The smell of burning wood hit me first as I ducked through the entrance of the small house – ducking saved my head from earning yet another gash and also put me right at eye level with the beaming smile from the Guatemalan woman nervously wringing her hands in the center of the room. As I stood up tall on the other side of the doorway I abruptly found myself in the center of her house.
She was eager to show off her functioning stove and welcomed our requests to snap a few photos –she was proud. I was one of several volunteers who had hiked to a rural town outside of Xela, Guatemala to help with a stove building project in the region. Having put two solid days into the building of a large stove for a young and growing family nearby, I was curious as to what the finished product would look like once the concrete had settled for a week and the family was able to light a fire and cook their meals.
This woman had a finished stove up and working and she explained to us that her family (and neighbors) all keep the stove running day in and day out now that they don’t have to contend with smoke inhalation issues and worry about the children injuring themselves on an indoor open flame (which is the standard alternative).
I had found the volunteer project through my Spanish language school in Xela, Guatemala and signed on immediately; it didn’t take too much commitment – just two days out of my travels to build a complete stove – and the results were measurable.
Sometimes as a volunteer I wonder about how to vet projects, how to spend my time where it’s actually making a difference, and not instead just finding a way to give myself a a “do-goodery” feeling and a pat on the back. This is one of those worthwhile experiences and worth a day or two of your time if you’re passing through Xela, Guatemala.