"A stove designed by an engineer in Texas may be that wonder stove. Its use began in Guatemala. Now, its popularity is spreading."

"Its story begins in North Texas, at the house of a 75-year-old retired mechanical engineer named Don O'Neal."

"After an illustrious career helping to design computers in the 1960s, and then developing the first smoke detectors, fish finders and calculators, O'Neal retired in 1983 but found that he had too much time on his hands."

"So he and his wife, Lois, started organizing medical missions to destitute villages in Guatemala. It was on those trips that he began to see families coming in with terrible burns."

"I'm not talking about burns that blister, I'm talking about burns that burn fingers off and ruin legs," O'Neal says. "A kid starting to walk in one of those huts with an open campfire in the middle of the floor plops down on all fours, sticks a hand in a bed of coals, and immediately the hand is burned off. It's a horrible sight. And we had kids doing face-plants in a bed of coals, ruining their lives."

"So O'Neal invented a stove that solves all these problems. It's made of local materials: fired clay for the combustion chamber, poured concrete blocks for the structure, and a tin chimney to get the smoke out of the house. Then the inventor gave the design away and never earned a nickel."

"Maria Rosario Chavac has had an Onil stove for about two months."

"Before, I had to leave every day to cut wood," Chavac recalls. "Now, it's saving me a lot of wood. Now, I only have to go out every four days to cut wood. The old fire used up wood faster. This stove is working well."

"This is what women tend to notice more than the health and safety improvements. The stove requires 70 percent less wood, which saves labor and reduces deforestation. "

"The popularity of the Onil stove is spreading."

"According to Pro-Rural, 50,000 of them have been installed in Guatemalan homes, with plans for another 50,000. Helps International, a Texas-based charity that promotes the stove, moved into Mexico in the past year, setting up a stove factory in Toluca. Former President Vicente Fox is said to be an admirer."

"The environmental ministry in El Salvador — where deforestation is severe — has begun distributing the stove. And there's interest in Honduras."

"The challenge, of course, is how to get more of them to families who need them."

"The challenge is one of priorities, Grinnell says. The Onil stove costs about $100. Though some nonprofits give the stove away, Helps International prefers selling it through a community microcredit corporation, so the family will value it more."

"He says what they need is more credit, and a bigger awareness campaign."

"Meanwhile, O'Neal is keeping himself busy. After the booming success of his stove, he can't stay out of his workshop. Now he has invented a water filtration system, a bean cooker and an improved stove, all to ease rural poverty — all this from someone who designed computers that went into the first NASA rockets."

Read the article in full here

An extract taken from NPR.org.