on low quality and perishable traditional stoves put the survival of her business at risk.
"As a small and family-run restaurant with a tiny income, we could no longer afford such increases in charcoal prices" she recalled.
With no other options, she approached her longstanding provider of cooking stoves to see if something more durable and efficient was available. It was then that she was introduced to the 'Improved Cooking Stove'. Going out of business was not really an option as she had to earn enough money to be able to send her two kids to school and look after her family. She decided to go for it.
The stove bought by Sommay is part of the 'Improved Cooking Stoves Programme', a renewable energy project supported by the European Union and implemented by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Oxfam Novib and the Lao NGO – Normai.
Sommay and her family have not looked back. The new improved stove is still functioning well after 2 years of constant use. The stove cost only 15 000 kip (€1.50) above the average price of the traditional one, which had to be replaced regularly. And most importantly it consumes much less charcoal and produces better heat – a win, win, win!
Sommay recently bought her fourth improved stove (also one for her family's cooking purposes) and has become an active promoter of it by sharing her first-hand experience and convincing many of her relatives, neighbours and clients to replace their kitchen stoves. The good thing is that they don't need too much convincing!