Thursday, November 3, 2011

Helping families and the planet in Guatemala

Have you ever sat too close to the campfire and gotten a faceful of smoke? It stings your eyes and makes you cough.
Now imagine that happening to you all day, every day. For millions, this is their daily experience. People throughout the developing world commonly cook over what’s known as a “three stone fire”, basically an open firepit inside their hut or shack. Toxic wood smoke fills the inside of their home, and the eyes and lungs of the mother cooking, and of her young children. Constantly breathing smoke takes 10 to 15 years off the lifespan of all the family members; this indoor air pollution kills 1.6 million people each year and blinds many.
Yet there are simple remedies. Tom Clarke, from Perth, Ontario, offers one. During travels in Central America in the 1990s, he witnessed grinding poverty and wondered how he could help. Learning of the stove solution, in 1999 he founded the Guatemala Stove Project, a registered charity that changes peoples’ lives for the better through an affordable, sustainable model.
The Project builds masonry stoves for poor indigenous families in the Guatemalan highlands. These Mayan-speaking families’ needs seem invisible to the post-colonial Spanish-speaking elite who govern from the lowlands.
The installation of a masonry stove makes a huge difference in their lives. A sheet-metal chimney directs hearth smoke outside the home; sparks are contained. By storing the heat, the stove cuts wood fuel use almost in half. This saves hard time spent collecting firewood, or scarce money spent buying it. It also preserves fragile mountain slopes, which suffer soil erosion from deforestation. It even significantly reduces carbon emissions.
And the cost of all this is only $225. Each donated stove adds years of life and health to every member of the family. The donated money is used to buy local supplies (concrete blocks, bricks, cement, metal fittings and chimney) and pay local masons, supporting the local economy. Canadian volunteers assist and take photos of the recipient families, who are selected by Mayan community organizations.
While there, Project volunteers bring medical supplies and treatment to villages that otherwise never see a doctor. All the Canadian participants, including the founder and doctors, are volunteers, so 100% of your donation goes to help a poor Guatemalan family. In thanks you receive a frameable photo of the happyfamily and your newly-built stove, listing their names and ages.
If you care to help a family in need, or to offset your heating carbon footprint this winter, visit For a small cost to a Canadian family, you can share the gifts of life and health with a family in Guatemala.
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Donate a stove and help improve some lives
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer and politician. 

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