Old-school cooking is saving lives today


Indoor air pollution kills 1 400 South African children every year. An issue that disproportionately afflicts the poor, the lung-stifling slow poison of contaminated air affects a quarter of all households in the country’s rural areas. The World Health Organisation blames the lack of electricity in these communities, which results in the use of coal and oil for cooking and lighting. But Sarah Collins, a local social entrepreneur, is addressing the problem by looking back in time, rather than ahead to technological advancements.

Fervent about delivering people from toxic living spaces, Collins investigated the possibility of reintroducing an ancient African method of preparing food – natural slow cooking. People of old employed the tactic for generations, often in the form of ground ovens, before the modern method became the only way. This old-school style is all about heat retention. While a little energy is needed as the initial source, none is required thereafter. Collins has brought this inventive idea to the 21st century in the form of her Wonderbag, a bundle of repurposed foam sewn together to form the perfect heat-retention unit.

For people who don’t have access to electricity, the bag provides a safe alternative method of cooking that reduces the exposure of their households to dangerous pollution. Collins’ solution to one of Africa’s most devastating and least publicised issues is both practical and culturally relevant. “My childhood inspired my determination,” she says. “I grew up in an entrepreneurial home and the policy was ‘don’t ever say no, make a plan’.” This particular plan began to take shape at the hands of three women working in Collins’ garage. She now employs 2000 people. Creating jobs whilst taking on a social ill, her work epitomises the spirit of social entrepreneurship.