Monday, December 9, 2013

Safe Stoves: Interviewing and Building in November and December 2013

Text and Photos by Danny and Julie Rhoton.  

Danny and Julie are students in the Social Work Spanish Program at Pop Wuj.  

For the last 3 weeks at Pop Wuj, we’ve been completing the construction of some safe and efficient stoves for Mayan families, who we hope will be able to enjoy the holidays a little more this year.  Christmas, after all, should be about families and stuffing oneself with tamales.  It should not involve smoke inhalation and lung disease!  My husband and I enjoy things like remodeling and building, so it has been a rewarding project, as we take “before” pics of indoor fire pits in the dirt, and “after” shots of smiling faces with a stove fit for cooking for a large family.

Before picture

Before picture of another kitchen
Once we had finished the stoves, it was time to interview 10-15 more families who hope they will be next.  Once or twice a week we travel to a village where I get to practice my Spanish by interviewing the mother of the home, with the help of Roney and Carmelina who translate when needed. We are mainly there to take photos of the condition of the home and family, to see how in need they really are, and to let them know how the project works.  We ask questions like “Why do you want a stove?” which is actually a little humorous on occasion, like the day we were standing in a cloud of smoke, choking, eyes watering, and wondering how people live like this!  No wonder respiratory problems are the number one cause of death in children in Guatemala.

Stage 2

Danny and Julie working on Stage 3

That day we all laughed, but sometimes the conditions are no laughing matter.  There was the day we had just arrived at a “home” and our group leader asked me to take a “before” photo of the kitchen.  I aimed the camera in the general direction he pointed, thinking surely this isn’t a kitchen… where?  It looked more like a metal chicken coop/storage shed, with no roof, just plastic, and a small fire pit hidden in the clutter. My husband’s contractor instincts took over.  He was talking about building them a whole new house to put the stove in.   One reason they mentioned for needing a new stove was because they have no money to buy wood, and the husband often spends 8 hours in a day hiking in the mountains to find scarce wood.  One of these stoves, they had heard, meant they would use 70% less wood!  And, maybe then they could stop burning plastic so their kids could have better health.

A completed stove and its proud owners
After our first week of interviews, we had a Thanksgiving turkey with other students and teachers here at Pop Wuj.  We thought about our wood stove back home, which we used to heat the home.  (A heated home in the winter, what is that?) We thought about our beautifully remodeled kitchen with… yes, counter space for preparing food.  I wondered how it would be to sit in the dirt and make tortillas in my lap, while trying to keep the babies from falling in the fire.  We wondered how we can take so many things for granted, how anyone could not appreciate the luxury in which we all live in the USA and other developed countries.  We ate our turkey this year with more awareness of our blessings than ever before, and it was tasty too.  And, we felt a little guilty for how much we ate, and that our meal did not include rice and beans. 

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