By Pham Cong Tuan, CWS Project Officer.
Hoang Thi Vien, 33, and Quan Thi Tham, 34, are the two women who cooking twice each school day for students of the Hoa Trung primary school, which is a boarding school for ethnic minority children who travel to a central village from their remote mountain villages if they are lucky enough to have parents who understand the value of education. Sadly, not all parents do so. But for the 210 students who do attend the school, Vien notes that, “It’s not an easy to cook for 210 students every day! Our kitchen used to have five wood-burning stoves, and cooking the rice was the hardest work because we used three huge pots on three of the five stoves to cook about 14 kilograms (31 pounds) of rice in each pot for each meal.”
So, every morning they started their fires at 6:30 a.m. to boil the water and cook the rice, which usually took three hours because cooking such big amounts of rice meant they scooped burning wood coals from the stove to put on the pot lid to cook the rice in the top half of the post from above. Besides being hard and a bit dangerous, this “convection” cooking usually led to ash ending up inside the pot and spoiling some of the rice. Besides, Tham said, “A lot of fire wood was used!”
Now, thanks to the school’s partnership with CWS, things have changed since two larger, much-improved stoves were built. “It’s amazing! So convenient!”, Vien enthused when I spoke to her earlier this month. “It’s now very easy and quick to light up a fire in the morning because the stove is still a little warm from the last use. And now it takes only 20 minutes for the water to boil, and then only 90 minutes for all three rice pots to be cooked through at the same time.” Tham added, “Now we do not have to put wood coals on the lid anymore, so our risk of burning ourselves is gone and, even better, there is no ash in the rice – and no smoke at all in the kitchen. And, most important, it saves a lot of wood. Before, we used four bundles of firewood, but now only one-and-a-half; we use less than half as much now!” Chiming in again, Vien says, “Now we don’t have to go to work so early; and I now have time to take my son to his school before coming here”.
To end the conversation, both Vien and Tham thanked CWS for our support, and I thanked them for their hard work, too, as I was realizing that cooking the rice is just the beginning and one part of the cooks’ work. And, for me, I feel pride in our work is witnessing their happiness at being able to do their part of our shared work to make sure the boarding school children have good meals to support their wellbeing and learning.
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