Friday, February 17, 2017

Off Come the Training Wheels

Text by Emily Rempel

As with any position of responsibility, there comes a time when the trainees must learn to fly solo. Sometimes we know exactly when our newly learned skills will be put to the test, and other times we’re surprised by a pop quiz. For Environmental Projects Coordinator Mary-Mak and I, last Tuesday was definitely a “pop quiz” kind of day.

We set out on the Safe Stove Project just like any other day, our bag of tools in hand, following the lead of our stove expert, Carmelina (who we’ve lovingly dubbed “La Reina de las Estufas,” or “Stove Queen”). We would be finishing up the third and final stage of a stove we’d been building in the home of a truly lovely couple and their sweet little baby. This particular stove project was memorable for me as it would be the first time I’d gotten to work on the same stove through all three of its stages.

We had just barely gotten started with the day’s build when our Stove Queen, Carmelina, was called away on family business. Of course, not only can Carmelina build a stove faster than anyone I’ve ever seen, but she’s also a mother.

Talk about a #LadyBoss, am I right?

Stage 1 of the stove (Photo by Emily Rempel)
And that’s when the training wheels came off, when the pop quiz was handed out, when we learned to fly solo. Now, before I indulge myself in any more dramatization, I should probably clarify that this was definitely not my, or Mary’s, first stove. I’d participated in about 5 different builds, doing every stage at least once. Mary-Mak, as our beloved Environmental Projects Coordinator, had completed her full stove building training, which you may have read about here (if not, check it out!). She had also been co-leading builds with Carmelina.

Stage 3 ft. the family's creative addition to help even out the cement (Photo by Mary Gramiak)
Nevertheless, it was still nerve-wracking to be left reliant on our own understanding of the project… especially when dealing with materials as unforgiving as cement. This would be Mary-Mak’s first time leading the project solo, and unfortunately for her, I was the only other Pop Wuj volunteer there to help. It was also only my second day as an official intern.

Luckily, Mary-Mak’s training quickly kicked in, and she was able to guide us through the final stage of the stove with only a few minor speed-bumps along the way. We were also helped along significantly by Señor Sales, the husband and father of the house, who was wonderfully patient with us and managed to contain most of his laughter at our masonry struggles. He also rigged up a very effective method of smoothing and evening out our final layer of cement. All in all, it ended up being a real team effort, and was an amazing experience to be able to work so closely with the family that will be using this stove for many years to come. Through lots of broken Spanish, hand gestures, and laughter, we were able to communicate well enough to get the job done.

There’s something really special about being welcomed into someone’s home, in a space as intimate and vital as the kitchen. For food lovers like me, the kitchen can really be understood as the heart of a home. As such, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is to make sure that a kitchen is as safe, accessible, and functional as possible. To read more about the numerous health concerns associated with unsafe stoves, check out the last blog post by our Environmental Projects Coordinator. At the end of a building session, when you’re up to your elbows in clay and cement dust, it’s this knowledge that brings the most satisfaction: these stoves will undeniably have a tremendous positive impact on the everyday lives of the families who are using them.

With that last thought, I leave you with one final photo:
(Photo by Señor Sales)
The (almost) finished stove, Mary-Mak, and myself ... and the dirt-smeared, exhausted, triumphant smiles on our faces.

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