Mayan Families is an organization that began in 2005 and has grown exponentially since then. While the organization has a number of different areas that they work in, the one we’re focusing on today is the installation of Onil stoves, designed by HELPS International. This is something we incorporate into any of our weeklong tours that go to Panajachel and it has a tremendous impact on the Mayan community.
While it’s possible to purchase a gas or even electric stove in Guatemala, those at the poverty level and below it cannot afford what most of us take as a basic necessity. Instead, they cook over an open fire. That’s fine for camping out from time to time, but when it’s your daily life, there are problems that come along with this type of cooking.
Acute Repiratory Infections are very common throughout Guatemala, due to the use of open wood fires. The World Health Organization discovered that the leading cause of death in children under 5 is excessive smoke inhalation. Green wood, freshly cut, causes a lot of smoke and open fires are often lit inside the home, with minimal ventilation, so the smoke hangs in the air all day. Babies on their mother’s back are particularly prone to breathing in the smoke as the mother leans over the fire to cook.
Risk of Burns
Some fires are set up on a platform, but many are on the floor of the home where a small child or baby can fall into the flames. Unfortunately, this happens far more than you might expect and severe burns can affect a child for the rest of his or her life. Children learning to walk or playing near the fire are at the highest risk for burns. Even if the burn is relatively minor, Guatemala’s public hospitals, while free, are not equipped to handle this type of injury, so scarring is very likely.
Inefficient Use of Fuel
When you burn wood in an open fire, it burns the fuel very inefficiently. That means families have to spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to find wood. Often, women spend a large part of their day hauling wood and their children come along, carrying large bundles of sticks that they’ve gathered alongside the road or up the mountain. It’s estimated that the average family uses about 18,000 lbs of wood per year! That’s a lot of wood to carry on your head or back and it often requires trekking into more desolate areas, where women are at risk for attacks and injuries.
When there are no sticks to find along the road, people will start chopping down trees, which has contributed to deforestation in Guatemala. Around Lake Atitlan, this particularly dangerous, since the steep mountains surrounding the lake are prone to landslides in the rainy season and removing the essential trees can put entire towns at risk.
How Onil Stoves Help
Fortunately, Onil stoves are an excellent way to replace the open fires for cooking. They are simple to build, cost effective and most importantly, safe.
With a chimney, the stove sends smoke out of the home, so there is minimal exposure to it. Children have a much better chance of living healthily when they’re not constantly sucking in smoke. In addition, the stoves use 70% less wood for cooking, which ends up saving women roughly two days every week that they would have spent hunting for wood. Not only does it save time and improve health, the stove also drastically reduces deforestation.
The downside? Though it is economical, the Onil stove is still out of reach for many poor families in Guatemala. That’s where Mayan Families comes in. A donation of $180 will give a family a brand new chance at life! We build this donation into our tour prices to ensure that each and every group that travels to Panajachel is able to provide at least one or two families with a stove. Not only that, but you’ll actually get to build the stove yourself and see the grateful looks on the faces of the women who no longer have to spend their days trekking through the woods to find fuel. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference.