Safe Stoves for Guatemalan Families
Safe Stoves in Guatemala
One of the big projects that Timmy has supported in Guatemala over the years is the Pop Wuj Safe Stoves Initiative. Pop Wuj has been building safe stoves in the surrounding communities for over 20 years, and it is a project that numerous students participate in during their time studying at Pop Wuj. On a few occasions, Timmy students from high school chapters have even traveled to Guatemala specifically to participate in the Safe Stoves Initiative.
What is a Safe Stove?
The stoves we build are made of locally purchased materials – cement block, brick, mortar, and a simple, metal stovetop. The stoves are wood-burning and are built with a chimney to keep all smoke out of the house or room where the stove is located.
Why are Safe Stoves Important?
Many families in rural Guatemala prepare their meals over an indoor, open fire in their homes. Oftentimes families live in a one-room house, meaning that this fire is next to the sleeping area, play and study space for children, and all other general activity in the home.
Common health hazards resulting from the use of open fires are eye problems, respiratory illnesses due to smoke inhalation, and burns and injury due to accidents (especially with children playing near the cooking space.) Many women have serious vision problems such as cataracts. Small children are typically carried on their mothers’ backs throughout the day, and as a result are constantly inhaling smoke and potentially toxic fumes from the fire. Homes generally have minimal ventilation, and so families with their cooking space and sleeping space in the same room are at an even greater risk for respiratory illness.
Families receiving safe stoves are provided with education about these health hazards, and strongly encouraged to construct a small, simple cooking space separate from sleeping and living areas prior to stove construction. The stoves are designed to prevent and virtually eliminate exposure to smoke and open flames, as fire is contained and smoke exits via a chimney through the roof of the home.
In addition to reducing health hazards, safe stoves have significant economic benefits for the families we work with. When a family uses an open fire to cook, they either spend a significant amount of time searching for and carrying firewood – thus losing potential work time – or spend up to 50% of their household income on fuel for cooking. The safe stoves are very fuel-efficient, and so families are able to greatly reduce fuel costs.
Finally, safe stoves promote a healthy environment. When cooking over an open fire, families have a few options – utilizing significant amounts of firewood, or utilizing long-burning materials like trash and plastic to keep the flames going as they prepare their food. Both of these options are damaging to the environment, as they contribute to chemical air pollution and deforestation. A safe stove greatly reduces the amount of firewood needed and discourages burning of dangerous, non-wood materials. Pop Wuj has combined their Safe Stoves effort with recycling and reforestation programs, to help reinforce this focus on protecting the environment and preserving natural resources.
Safe Stoves and Malnutrition
Childhood malnutrition is endemic in Guatemala – and especially in the Western Highlands, where Pop Wuj’s projects are focused. The rate of malnutrition for children under 5 in Guatemala is one of the highest in the world. The Pop Wuj-Timmy Nutrition Program was expanded in 2013 and is currently treating approximately 75 babies between 6 and 24 months of age in 3 rural communities near Xela. A number of the babies in the program struggle with malnutrition due to continual respiratory illness and weakened immune system. In Llanos del Pinal, we’ve been able to begin incorporating some of these families into the Safe Stoves project, providing hope for a healthier, stronger future for these babies.
by Ashley Aue
Ashley is Timmy’s Medical Programs Coordinator in Xela, Guatemala. Working with our international partner organization Pop-Wuj, Ashley has played a pivotal role in overseeing the development and launch of our joint Nutrition Program, and other health initiatives that impact care for Timmy communities. This post is an overview of a powerful Safe Stoves Project that is helping families to cook safely in their homes.