|Boiling Point No. 20 - December 1989 (ITDG - ITDG, 1989, 40 p.)|
by Anne Pearce, 11 Hilltop Lane, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 4AS, UK, £14.50, pp 239
"The Story of Compassion and the Wonderbox"
"Simply Living" is the story of Anne
Pearce, a Quaker woman, who lived many years in the Republic of South Africa and initiated the formation of a welfare organisation called Compassion. It is a well written and moving story about village level development in South Africa and the many good people with whom the author worked. Compassion is dedicated to helping poor and destitute black South African women and is based in Crossroads the big squatter camp near Cape Town.
One of Anne's many activities was the development and promotion of the Wonderbox cooker. The Wonderbox is a slow cooker based on the hay box principle, traditional in many countries and recommended as a fuel saver in Britain during the 1940-1944 war. It is an insulated box to hold the cooking pot after boiling. The insulation is made from expanded polystyrene packing pieces or gratings from large pieces of polystyrene packing material. These are contained in two cloth bags in the form of cushions, one lining a cardboard carton or box in which the cooking pot with lid is nested and the other covering the pot. They are made by small groups using materials collected from local shops or factories and then sold cheaply or can be DIY.
Food must first be cooked until it is at boiling temperature
throughout to kill harmful bacteria and then placed in the Wonderbox where it
will remain very hot for several hours and become fully cooked. It is important
that food such as red beans and cassava are cooked at boiling temperature for a
minimum of 15 minutes to ensure that their poisonous constituents are
The fuel normally needed for long simmering periods can thus be saved. This is easy with modern cooking equipment such as gas, kerosine or electric cookers but is not so easy with a wood fire which would normally be allowed to burn itself out without wasting wood during the simmering process. Provided the materials for the Wonderbox are obtainable more or less freely it can be a cheap devise for saving wood or charcoal. Perhaps because of the difficulties mentioned above and the changes required in cooking habits, development agencies, and it would appear Compassion have so far had little success in promoting very widely the use of slow cookers in the third world. A Wonderbox is an additional piece of kitchen equipment as compared to improved stove which should replace the existing stove or 3 stoves fire.
New methods, requiring changes of habit, especially when coming from outside the community are usually more difficult to establish than modification to existing equipment such as improved stoves. Anne has found that "dissemination" of new ideas is much more difficult than their technical development. However, she has also found that an idea which helps to motivate and organise groups of women can become effective centres for other social improvements.
"Some people say that you cannot change people's traditional methods of cooking. Yet, in southern Africa, both Black and White people have taken to cooking with Wonderboxes often in conjunction with more sophisticated methods of cooking. Africans are the main producers of these "boxes" to which they added the prefix, "Wonder". Now many African women no longer have to walk miles every day in search of fuel for cooking. Others, in the townships, may only need to buy one bottle of paraffin instead of four. Migrant, contract workers can put their samp and beans in a Wonderbox in the early hours for it to continue cooking while they work. At night they can return to a hot meal, waiting and ready for them."
We wish her and Compassion every success and admire her determination in the face of so many obstacles.