Keeping Up With Change

Source: PrensaLibre

Every year, Guatemala undergoes a momentous transition from dry to wet season. During this period, dusty expanses of land will convert into sopping roadways and flooded fields. To avoid torrential downpours, street pedestrians huddle under trash bags, sweatshirt hoods, and whatever other covering that can be scavenged. While some look forward to the rain, many others fear its impacting, if not devastating, consequences.

Regardless of the time of year, mother nature presents itself as a deadly force in Guatemala. In addition to consistent hurricanes and earthquakes, Guatemala is also one of the top ten countries in the world affected by climate change, despite accounting for less than 0.1% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. In country, major industries have negatively impacted precious environmental resources. Every day, these businesses destroy 16 square meters of forest, which as a result, leaves millions of people vulnerable to flooding and landslides.

Guatemalan families living in extreme poverty, or under $2.00 per day, are more threatened by natural disasters than any other demographic group. Most families work in agriculture and are highly dependent on the success of their crops. However, in years where extreme drought or flooding impact the year’s harvest, their very livelihood is thrown into uncertainty.

Source: Prensa Libre

Despite these uncertainties, every day, we meet determined families that strive to adapt and overcome environmental challenges. Their stories often speak of heartbreak, but above all, echo resilience and determination. Take Lorinda and Juan Sician Chuc, whose entire life has revolved around their crop, but believe that the good of Habitat Guatemala’s projects will prove beneficial on the long term. Or Lucia Tobar Santos, who  depends on her five children to find work in the fields, but is leading a healthier lifestyle thanks to small changes.

As the world’s climate changes more quickly than can be reversed, Habitat Guatemala is committed to leverage the high demand and necessity for adequate and safe housing solutions. Little by little, we hope to provide long term options for some of Guatemala’s most deserving families, who shouldn’t have to worry about a place to live if misfortune befalls them.

Subsistence farming, including corn harvesting, is crucial to most families’ livelihoods.

Sanitary Latrine: Odilia Cutuc Serech


A few concrete blocks and wooden sticks stand as walls, and a concrete cylinder makes a toilet seat. There is no roof or door.

This was what the latrine of Odilia (33) used be. Although Odilia’s husband, Sergio (29), built it 4 years ago, it is in poor condition. “He built it with what we had” she explains. Today, the dilapidated latrine remains as a ruin, nearby to the new latrine, which was built by Habitat Guatemala international volunteers. The contrast is astonishing.

Odilia stands proudly in front of the new latrine. She opens the door, and at the first sight, you can notice the perfect cleanliness. Odilia explains,“I never leave the latrine dirty. I take really good care of it.” She smiles proudly. “It is so easy to clean: a bucket of bleach and a mop, that’s it! Before it was impossible to clean the old latrine.”

Thanks to Habitat for Humanty Guatemala’s Healthy Home Kit program, Odila can provide the best hygienic environment for her two little boys, Jonathan (2) and Gierber (9). She looks with tenderness at Jonathan, who is playing on the ground, and says: “With the previous latrine, I was always afraid that something happens to my boys. It was not adapted to children. The toilet seat was too wide, I was afraid that they would fall into the hole. I felt bad about it.”

She is happy with the change to the new latrine. “Thanks to the work of the volunteers, I am not afraid anymore to let Gierber going alone to the bathroom.” She is grateful to the group who came to build the new latrine. “I don’t know where they are now, but God bless them and be with them”.


Healthy Home Kits: Carmen Choy and Miriam Ajcalong Xep

Carmen Choy

As rain falls down in sheets and lightning flashes, Carmen (74) stands in her kitchen, trying to warm up with the heat of her stove. She lives here with her son, Juan Carlos (48), who is blind. They are part of an indigenous Maya community that only speaks Kaqchikel, which is a commonly spoken local dialect in the Sololá Department of Guatemala. Carmen wears traditional clothing that her daughter made for her. These items are woven by hand and then dyed with natural colors extracted from plants. The colors, patterns, and geometric shapes of her “huipil” or blouse hold special significance in Maya culture.

This scene would have been impossible just months before. After warming herself up, Carmen reveals that she is pleased with her new smokeless stove for a multitude of reasons. She says proudly: “My new stove is bigger. I can cook several dishes at the same time.” She explains that the old stove was smaller and emitted a lot of smoke. When she prepares meals, she is no longer affected by smoke fumes, which negatively impacted her and Juan Carlos’s health.

Carmen learned about smokeless stoves as part of Habitat for Humanity Guatemala’s Healthy Home Kit program. Thanks to a promoter, who came to her community and gave a presentation to her neighbors, she found herself immediately interested. It would be an opportunity to significantly improve her family’s living conditions, despite previous attempts.

Three years ago, another nonprofit organization offered a latrine to Carmen. But soon after constructing it, the latrine quickly fell apart. The interior space became dilapidated, and the ventilation system failed. As a result, the space was dirty, and the environment, miserable. At that point, Carmen decided not to use it anymore, eliminating her access to sanitary services.

For these reasons, Carmen is glad to have a new latrine. During the construction, she specifically asked to the site manager to dig the hole wider than planned, in order to extend the use of her latrine. Her reasoning? “I wanted it to last as long as possible.” She also notes that the new latrine is much cleaner and offers her more privacy than she had before.

Carmen also uses a water filter now. Her family no longer suffers from stomach pains, which were caused by bacteria in the river water that they used to drink.

Most of all, Carmen is grateful to the group of volunteers who came to help her. “I won’t ever forget the work of the group. Every day when I use my stove, the water filter or the latrine, I remember their kindness.”

Miriam Ajcalong Xep

“Tortillar” (making tortillas) is a precious tradition that runs in Miriam’s family. As a child, Miriam used to prepare tortillas with her mother, whose own mother had taught her. The skill has been passed down throughout generations.

Now, Miriam lives with her mother and her two daughters, Miriam (9) and Astrid (2). She still makes tortillas, which she sells to her neighbors and at the market to earn her living. Although she makes 150 tortillas daily, Miriam only earns 30 to 35 quetzales (equivalent to $4.20 to 4.90).

To meet the demand for her tortillas, Miriam must use a stovetop surface to grill them. Before participating in Habitat for Humanity Guatemala’s Healthy Home Kit project, she used to share the stove with her mother and always needed to wait until her mother had made her own tortillas before using it. However, one day, that all changed. “When the neighborhood committee came to my door to tell me that I could have my own stove, I was so glad,” Miriam remembers.

Soon after, a volunteer group came to help with the stove’s construction. Miriam has fond memories of that day. “When the group came to build the stove, I was glad to have them in my house. They were so enthusiastic, it made me so happy. I thanked God to have sent me the international volunteers,” she exclaims. “Thanks to them I have a new a stove, latrine, and water filter.”

Miriam is proud to have her own stove and says that it is a gift from God. “I needed to wait one week after the construction of the stove to use it. It was really hard because I was so excited to try it.”

The Healthy Home Kit has also significantly improved Miriam’s economic situation. One benefit is that her new smokeless stove allows her to save money. “It only needs three pieces of wood to heat up,” she notes. “Before, we needed more wood. I used to buy some every fifteen days, but now it lasts more than a month.” By saving money from foregoing firewood purchases, Miriam and her family buy other items. “I spend it to buy some things for my daughters, to make them happy.”

In addition to her stove, the water filter has improved her family’s health. “We suffered from stomach issues because of the water, mainly because it was not clean,” Miriam says.  “Now, we have pure water.” Miriam also saves some energy thanks to the water filter. “Before our water came from the village. Every two days we needed to fill our water tanks. Now, thanks to God, with the filter, all we have to do is clean it, fill it, and use it again.”

Lastly, Miriam notes, her newly built sanitary latrine creates a safe and cleaner environment for her family.

Miriam is grateful to all of those who supported her. “I thank God, and then I thank the group for their help”.

Healthy Home Kit: Matilde Días Sotz

“My neighbors spoke positively of Habitat for Humanity Guatemala’s Home Healthy Kit. They were happy with their smokeless stoves and latrines. They said that it was helpful for the families in need, so I asked them to help me to get in contact with the organization.”

These are the words of Matilde Dias Sotz, who is now a proud owner of a smokeless stove, sanitary latrine, and water filter. A few months after hearing of her neighbors’ positive experiences, an enthusiastic group of international volunteers arrived at her home. Matilde remembers them fondly. “When the group came, my home was filled with joy for two days. They were kind with the children, and they played a lot with them.” Her ten-year-old son, Delbin, also remembers the event. He helps his mother list the volunteers’ names in a steady succession. “We had a great time with the group. I was mad that it lasted only two days!” she jokes.

She looks at her stove with nostalgia. “We built the stove together. It is a nice memory,” she says.

For good reason, Matilde took her neighbors’ words seriously. She tells us the problems that she faced with her previous stove. “We suffered from the smoke. My children coughed a lot, and they burned themselves all the time.” Matilde and her family spent a lot of time looking for wood as well and confronted several difficulties. She says, “The old stove consumed a lot of wood. In this area where we live, it is harder to find firewood nowadays.” Comparably to the new stove, she says that they are saving much more time and resources. “This one only needs four logs to warm up.”

She notes, “Thanks to the new stove I cook better and I save some money.” With these new savings, she is now able to buy toys for her kids, as well as more fruits and vegetables to provide them with a more balanced and healthier diet. Additionally to eating better, Matilde’s children now have access to clean drinking water, thanks to their new water filter. They no longer fall ill from waterborne illnesses.

Matilde’s new latrine has also been an improvement. She describes how her family had built their old latrine with sticks, which as a result, left it often dirty and contaminated. “The new latrine is safer,” she says. “I keep it clean to have a healthy environment for my children. I clean it, I disinfect it. It is an easy task compared to what we had to do with the old latrine.”

She says with a delighted smile, “Our everyday life has changed thanks to the Healthy Home Kit.” She is grateful to the group of volunteers. “God bless them. I thank them for their impressive work. I thank them for their efforts because they came all the way to my home to help me. Also, I know that they did it not just for the sake of completing a journey. They took the time to come here, and they left their family in order to improve my family’s life. I thank them for their generous heart.”

As she speaks, she gives a loving look to her six-month-old-baby. “When they left, I was eight months pregnant. Their kindness filled my heart with good energy and gave me strength to move forward.”

Healthy Home Kit: Rosario Morales Suix

Rosario Morales Suix prepares lunch in the kitchen. Her husband, Francisco (56) is coming back from his fields, exhausted. He lifts the lid of the pot, which releases the smell of tomatoes, onion, and garlic. He smiles, satisfied with the menu for the day.

Before building their Habitat Guatemala smokeless stove, Rosario was cooking in the ground. She explains how difficult it could be. “Three concrete blocks, some logs, and that’s it. I used to have a stove offered by another NGO, but it cracked. Every time I used it, it filled the room with smoke,” she explains. The smoke affected the health of their family, especially because their old stove used to be in the same room that served as a kitchen and bedroom.  “We used to cough all day,” she says. For that reason, Rosario had no choice to go back to the “old way of cooking” on the ground outside. She admits that preparing tortillas in those conditions was a laborious task and that she and her grandchildren often burned themselves from falling logs.

Francisco and Rosario came to know Habitat for Humanity Guatemala’s Home Healthy Kit program through a local neighborhood committee. “Francisco came back home and explained the project to me,” Rosario describes. “Both of us agreed immediately: it would be a great opportunity for us! We wanted to be part it.”

A few months later, Rosario is proud to say that, thanks to her new stove, she can easily prepare three dishes at the same time without burning herself. Plus, the chimney of her new stove works perfectly. “I feel much better. I don’t cough as often,” she says.

“The stove has also made my husband’s life easier,” Rosario adds. Indeed, because the stove consumes less wood, Francisco does not need to go as often into the forest for kindling. “It can be really hard to find wood, especially during the month of July. He could spend all the afternoon looking for some logs, and would come back with almost nothing. Now, with the new stove, he can rest after his work in the field.”

As a result with the Healthy Kit Program, Rosario family’s health has also improved in other ways, thanks to their new latrine and the water filter. While the new latrine fosters a cleaner and more private space, the water filter keeps the family safe from gastrointestinal diseases caused by contaminated water sources.

Rosario is grateful to the group who came to build the stove and the latrine. Thanks to Habitat for Humanity and the help of volunteers, her family’s life has become easier. Speaking of the group, she says: “I hope that they have a safe trip back home and that all of them and their families are doing well. God bless them.”

Healthy Home Kit: Christina Sicajan Bixcul

Christina and her husband, Cesar live in precarious conditions. Together, they constructed their house with the materials that they could find and with what people gave them. Life has proven difficult, with little security or resources.

However, recently, everything changed. A group of volunteers from Habitat for Humanity Guatemala arrived to Christina’s home right around Christmas, a moment that she remembers as a beautiful gift. Thanks to those volunteers, Christina and her husband are now owners of a Healthy Home Kit, which features a smokeless stove, sanitary latrine, and water filter. All three components have significantly improved their living conditions.

Upon remembering the group, Christina says that she is glad that the volunteers trusted her. She remembers of all the pictures they took together. “The volunteers were really kind,” she recalls. “They did a great work with the stove and the latrine.” In the spirit of sweat equity, Christina also participated in the construction, showing that it greatly mattered to her. “The group was helping me,” she says. “So I wanted to help them back during the construction”.

She counts the changes in her everyday life, starting with the sanitary latrine. “My previous latrine didn’t have any roof or door. It was falling apart,” explains Christina. Now, because her new latrine is built well, it is cleaner and safer to use.

Christina is also proud of her new stove. With her new stove, she loves making tamales, a traditional Maya dish made of starchy, corn-based dough which is then steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf.  “My new stove is bigger, and the grill warms up well. It is really helpful when I want to cook several dishes at the same time, like beans and tamales.” This would have never been possible before. Previously, Christina’s old stove was too small, which greatly limited her cooking options. Also, the chimney was in bad shape, and her kitchen had terrible ventilation as a result. She suffered immensely. “I had some health problems because of the smoke,” she reflects. “I used to suffer from cough, and my eyes hurt.”

Because it is precious to her, Christina carefully maintains her stove every day. Equally, she is happy to maintain a new water filter in her home. She feels better knowing that she is drinking potable water from a clean source rather than worrying about contamination.

Christiana is looking forward to participating in the future with Habitat for Humanity Guatemala.


Healthy Home Kits: Cesi Garcia Serech and Gricelda Cumez Matzar

Cesi Garcia Serech

At the top of a hill, a corn field surrounds Cesi Garcia Serech’s house. The view is impressive. Clouds hang over Lake Atitlan, illuminated by a few sun rays. Here, Cesi lives with her four-year little daughter, Jimena, and her husband, Oliver. They share the plot of land with Cesi’s in-laws.

A little further down on the hill, two latrines stand side by side. One is old, and the other is new. The older latrine was built by Cesi’s husband’s family about four years ago. “The previous latrine was in bad condition. It was dirty and rotting,” Cesi remembers. She used to share it with all of her extended family. “Plus, there was no privacy because there was no door”.

The new latrine shows a clear contrast. “The biggest change is that now the latrine is closed off. And we have some privacy,” explains Cesi. She is proud to have her own space. “It is cleaner and easier to clean. It is also more hygienic, especially for my daughter”.

With Habitat for Humanity Guatemala’s Healthy Home Kit, Cesi also benefitted from a new stove. Cesi and her daughter used to suffer from the smoke of their previous stove because there was no chimney that allowed for ventilation. As a result, their old stove negatively impacted their health, forcing them to cough and entering their eyes.

Cesi’s family built the previous stove with few blocks. But because it was too small and poorly constructed Cesi and Jimena used to burn themselves. “What I like about the new stove is that it is bigger and it consumes less wood. The new stove requires half as much logs as the previous one,” Cesi notes. With the extra money they save, Cesi can buy more food for her family. She purchases more meat and can prepare her daughter’s favorite dish: grilled chicken.  When her mother says those words, a big smile appears on Jimena’s mischievous face.

When asked about the group of volunteers who came to help build her stove and latrine, Cesi says,“I thank them for their help. I am grateful.”

Gricelda Cumez Matzar

Gricelda Cumez Matzar, her husband, Filadelfo, and their five children recently moved into their new home. They were looking for a place to be closer to her family. Now she is living few meters away from her relatives, surrounded by their corn fields. When they arrived, her husband quickly built a latrine with the limited materials that they had. They gathered some sticks of wood to make walls and used tarpaulin for the door. There was no roof.

Luckily, Habitat for Humanity Guatemala’s Healthy Kit Program helped Gricelda and her husband, Filadelfo, improve their new living circumstances. “During a school meeting, a promotor presented about the Healthy Kit Program. We were interested, so we went to the office and asked to participate.” It was a new opportunity for their family to improve their house.

A few months later, a group of volunteers came to build a new latrine and a new stove. Gricelda recalls that it was great teamwork, with all of her family participating in the construction. “We removed the stones, we dug, spread the sand … and in one day it was done!”

Gricelda notes the changes. “Now there is a roof, and it’s not raining anymore in the latrine. It is also cleaner.” She makes it clear that it is important to take good care of the new structure. “I taught to my daughters how to clean the latrine. All my family has to take care of it. Every day I make sure that the latrine is clean.”

Above all, participating in the Healthy Home Kit project went well, concludes Gricelda. She enumerates the other changes in their everyday life. The family’s water filter protects them from stomach pains that can be caused by impure water. Gricelda is also fond of her new stove, which is smokeless, warms up easily, and doesn’t consume a lot of firewood. It is a far cry, she remembers, from her previous stove. “There was no chimney, and it was too small and broken.”

Griselda is appreciative of the volunteer’s work. “I thank the group of volunteers for coming to me and offering their help. Although I am still in need, my living conditions have improved.” She adds jokingly, “whenever they want to come back to build something else, they are welcome!”


The Xep Chuta Family

“To have our own house is a blessing for us,” affirms Wilmer.  A few months ago, he moved with his wife, Brenda, to their new home, which was built by Habitat for Humanity Guatemala volunteers. It was the next step in their relationship after their wedding, and in a way, a continuation of their commitment to one other, a proof of love.

Before, Wilmer and Brenda were living in each of their respective parents’ homes. “We were seven people in my house,” Wilmer says. “I have four siblings. I was sleeping with all of them because we had only two rooms and one kitchen.” As for Brenda, she had been living in a house filled with ten other people. “Neither of us had privacy,” confesses Wilmer. “In the end, it was hard to leave my parent’s house because I always lived there. But I am glad that we moved in together.”

Now, Brenda and Wilmer are living in a house with two bedrooms, one living room, and a kitchen. Wilmer remembers the enthusiasm of the volunteers that came to help them to build their house. The first thing that struck him about them was their eagerness. “They were really kind and helpful,” he says. “We talked together, we sang together during our break. One of them, Kristie was singing La Bamba,” he remembers with a smile. “After the hard work, we took time together to have fun.”

The couple has some plans to continue arranging their house. They want to plant flowers and trees, build a terrace…and hope that in one year, a little baby will be occupying the second bedroom.

Wilmer is contemplative, and remarks that their house “is a blessed place, because we saved some money to have it. It is also a responsibility, to maintain it, to take care of it.”

The couple thanks the group of volunteers for blessing them with their own home. Wilmer has a special message for them: “Keep going, God bless you for your work and your willingness to help your neighbors.”