Smokeless Stoves: Ruben and Marta Morales Barrios; Maria Perez Villatoro

Ruben and Marta Morales Barrios

“There are many economic benefits and advantages. I find it incredible that one little piece of wood will last the whole night, and the grill will still stay hot.” These words belong to Ruben Morales Barrios (54), a proud new owner of a Habitat Guatemala smokeless stove. “We used to buy four bundles of wood, which was 200 Quetzales ($30), which lasted about a season.” He smiles knowingly. “We haven’t used up our first bundle of wood yet.”

Ruben and his wife, Marta (60), built the stove with Habitat Guatemala volunteers a few months ago, and it has made all the difference. They live in Aldea las Pilas, a small village located about twenty minutes from the main town of Retalhuleu. Although Ruben and Marta have a loving family, they have struggled. Their old cooking stove had many issues.

“Our old stove was a grill on top of blocks,” she says. “Smoke leaked out of it, there was no chimney. It felt like we were cooking in the ground. For twenty years, we were like this.”

Marta touches her head, recalling the ailments that she suffered while using their previous stove. “I would get sick from the smoke. I would burn myself from the direct heat coming off the stove. Once in awhile, I went to the health clinic, but it was too expensive to buy medicine.”

When the time came to build their new stove, Marta and Ruben had the support of their neighbors and volunteers. “All the women in our community cut the block and mixed mortar together,” describes Marta. “Then, in one day, the group of volunteers came and built three stoves for our community.”

“The group was ready to work, to help,” adds Ruben. “They all danced and joked, and they were hardworking. It was a blessing to work with them. They are always welcome, and we send them our greetings, for all the work that they did.”

Both Marta and Ruben are dedicated to developing their community into a better place, and Habitat Guatemala has helped. “We came to know Habitat Guatemala because they came to us about three years ago with this roof repair project that had affordable monthly payments,” recalls Ruben. “Now, we help more people get involved with these projects through our local committee. Habitat Guatemala has stayed with us. It has been a blessing to work with them for three years.”

Since then, life has gotten sweeter for the couple, who are are still very much in love. “We are married until death,” jokes Ruben. For over two decades, they have dedicated themselves to raising their two children, Oseas (17) and Karen (20), to study at university. “Any extra money that we save goes to our children’s studies,” affirms Marta.

Reflecting on the experience, Marta and Ruben express how grateful they are to the group and the opportunities to improve her family’s life. “Thanks to God, Habitat Guatemala exists to use its power to help other people. God is doing his work through them, blessing all of the people of Guatemala. They motivate us to make more advances, to make more change. They are a great help.”

Maria Perez Villatoro

“My husband died seventeen years ago,” whispers Maria Perez Villatoro (57). She sits with her hands clasped under the pale sunlight of early afternoon. “But I have three boys.”

As a single mother, Maria has faced great difficulty in the past. In addition to raising three children on her own, for years, she cooked with an unsteady device made of wood that leaked copious amounts of smoke. The method took an impacting toll on her health. “It hurt my body so much that I have to see a specialist in Quetzaltenango, which is two hours away,” she says. “My lungs are black. That’s what the doctors have told me. I still go in for exams, getting up at 4A.M. to arrive on time for my appointments there.”

Maria knew that she had to replace her stove, but felt wary about the anticipated costs. She had no job and depended on her sons, Israel, Edras, and Alex to find work. They still support her as she grows older. However, money always worried her; she was spending 50 Quetzales ($7.00) on wood each day and had little options that would let her reduce the costs.

Luckily, she found a solution to her economic situation thanks to a visit from Habitat Guatemala. “The organization originally arrived to our village asking if we wanted our roofs repaired about three years ago,” Maria says. “They told us all about their programming and how it was affordable.” Both Maria and her older sister, Marta, who lived in the same community, thought that the payments were reasonable and decided to get involved. They have remained dedicated to Habitat Guatemala’s work as both participants and advocates.

“I went to their office to pick up the laminate for my roof two years ago,” recalls Maria. “Three months ago, I had my stove built by them. For us, the stove is happiness. I like it a lot.”

The new stove has afforded Maria opportunities that she had never imagined. “I still have a cough, but it’s getting better,” she tells us. From the money that she saves on fuel, she puts towards her healthcare costs. “I take a bit of medicine, two little pills, which helps.”

She describes the construction process as highly collaborative and memorable. “We built the new stove in one afternoon. It was a group of women, together, who cut the blocks, mixed mortar, mud, and earth,” she remembers. Then, a group of hardworking international volunteers arrived to help put the pieces together.

“The group was friendly, happy. What was that song that they were singing and dancing to?” she asks her neighbor, Lionel. “Despacito,” he responds. He begins humming the tune, and Maria joins in, gentle contentment on her face. “Some of them spoke Spanish,” she adds. “They joked and danced.”