Stove Evaluations and Hiring Community Health Workers in Quetzaltenango

Stove Evaluations and Hiring Community Health Workers in Quetzaltenango
December 5, 2011 Callie Daniels-Howell

By: Anna Pollock, Medical Project Coordinator, Guatemala

This fall has been a time of new beginnings here in Xela!  After months of daily rains and few hours of sun shine, the rain has finally subsided giving way to warm, clear days and a renewed optimism that can be hard to find amidst so much grey – the prime time for undertaking new projects and ramping older ones into high gear.  At Pop Wuj we have taken advantage of the new energy in the air to move two ideas into action – we have begun evaluating the Stove Project through meeting with stove recipient families and we have officially hired three Community Health Workers in our partner communities!

Families gathering at meeting to evaluate safe stoves

The Stove Project is one of Pop Wuj’s signature projects.  With the goal of reducing the health hazards for families cooking over open fires, the project aims to build improved stoves for as many families as possible in the areas surrounding Quetzaltenango.  The stoves Pop Wuj builds are both more efficient, requiring less wood, and healthier because the smoke is directed out of the house through a chimney. The project has been ongoing since the school began, nearly twenty years ago, and has helped build stoves for hundreds of families in the outskirts of Xela. Most recently, the Pop Wuj Stove Project has been focusing its energies on several communities in the Palajujnoj Valley, near the base of the Santa Maria Volcano.  Though in the past 2 years, the project has successfully competed stoves for nearly 100 families, there have been little funds left over for evaluating the effectiveness of the program.  With support from the new Capacity Building Grant, one of our new priorities is to evaluate the quality of the stoves built in the recent past to ensure they are functioning properly, and to hire a Technical Adviser to oversee all necessary reparations.

Guatemala Community Meeting

As a first step in the evaluation process, we held a meeting at Pop Wuj on the morning of October 10.  All the families in the valley who had recently received stoves were invited to come.  At the meeting we filled out a short survey with each family, asking questions about their stove to find out if there were any problems and what they were, as well as their perceptions about benefits of having an actual stove instead of cooking over an open fire.  Though the problems we encountered were few and seemingly insignificant, the benefits mentioned by families were many.

As a follow up to the meeting, we have hired Mynor, a teacher at Pop Wuj who also has significant experience and knowledge of the stoves we build, to be Technical Adviser and to oversee the follow up of the information gathered at the meeting.  We have determined three immediate needs that Mynor will be tasked with.  These include putting doors on all of the stoves that are awaiting this final stage of construction, following up with the families in San Juan who reported that their stove tops were inflating as they heated up, and finally visiting all the families who mentioned any other issue with their stove at the meeting.  By completing these steps, we can ensure all the stoves built by the Stove Project are functioning optimally and be sure that can move forward in the construction of more stoves knowing that the stoves previously constructed are all in good shape!

The second exciting event that has happened here in Guatemala is that we have officially hired 3 Community HealthWorkers who will help us to have a more permanent presence in the communities where they live and Pop Wuj and Timmy currently work.   On October 21, Maria Luisa from Buena Vista, Caterina from Xeabaj, and Anabeli from Pujujil came to Pop Wuj for the initial meeting of the Community Health Workers: to meet each other, discuss their roles in their respective communities, and their responsibilities as Community Health Workers and spokeswomen for Pop Wuj and Timmy.

As we began to do introductions, I learned some amazing facts about our new Community Health Workers – facts which only reinforced my belief that they will contribute whole-heartedly in their new endeavors as Community Health Workers.  All three of the women have completed formal studies in nursing.  Maria Luisa, beyond being a spokeswoman for health in Buena Vista has already accompanied patients to Coban (on the East side of Guatemala) to receive surgeries with Partner for Surgery, and plans to take another group of 10 patients for surgery in Los Encuentros next week.  Both Caterina and Anabeli were scholarship recipients from Pop Wuj; with the help of the Scholarship Program they were able to complete their studies in nursing and are now in a place where they can give back to Pop Wuj and their communities based on the education they have received.  Seeing the way that Pop Wuj’s programs have come full circle with these two young women was very inspiring and indicative of the changes that can be made with the correct investments in human capital and infrastructure.

In order to ensure that all of the Community Health Workers have the same level of knowledge, shortly we will be beginning a series of 6 trainings covering topics ranging from Appropriate Use of Medicines to Infectious Diseases to Hygiene and Sanitation.  In the meantime, all three Community Health Workers helped out with the Timmy Brigade that came to Guatemala in late October, reinforcing the partnership between Timmy and Pop Wuj.

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