It started with a simple question from a friend: â€œSo, Rex, what are you doing this summer?â€ I told her that I was taking a trip to Guatemala with five friends and that we would be bringing supplies and money with us to see what we could do for the people there.Â
Her response took me by surprise: â€œCan I be a part of that somehow?â€ So I told her what I knew about Paso a Paso and how one of the natural outreaches of their ministry was providing â€œsafe stovesâ€ for those who needed them.Â My friend and her husband decided to donate $300 USD to the cause, which is enough to buy a new stove for a family. I was blessed by their generosity.
Apart from bringing the money with me to Guatemala, I really had no idea what part I would play in seeing the stove come to reality. But the first place Stephanie Cady of Paso a Paso took us was a store that sold stoves. There were several different models on display. She explained the construction a bit and how the stoves are a huge improvement over â€œopen stovesâ€. These â€œsafe stovesâ€ are cool to the touch, so children, who often suffer burns from open stoves, are less likely to be injured. In addition, the safe stoves have flues that vent the smoke out of the kitchenâ€”an enormous advantage over the wood-burning open stoves.
A few days after ordering a couple of stoves, we visited some homes in the Barrio la Cruz and El Rejon areas near Antigua. In these homes, I saw examples of both the safe and open stoves and could see the difference it made to the families who use them. For example, in one home, a woman was cooking with an open stove. The thick black smoke curled around the kitchen enclosure, burning my eyes and making it hard for me to breathe. It was also easy to see how children could be injured by touching the stoves are even falling into them. Additionally, these unsafe stoves char the cornstalk walls that are often used in the construction of the kitchens creating yet another hazard.
The next day, Stephanie introduced us to Gabriel and his family who were in need of a safe stove. We looked at the small building where the stove would be placed.Â This familyâ€™s kitchen was like many I saw in Guatemala: a separate shed-like building with walls made of cornstalks. A large section of cornstalks immediately above the open stove had been completely burned away exposing the side of a steep hill just a few inches away. (I couldnâ€™t help but wonder what happened when there was a heavy rain.) Not only were the walls charred, but the ceiling, made of corrugated sheet metal, was soot-blackened and had many holes in it. Before the stove could be installed, the kitchen walls and roof would have to come down and be replaced with sheet metal. This would keep the area dry, ensuring a longer life for the new stove.
Tearing down the walls and roof was dirty work. But my three friends plus Gabriel managed to get the new walls and roof up in just a day. No more charred cornstalks! But rather, clean sheets of bright metal. After the ground was leveled a bit (the kitchen has a dirt floor), we were ready for the stove.Â
The next day, the stove guys arrived. I saw them throughout the day build the stove with concrete blocks and brick. It has a small door for putting in the firewood and a flue to take the smoke out of the room.Â Much to my surprise, they added a decorative tile to the top of the stove. The cook of the family was very pleased with this! After a 12-day curing period, the stove will be ready to use.Â
A few days later, my friends and I came back and took photos with Gabrielâ€™s family around the stove. I thought about what a rare blessing it was to see something that started with a simple question about my summer plans and then ended with a photo shoot standing next to a sparkling new stove.
Written by Rex: Vintage Team, June 2011