Close this search box.
Close this search box.
Vera van Rijn, Healthy Cooking Challenge wins Albert Schweitzer prize!

Healthy Cooking Challenge wins Albert Schweitzer prize!

Vera van Rijn, participant of the Healthy Cooking Challenge, pitched the project that was developed out of this Challenge, an action research conducted during summer 2015 in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. The project already made remarkable results, now sealed with the Albert Schweitzer prize!

Thursday, december 10th. I had JUST reached the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in time for the pitches of the nominated projects. In front of an already silent audience I sneeked to the chair Vera keept free for me.


Vera van Rijn was going to pitch her project Clean Cooking, Healthy Lungs, that was developed with a slum community in Kampala, Uganda during the Healthy Cooking Challenge. Sitting next to her in the theatre of the Albert Schweizer Hospital, I could already sense her nerves and that was the moment where I realized how special this prize is, and how nervewrecking this must be for Vera.

The first pitches

The first pitch. A very good project pitched by tropical doctor Werner van der Wolf. I could truly imagine the Jury would choose this one: very self-confidently he talked about the health centre in Uganda, and what he would spend the prize money on.

Damn. What are actually the criteria of the Jury?!

The second pitch. A very inventive one, presented by Albertine Visbeek, about her Mother Care Kangaroo Project in Ghana. In the meantime I sense Vera her nerves getting heavier, it’s almost her turn! Seeing her piece of paper shake in her hands, I cannot help but getting very nervous as well. I know Vera as a very modest person, always belittling her successes. Would she be able to set aside her unauthorized modesty?

It’s time.

A bit clumsy she tries to put on her head set, getting stuck in her hair. “all that hair!” she jokes. As soon as it’s fixed, the microphone at first almost in her eye, she literally ‘switches her button’ that transforms her into a very self-confident woman, speaking from the heart, her passion.

“You go girl!”

E-ve-ry single word of her pitch was spot on! About how local women during the Healthy Cooking Challenge became aware of the danger of indoor cooking on their lungs. How they came into action to develop three low cost solutions with massive impact. All bottom up designed. From, with and for the local community.

Want to read more about this project? Read this blog

During her pitch my thoughts went – in chronical order- from “yesss…, “exactly…”, to “yeah!” and “that’s it!” and “you go girl!”. As her supervisor during the Challenge in Uganda I got to know her very well, her struggles, her hard work as well as that of her research teammates and the local people. They deserve it!

Reactions from the audience after her pitch were truly amazing. I was already proud of the project, but during and after that pitch my pride grew more every single second.

And the winner is…

Professor Coutinho, Chairman of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation came up after a break in which the Jury decided which project would most deserve the prize. He knew how to turn up the tension, I think nobody actually heard his words, until the “and the winner is…” .

Patients of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital must have had a heart attack. When he mentioned “Vera van Rijn!” there was a loud, loud triumph from my corner. Vera her family, friends and me screamed out all our loaded tensions from within, some with the tears in the eyes.

The power of Participatory Action Research

Professor Coutinho:

“such a simple solution, with such an impact!”

And indeed, it is. As long as we keep focusing on the perspective of local people on an issue, what they think is the ideal situation, what they think is the way to get there, with the means that are locally available, you get solutions that we people from the west would never have thought of. Simple solutions that are cheap and sustainable. To create cooperation instead of dependency on western aid.

I am truly, truly proud of what the whole team of the Healthy Cooking Challenge and the local community have established in Uganda. I am proud to have been their supervisor in this action research. For me, it is -again!- a proof that Participatory Action Research works!

It also proves to me that I should keep doing what I do with SevenSenses, facilitating people to create impact worldwide through Participatory Action Research. Giving back independency from western aid to local people. There is still a long way ahead and it’s damn hard sometimes, but with the right people working with SevenSenses I know we can make it.

I would like to thank Vera van Rijn, Ilse Fickweiler, Rachida Boukhriss, Comedev, Revelation life, the local people of Kampala and all other people who have contributed to the success of the Healthy Cooking Challenge.