Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Simple stoves change Guatemalans' life styles

Express Staff Writer

A Guatemalan woman shows off her new and improved stove.

Imagine spending one's life bent over a hot fire, cooking, washing clothes, even bathing. For Guatemalans who do so every day in their small wooden shacks, the possibilities for accidents are numerous. Children who fall into the fires are burned, or maimed for life. Women die of respiratory diseases.

Earlier this moth, the Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotary Club welcomed Nancy Hughes as a guest. Associated with the Southtowne Rotary Club in Eugene, Ore., Hughes is a part-time resident of the Wood River Valley.

While working in Guatemala with the Cascade Medical Team, she saw the need for aid in a particular area. In her late husband's name, she created the Duffy Hughes Memorial Stove Project, as part of the Guatemala Stove Project.

The project builds masonry cook stoves for the impoverished. These stoves with outdoor ventilation and ceramic frames use 60 to 70 percent less wood, allowing for a reduction in deforestation. They are dramatically improving the health, life expectancy and overall well-being of indigenous families, particularly the women and children.

"Think about inhaling smoke as you go about your day, a minimum of six hours a day," Hughes said. "You're a mother, you need 100 pounds of wood per day and you carry that wood on your back. You're competing with your neighbors for the dwindling supply of wood. You hack and wheeze all day. And you die young. The (Environmental Protection Agency) says indoor air pollution is the leading cause of death in the world."

In April of this year, the first Duffy Hughes Memorial Stove Team departed for Guatemala along with the Cascade Medical Team. Along with Hughes, valley resident and restaurateur Scott Mason volunteered on the trip as a cook.

"Our goal was to replace as many (of the indoor) fires as possible with newly designed, energy-efficient Onil interior cooking stoves and Nixtamal outdoor stoves," Hughes said. "The Guatemala Stove Project had raised money through Rotary Matching Grants and the 10 team members were anxious to see how it all worked and install a few stoves. We worked in conjunction with HELPS International."

Most of the homes worked on have front doors but no windows. Creosote has built up on the walls over time, causing lifelong health issues.

Working in conjunction with HELPS International, the team was able to install 200 stoves in two weeks with 10 people working a week at a time. The locals bought the stoves for $23, a fair amount of money in a country where the average per diem is $4.

"It's important for locals to have ownership," Hughes said. "We don't want to create a handout mentality."

Mason cooked three meals a day for 80 relief workers. Besides the stove team, there was a dental team and a medical team. He made a slide show of his photographs featuring rugged land and smiling people that he showed at the Rotary lunch.

"Guatemala is a land of really poor people in the countryside. They are happy but poor," he said.

Hughes and Mason also showed a short piece shot by a local television station in Eugene.

Robert Orlando, a stove team member, was shown with a pipe that would be placed inside the home for ventilation. "If every American gave a little, we could improve life for people," he said. "We can change the world."

In 2004, the Stove Project was awarded an Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy.

Originally, Hughes wrote a grant to Rotary International to begin the Duffy Hughes Memorial Stove Project. She works now also with Guatemala Sur and Guetemala Metropdi, two organizations in Guatemala.

"We're changing Guatemala one stove at a time," Hughes said.

For more information or to donate to the Stove Project, contact Hughes at All donations are tax-deductible.

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