For years, the only life that seventeen-year-old Odily knew was filled with illness. Her mother, sister-in-law, and niece were always coughing in the kitchen. Stomach pains twisted their insides, making it difficult to keep up with chores. Angry burns lined their palms and arms from wood pieces that fell out of their makeshift fire pit. Their eyes stung from smoke.
“There was always a cough or a cold or irritated eyes,” Odily remembers, one arm crossed shyly over the other. “We would go to the doctor in San Lucas or Sololá, which either way, are one hour away by car.” But with a lack of public transportation services in her small, rural community of San Antonio Palopo, that option was often too treacherous and difficult to take.
One day, everything changed. Odily, and her mother, Isabel (50) were visited by a group of women who worked on a local committee with Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. The women gave her family clues to why everyone was sick. The culprits? A malfunctioning stove, contaminated tap water, and an unsteady and unsanitary latrine.
The next day, their family took action. “My mother left with my brother to attend another meeting that the women organized and became interested. She said yes to participating in the program, and that’s when we first received help for the first thing, which was the grill to put on top of our new stove.”
Building the stove was the first step towards achieving better health outcomes. Odily recounts that, first, the coughing and irritated eyes went away. Then, their burns healed. She didn’t have to exert herself as much to find fuel. “We look for wood about one time a week, but it’s much less,” discloses Odily. “It doesn’t take as much time like it used to.”
The family began to save a bit of money, which meant more food on the table. Odily says that the best thing about the stove is the number of tortillas she can make. “The stove gets hot quickly, and it cooks quickly,” she says.
We ask how she built the stove. “Together, with the group that came. It took four days to build. We had a line of family cutting blocks.” She grins when she speaks of the group. “They worked so hard; and they were fun!”
The same group helped build a new, wooden latrine to replace the family’s old crumbling plastic one. Odily says that it’s much cleaner and safer to use. Plus, it has more privacy.
Last, but not least, their Habitat Guatemala filter has allowed the family to have access to clean water. Their stomach pains have receded, and they can have all the water that they need.
As for going to the doctor? Odily says that she can’t remember the last time her family had to go.