Building Stoves in Guatemala

PrintToday, we started our stove building projects for the native Mayan people. We arrived in a village nestled on a mountainside and hiked part way up the mountain to a house that was going to receive a stove for a demonstration on how to build a stove with cinder blocks, mortar we made ourselves, and a machete. But first, we were greeted by women who either received stoves, or are receiving stoves. They gave all of us flowers they grew in their gardens as a sign of respect. The women kept telling us that they wish they could repay us for our service, but they had no way of doing so. They told us that God would pay us over the rest of our lives in return for our service to their community. When the women told us that, I had the immediate realization of just how much our work would change their lives and it brought a tear of happiness to my eye.

Rather than the women slaving over an open fire all day in the tiny single room house, they would be able to use a more fuel efficient wood-burning stove to cook on. The stove would increase the amount of free time the women had to do other things like weaving and tailoring to make some extra income for their family. In addition, families will have reduced respiratory complications because the stove will funnel smoke our of the house rather than have an open fire that spews smoke inside the house.

While we were building the stove, the family of the house was very enthusiastic about our work and they were very helpful. They washed blocks, helped mix and lay the mortar, and provided great company while we were working. Despite the language barrier, we communicated very well through hand motions and some Spanish we had learned throughout our schooling.

The family went out and bought us bottled water after we had been working very hard to mix mortar. No one wanted to accept her offer because we didn’t want to take away any money she had. They insisted on buying us water. We had no choice but to accept. They were the sweetest people I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and I’ve worked with many people through my experience with the Boy Scouts of America and Tau Epsilon Phi.

After our work was done for the day, we played with the children in the village. We chased them up hills, played tag, and took pictures with them. They were amazed that a camera could “capture” them and keep them in a little box. Children laughed and screamed in amazement when they saw themselves on our camera screens. It made me feel good to see we were not only helping the women by building stoves, but we also gave the children joy and happiness. That was one of the biggest rewards so far.

By Steven Hale

Students at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden are spending their spring break on a service learning trip in Guatemala. Throughout the week, they will be blogging about their experiences.

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