Slow cooker helps Ukrainians survive

Gertrude Ndlovu employs 28 people in her Wonderbag factory in oThongathi. Picture: Supplied

Gertrude Ndlovu employs 28 people in her Wonderbag factory in oThongathi. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 30, 2022


Durban - Ukrainians battling to survive as Russia wages war on them have been given a helping hand with the donation of thousands of Wonderbags to help them cook while under siege.

The Wonderbag brand was launched by Durban social entrepreneur Sarah Collins, is a non-electric slow cooker made from cloth filled with repurposed foam which acts as an insulator to keep food hot or cold.

She said 4 000 Wonderbags were sent to a refugee centre in Odessa in the south of Ukraine and from there they were transported in eight convoys to places where they were needed the most.

The inventor of the Wonderbag non-electric slow cooker, Sarah Collins. Picture: Supplied

“It’s changing people’s lives and the way they are eating because there is no firewood, there is no fuel and people just can’t cook. By having a Wonderbag, if there is a gas cylinder, about 20 families can use a tiny bit of gas to bring their food to the boil then put it into the Wonderbag,” said Collins.

She said Ukrainians were hiding in basements and bomb shelters which they could not leave and the Wonderbag made a huge difference in the way they lived.

“In the Syrian war it made such an impact, especially for mothers who couldn’t get sterilised water for their babies. People could boil the water and then put it into the Wonderbag to bath babies with clean water,” Collins said.

From apartments in Manhattan, one of the world’s economic hubs, to war zones and schools, Collins said the Wonderbag was changing lives in significant ways.

The bags, which were donated to humanitarian causes, were from the Wonderbag Foundation, which was one aspect of her business, while the Wonderbag retail section and the carbon credit aspect made up the other parts of the organisation.

She said the innovation of the business model ensured that they invested back into the community all the time.

“Carbon credits were developed to support people most affected by climate change and that’s how we are able to get the Wonderbag to people because we subsidise it with the funding from carbon credits,” Collins said.

She said Nando’s UK wanted to be carbon neutral in all their restaurants and were working to ensure that all their internal processes limited their carbon footprint.

“When they get that as low as they can, they still have to cook meat and fry chicken, so the last amount gets offset by carbon credits from Wonderbag. And it’s a great fit because we are both companies that were born in South Africa growing out globally and their consumers feel a real connection through their offsetting to women in Africa.”

She said locally Wonderbag sold carbon credits to a number of entities such as Sasol, which was one of the biggest emitters in the world.

“There’s a carbon tax in South Africa and so people would prefer to buy the carbon credits than pay the tax, because the carbon credit is doing good and empowering communities.”

Collins said when she started the Wonderbag business 14 years ago her vision was to support women in the best way possible, but the biggest success was the number of entrepreneurs and businesses sustaining themselves through Wonderbag.

“There are almost 200 000 entrepreneurs that I know of whose lives have been completely transformed and whose children could go back to school and could have a meal every day.”

Collins said in some instances they outsourced the manufacturing of the bags to these businesses and in others women bought them at a reduced rate and then made a profit from the resales.

Gertrude Ndlovu, 63, said her life changed when she convinced Collins to outsource the production of Wonderbags to her so that she could start her own business.

Ndlovu, whose husband died when her children were small, said she has since been able to buy two houses and support her children and 15 grandchildren through her business.

Based in oThongathi, Ndlovu said: “I started with four staff, now I have 28 employees. We make 400 bags a day and 2 000 per week and I know we can do more.”

The Independent on Saturday

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