Hola and Greetings from Guatemala!
As I start my second year here in Guatemala I have been reflecting on the things that I have done and learned over the last year. I set out on this journey to help change the world but instead of me changing the world, it has been the Guatemalans that have changed the world for me.
When I first arrived in Guatemala I had many aspirations, to many to count. I stayed up nights thinking about how I was going to help change people’s lives. It soon became apparent that very few of these ideas would ever materialize. In my ten months in San Martin Jilotepeque, I have received more than I have been able to give. The women who I work with on a weekly basis have shown me it is not what you have but it is how you use what you have that makes your life what it is! They have never asked me for anything other than knowledge and understanding but I have asked for so much more, I have asked them for their trust.
It is because they have never asked for anything that I want to give them something that would transform their lives…STOVES!
Stoves, something we all take for granted that everyone has, but in Guatemala that is not the case. I would like to share with you my story of fire, flames and cooking!
Five months ago in my small Guatemala town of San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango, I was a lost and down Peace Corps volunteer who was sick of being a secretary. So I talked to some women about coming out and working individually with them. My first meeting was about Peace Corps and what a volunteer does. Being the custom in Guatemala, there was of course a snack at the end of meeting for the women and children. I had brought banana bread. It was such a hit that I told them I could show them how to make it at our next meeting. Born was an extraordinarily rewarding and fun experience.
Now, the twenty women that I work with, are no ordinary women. First, they are indigenous, most do not have more than a 6th grade education, if that, all of them have 3 to 10 children and have more desire and motivation than most people I know. The idea of learning something new is so exciting to them that they take time out of their busy day to come and learn.
The women desire to be able to provide a better life for their children and themselves but many of them lack the knowledge or resources. I have showed them with a small investment in some key ingredients how they can make more nutritious food for their family. I started by only teaching them how to bake but then I began to teach about the different vitamins that each dish contained. Recently I have begun to teach them how to do a cost of production for each dish and we will soon start a market survey to see if there is a desire or niche for baked goods in our community.
Cooking with indigenous women has been interesting. I was naïve enough to think that all of these women would have stoves (of some kind). To my surprise all of the women cook over open fires. I am sure you all at one time or another have sat around a camp fire. Remember all the smoke, how hot it gets and most of all how dangerous it is, now imagine cooking over that everyday of your life, for me it seemed impossible. But that is what these women do. The fire normally sits on a shelf made of adobe, which is in a kitchen like room with no ventilation. Starting to sound pretty miserable, that’s not all, most women cook with a small child swaddled on their back, who inhale the smoke all day long.
The smoke that is created has no where to go except, their eyes and lungs which has lead to horrible health conditions not only for the women but the children too. One of the leading causes of death among young children after malnutrition is lung disease. There are also a high number of burn victims both young and old from these open fire stoves.
Insert the “aha” moment here.
I decided these women deserved better and easier life and so I want to build them stoves or a plancha. A plancha is still a wood burning stove but is completely cover on all sides with a metal plate on top for cooking. There is also a chimney connected to route all of the smoke out of the house. To us these planchas are inexpensive about $120 (Q900) for each one but when a family only has a monthly income of Q1000-Q1500 ($133- $200) a month it is a lot. So in order to make this project a reality I am looking to my loving family and friends for help.
You can make this project a reality by donating whatever you are able to give. I have asked the women to contribute a Q100 ($15) which can be paid upfront or in Q20 ($3) installments. So for a $105 you can give a family a new stove and a new leash on life but all donations, large and small, are greatly appreciated.
Donations can be sent to: Friends of Guatemala
P.O. Box 33018
Washington, D.C. 20033
Memo: Mackenzie Knowling (Please don’t forget this)
All donations are tax deductible. Friends of Guatemala will send you the necessary papers.
Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would be interesting in donating to this project.
Thank you for allowing me to share with you my experience and passion. Feel free to contact me with any questions.