Report from the Guatemala Stove Project

We received the following report March 4, 2001 from GAFN Board member Ali Ross in Guatemala. The other signer of the report, and the one referred to in the first person throughout, is Tom Clarke, a Canadian mason and founder of The Stove Project. For more information on this project and GAFN's involvement with it see our Stove Project page and our general Material Aid information. Thanks to all of our members and contributors for helping to make the medical aid provided to El Rincon possible.

Above are recent pictures of the people of El Rincon and the Stove Project's work this year. Click on any of the images for a larger view. For a picture of the kind of smoky 3-stone fire that the stoves replace click here. For links to more pictures from this year's work see the web page of Masons on a Mission (a group with which we have no direct connection, but which is associated with the Guatemala Stove Project).

Report from El Rincon

Here is a glimpse into a day in El Rincon, a Mam village in the Altiplano of Guatemala.

We build stoves so families can breathe clean air in their kitchens which will add 10 to 15 years life expectancy to everyone in the family and keep the women who cook from going blind at an early age and help alleviate chronic respiratory illness. Getting the cooking off the floor cuts down on severe burns suffered by babies and toddlers who all too often fall on to the hot coals . Raising the cooking surface off the dirt floors can dramatically reduce disease.

We have built over 50 stoves in the last month and still have the balance of a hundred to finish.

We used the money GAFN generously gave us to buy medicine for people who would otherwise go without. We are surrounded by desperate need and use every dollar we are given to make a real difference in someones life. Imagine for example the amount of medicine we were able to purchase with GAFN money and how many families with eye infections, dysentery and other treatable illnesses were given relief.

There is always a big crowd watching the gringo work, a very cute 5 year old Grizelda who kept saying "good morning" over and over again. Those were the only english words I heard today and the way she said them wasn't really English. My new friends are trying to teach me Mam which is a lost cause as I can't make my throat do what they do.

We have built stoves for three different widows who all lost their husbands to drinking. Other then the odd alcoholic everyone seems so healthy, no one is overweight and sometimes when I am struggling up the mountain (you are always walking up or down as there is no level ground) someone runs by me with two hundred pound bags of potataoes on their back. The women usally have a baby on their backs as well as some other heavy load on their heads.

They only speak Spanish to me otherwise they are all talking Mam. While Quiche is Don Juan's (our favourite hired mason) language of choice, he doesn't understand Mam either. Now the other Gringos have gone home the families are feeding me lunch. Today I tasted a chile sauce that was so hot I was in tears even after quickly swallowing a few bland tamales. I am one of the few gringos who never got sick, which is quite amazing considering what they give me to eat.

It was a hard day because the roof was so low I couldn't stand up straight or my head would be up against sticky black creosote. The three-stone fires bleching smoke leave one's eyes and throat stinging. There is always a huge crowd of children everywhere, laughing and playing. Some people even call me Don Tomas.

Thinking about my daughter and a young girls life in El Rincon (5 feet is tall for a Mam) is such a contrast. The get up early each morning to make tortillas and work hard all day seemly laughing and smiling through most of it. They certainly don't have to worry about exercise to keep in shape. There is so much beautiful cloth and weaving, such a colourful place. Lots of beautiful pottery everywhere, including huge pots that must hold ten or 15 gallons. There are ugly things as well like pesticide sprayers, often the backpack hangs right over the kitchen table.

We don't see any soldiers though until we get back to Xela, where they are everywhere. Grizelda has a sister Selena, a two year old the 5 year old sometimes carries on her back. These people must have backs of steel. Life is very hard here but the Maya do so much with so little. They are a proud people and have so much to teach us.