Central America, Guatemala, Volunteering

Volunteer Guatemala: Building Stoves

July 27, 2011

I chose my spanish school in Xela based on their philosophy and mission, as well as the volunteer projects they run.

Recommended to me by Shannon from A Little Adrift, the great thing about Pop Wuj is that they allow you to participate in their projects whether you’re spending one week or one month at the school.

The school runs several key projects, funded largely by the fees paid by their spanish students. Their stove project aims to improve the health, environment and sustainability of people and their villages in rural Guatemala.

By replacing the open fires in homes that are used for cooking and heating with stoves, the project can help improve the respiratory health of the family (respiratory illnesses are the second highest cause of death for children in Guatemala), as well as reducing injuries sustained from an open flame. 

The design of the stoves has been refined so that they use as little wood as possible, and they only require very simple building materials to construct (clay, concrete, bricks, some metal).

One Wednesday morning I took a chicken bus with some students and teachers to a village close by to Xela. At first, I felt a little useless (making stuff with my hands? Not my strong point), standing around in the tiny room with its stove almost finished.

One of the teachers quickly had me mucking in and getting my hands dirty – literally.

It was my job to place some of the final bricks inside the stove and, using my hands, fill any gaps with clay.

In only a couple of hours, the stove was finished, complete with a chimney puffing the dangerous smoke out into the open air. 

Building stoves in rural Guatemala

The family whose family we were working in were incredibly excited to see the finished product – they couldn’t stop grinning.

Although the stove can’t be used for forty days after completion to ensure it dries properly, it was obvious that this simple addition would be life changing.

And I’m incredibly grateful to Pop Wuj for giving me the opportunity to help improve a family’s future, even if my contribution was only small.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Kris Koeller July 27, 2011 at 6:27 am

    What a great project. Easy to do, low-cost and makes a big difference. Congrats!

    • Reply MeganRTW July 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

      The thing I loved most about it Kris was that the school lets anyone take part, because they really need the help. So even if you’re only in Xela briefly like I was, you can still play a small part in helping change someone’s life.

  • Reply jamie - cloud people adventures July 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    wow, fantastic initiative. annoyed we missed it!
    i like the idea of blending learning languages with volunteer projects.
    love your photos too!

    • Reply MeganRTW July 30, 2011 at 5:31 am

      Thanks Jamie! It was a really great way to give my time in Guatemala some direction – rather than sightseeing I felt like I really started to get to know the country and its people.

  • Reply Tijmen July 29, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I will definitely join a project like this if I get the change. It’s doesn’t have to take up a lot of you time to do something useful for other people, and for them it make a big difference.

    • Reply MeganRTW July 30, 2011 at 5:32 am

      That’s exactly right Tijmen!

  • Reply Lindsay Carlton August 11, 2011 at 7:21 am

    This is an awesome project, I just took part! I am not a student at Pop-Wuj but I found the information from visiting EntreMundos (http://www.entremundos.org) in Quetzaltenango, who can place you with a volunteer opportunity suitable for your interests and time commitment – for free! They also told me about the other projects Pop-Wuj runs like a Family Support Center and Reforestation projects. Pop-Wuj or EntreMundos are certainly well worth the visit if you´re looking to make a positive impact near Quetzaltenango.
    -Lindsay

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