Changing the Lives of Guatemalans
By Celina Clarke
The Guatemala Stove Project (GSP) is non-profit charitable organization working in Guatemala's Altiplano (Western Highlands) to build masonry cook stoves for impoverished villages. This need for cook stoves comes from the traditional method of cooking over a three stone open fire. Cooking over an open fire inside the house has terrible health consequences, 20% of the children do not make it to their fifth birthday, 10% of the people have TB, and many older women have seriously impaired eyesight. Living with indoor air pollution (smoke from cooking fires) on the average takes away ten years life expectancy from everyone living in the house. The GSP has now built over 3500 masonry cook stoves for families in need.
Last month I traveled to Guatemala with the Guatemala Stove Project. Although I watched slideshows and videos about the Stove Project, listened to people tell me what they had experienced and learned, there was really nothing that could have prepared me for the adventure I was about to embark on.
On February 3, thirteen Canadian volunteers boarded a plane and departed for Guatemala. I do not think many of them knew what to expect, that is except for a couple returning volunteers, and my dad, Tom Clarke, who is the co-coordinator of the GSP. This was his ninth consecutive trip to Guatemala, from the humble beginnings of the Stove Project in 1999. I decided to go down this year because I was ready to see what was so interesting about this country that made my dad return every year.
The volunteers stayed in Xela (Quetzaltenango), a city located about five hours away from Guatemala’s capital. Every morning we traveled by van for about half an hour to reach the small Mayan village, Chiporon, where we were working.
The first day of stove building was frustrating. The volunteers were broken up into four groups of two to four people each. Two Guatemalan masons helped the groups each day. I tried to communicate with the family my group was working with, but my Spanish was practically non-existent. However, Spanish happened to be the second language of that family as well, as it is for many Mayans who speak 1 of 26 indigenous languages.
The next day I was more successful communicating with the family, and by asking and answering simple questions my Spanish improved. Each day I tried to understand the family’s story as well as tell them mine. I would ask a woman how many children she had and she would ask where I was from. Most days I would be talking to the woman of the house because her husband would be out working and her children would be at school or married with a family. One woman told me she had nine children, five were married, three were single and one son was working illegally in the U.S., sending a little money home each month. Another woman was living at home with her five-month-old son, while her husband was working in Guatemala City trying to make enough money for his family to have a house of their own.
On average, each group of volunteers built one stove a day. We would stop around noon to eat our packed lunches and see the houses the other groups were working in. Then we would get back to work in order to finish our stove by about 3 pm. During the day we would hand out stickers to the children, who enjoyed having their pictures and seeing their faces on our digital cameras.
In total, we completed 28 stoves in the village of Chiporon. That’s 28 families that no longer have to live in a cloud of smoke. By the end of those two weeks, our group of volunteers was inseparable. I met some people in that village that I will never forget. As I find myself slowly slipping back into the grove of everyday life, I will do my best to share my experiences with whoever wants to listen.
To find out more about the Guatemala Stove Project go to our website atwww.guatemalastoveproject.org or email us at email@example.com
or by telephone at 613-267-5202
A presentation will take place Thursday, April 21st in the PDCI library for interested high school students. Stayed tuned to the Courier for more presentation dates.