2005 Volunteers leave for Guatemala
by LIANNE LAHAIE-TYSICK
The Perth Courier
A group of local volunteers will soon be heading off to Guatemala to continue their mission of improving the quality of life for those who live there.
In February, volunteers with the Guatemala Stove Project will embark on a journey to the village of Xecaracoj to continue the work that began six years ago, when an indigenous non-profit group known as CEDEC identified the need for masonry cookstoves in several Guatemalan communities.
Despite the growing need for the cookstoves, the residents of these villages lacked the basic human and material resources to build them. Thus, the Guatemala Stove Project was born.
In 1999, the project had only one volunteer (Tom Clarke, who currently co-ordinates the Guatemala Stove Project along with Ali Ross), who managed to build six stoves. Since then, the project has experienced phenomenal growth.
Some 25 stoves were built in 2000, 195 in 2001, 535 in 2002 and in the spring of 2003, volunteers completed construction on their 1,000th stove. If all goes according to plan, volunteers will build their 2000th stove in the spring of this year.
According to Mr. Clarke, this will be the seventh winter trip to Guatemala and volunteers will be building approximately 30 new stoves. The majority of the volunteers will remain in the village until Feb. 26, while Mr. Clarke will stay on until March 5.
"This year we have 11 volunteers from eastern Ontario (including Perth) travelling with us," Mr. Clarke noted. "We will meet up with 9 American volunteers, 1 French, and 4 other Canadian,for a total of 25 volunteers. We're very excited to be going back to help these people live better, healthier lives."
Mr. Clarke said the simple masonry cookstoves built by volunteers have improved the lives and health of more than 15,000 Maya people.
For centuries, the Maya have cooked on three-stone fires built on the dirt floors of their kitchens. As a result, homes were continuously filled with toxic smoke which can cause a plethora of serious health problems.
The cookstoves serve to eliminate many of these problems because smoke travels through the stove pipe, leaving the home virtually smoke-free. The general health of those living in the home is significantly improved.
In addition to building cookstoves, Mr. Clarke said, volunteers will also bring valuable medicine to residents of Xecaracoj.
"There's an organization called Health Partners International," Mr. Clarke explained. "If you donate $500 to them, they will provide you with $5,000 in medicine that is useful for people living in Third-World countries. We will be bringing three 70-pound kits full of medicine along with us as well."
Doctors Marc Marion and Christina Fernandez, of Carleton Place, will take part in the excursion once again and will set up a medical clinic in the village upon arrival.
Mr. Clarke said the group has been busy fundraising for the project and recently held a "very successful" fundraising dance featuring Tito Medina & Amigos. The next fundraising dance will take place this Saturday in Kingston at the Italo Canadian Club. Well-known Kingston band the Soul Survivors will perform.
Although Mr. Clarke has been an active participant in the project since its inception, he said each year presents a new set of goals and challenges.
"Each year we build in a different village, so it (the scenery) always changes," Mr. Clarke commented. "It's certainly a challenge to build so many stoves and photograph all of them so we have a record of what we've done for these people. We're working on a much larger scale now than ever before."
He noted that volunteering with the Guatemala Stove Project is an exciting and rewarding experience that will remain with participants for a lifetime. He said one of the things he enjoys most about the trip is getting to meet the wonderful people who call these destitute Guatemalan villages home.
"They (the people) live in these dirty, rundown shacks yet they are so full of joy," Mr. Clarke remarked. "They may not have much, but they share what they do have and they're more than happy to get to know us. It's really amazing."
Mr. Clarke said volunteers often feel "like millionaires" upon returning home because they have a renewed sense of appreciation for how fortunate they truly are. He said volunteers are also grateful for having had the opportunity to help people in need.
"The problems we have are so minor compared to what these people live with on a daily basis," Mr. Clarke stated. "You come back realizing how fortunate you are to have so much and you're glad you have the opportunity to help those who have so little."
The Guatemala Stove Project group meets every six weeks at Coutts & Company and Mr. Clarke said new volunteers are always welcome.
For more information about the project, please call 267-5202, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.guatemalastoveproject.org.