Aldea San Felipe is a quiet community just off the main road to the city of Retalhuleu. Dirt paths twist together and wind into thick foliage. To access the households, it is required to wade through tall grasses. Children with wide eyes play games amongst themselves, shielding grins behind their hands.
Here, Julia Isabel García Diaz (32) lives her husband, Henry (32), and five children. To Julia, her family is the center of her world. However, for a long while, she feared that their livelihood was in danger. She found cooking to be an unbearable task, meant to nourish, but instead, a painful exercise. “We used to just gather wood together on pieces of block and cook without a grill,” Julia explains. “You would put the wood in the stove and then immediately start crying from the smoke.”
She holds her youngest child, two-year-old Gaylin, in her arms as she speaks. “I was always sick. Each time that I was pregnant, it was worse. I burned myself a lot, and when my kids were born, so did they.”
Three sisters, Evelyn, Angely, and Astrid, poke their heads out shyly from the kitchen, comically one stacked atop of another. Evelyn, the oldest sister, grabs a broom and sweeps the corn cobs and small pieces of trash that have accumulated in the yard. She listens astutely, slipping in a quiet, yet firm, comment to her mother’s recollections. “Although we would go to the Health center (a governmentally subsidized program) to get medical help, we still had to pay for expensive medicines,” Evelyn says. As a result, their family experienced a tremendous burden.
However, a solution came about in an unlikely way. “My husband works with the president of the Habitat Guatemala committee,” Julia says. “He told us about the stove program. About a year ago, I decided to participate.”
Five months ago, a group of Habitat Guatemala volunteers came to build Julia’s stove, using the blocks that she and her children spent eight days preparing. Within a morning, they finished building it. Julia noticed the immediate impact. “I like that I can put 2-3 pots on top of the stove and how the wood lasts longer. I can make tortillas all that I want, and the smoke leaves directly upward rather getting into my face.”
Julia is also grateful that she can now save more money than ever. “Before, sometimes, we bought wood, and sometimes, we looked for it, depending on what was available. Before, we would buy 20 bundles a day, which cost us 50Q (about $7) a day. It was difficult for us to simply cook, to feed ourselves. Now, I spend only 10Q (about $1.50) each week, and the wood lasts forever.” She adds, “the extra money serves us well. When our kids get sick, we can buy them medicine, now. Or other things that we need in our house.”
Upon recalling the committee and group that supported her, Julia remarks on how friendly and hardworking they were. “The group was filled with good people. A great help. Thank you so much for your support, for what you did. It is helping me so much, and my problems have lessened.” She smiles. “If it hadn’t been for you, this would have never happened.”