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Voices, video, and photos from Oxfam's fight against poverty

The stove with soul

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As you can tell from our new video (above), the Berkeley-Darfur stove is a practical kind of device—plain metal, nothing flashy. After all, it’s designed not for form, but for function: To provide a safe, reliable, efficient fuel source for women living in camps in Darfur, Sudan.

But in its spare time, the stove is also something of a rock star.

In 2009, for example, the band State Radio brought one along on their US tour, asking fans to chip in to buy stoves for families in need.  By the end of the tour, they’d raised $100,000, enough for Oxfam’s partner the Darfur Stoves Project to provide stoves for 5,000 displaced families.

When I spoke to State Radio singer Chad Stokes in December, I asked what inspired him to support Oxfam’s relief effort in Darfur, where fighting between armed groups has forced 2.8 million people from their homes since 2003.

“When the situation in Sudan came into the media, six or seven years ago, it struck us as the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the world,” said Stokes, who wrote a song called “Sudan” for the 2007 album The Year of the Crow. “If people just know about it, and can influence their politicians about it, there are things that we can do to help.”

The band chose the stove—simple, low-cost, tangible—as a way to raise awareness about the conflict. After a hands-on demonstration from Oxfam, they set out on the road with their new touring companion. “As it became an integral part of our touring system, it was interesting to pack every night,” said Stokes. “We have limited space on our bus, so… it’s all these amps, cords, guitar, and then the stove.”

During shows, the metal contraption held a place of honor on the merchandise table. “Fans would go look at the new t-shirts, and then they’d see the stove,” explained Sybil Gallagher, tour manager and co-founder, with Stokes, of the band’s charitable organization Calling All Crows. “Chad would talk about the stoves from the stage, or we’d have flyers on hand to explain how it worked … Sometimes, we had a pile of $20 bills at the end of the night.”

It could have been the music that moved thousands of fans to contribute their hard-earned cash. Or maybe it was the story behind the stove itself—a small innovation that’s making a difference for women living through years of conflict.

“I think the simplicity of it is moving,” said Gallagher. “The stove is there; people can see it; they can take pictures with it. It sort of has its own soul… It’s just a hunk of metal, but it really became this link between people.”

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