Smokeless Stoves: Bartola Mendoza and Rosa María Julajuj

Bartola Mendoza

Elvin, Jorge, and Oscar are three brothers and three best friends. Like all trios, they undertake adventures together, like running up and down the hills of their community, drawing cartoons on slips of paper, and communicating in hushed tones that only children understand.

Their mother, Bartola, watches from the doorway of her home. It’s been awhile since any of her three boys were sick, and she is relieved. A malfunctioning cooking stove was the culprit of several ailments. “The smoke affected us,” she says. “We bought medicines that were about 10-12 Quetzales per package.” However, they to one small change, a new smokeless stove built by Habitat for Humanity Guatemala volunteers, her boys can now play wherever they desire, their lungs free from smoke fumes.

The new stove, Bartola reflects, is not at all like the old one. “The old stove did nothing but keep us cold when we needed to be warm,” she says. “It had a thick grill and was difficult to heat it. Smoke always leaked out of it, and we also spent too much on wood.” She pauses. “The children were affected a lot. Now, the new stove warms them.”

Bartola explains that the new smokeless stove came about through the courtesy of her neighbors. “We entered Habitat for Humanity’s programming through projects that were taking place in los Encuentros,” she recalls. “One of the families there put me in contact with a promoter for the affiliate, suggesting that they would be connecting with us shortly and following through with a stove.”

She describes the construction process as one of collaboration and determination, pulling all family members together. “The stove was built in April 2017. To cut all the blocks, we took a day with the block machine, and the kids helped out. They also helped clean grills, wet blocks, and put them together. To build the whole stove, it took a day.”

The stove has been beneficial in other ways, especially regarding firewood. In Bartola’s community especially, due to its remote location, any sort of fuel is a precious material and can be difficult to access. “A bundle and a half of wood is very expensive here, and that’s what we were using before the new stove,” she explains. “It’s 300 Quetzales ($43).”

However, the smokeless stove has saved her time and money. “Now, we buy only a little. The extra money goes to food and for the children’s school,” she reflects. Her youngest boys all peep in the doorway, grinning upon hearing reference made to them.

Bartola continues to reveal that her experience working with Habitat Guatemala has pushed her to work on other ventures. “Because of this experience, I want to be more involved in my community. I’m thinking of encouraging other international groups, if they want to support more families in this area. In case that there is another opportunity to support those families, we would be forever grateful.”

As for the group of international volunteers, who played with her children and were friendly, Bartola is incredibly grateful. “Thank you so much. You did something that seemed small, but has made all the difference. And we are excited to have been part of this project.”

Rosa María Julajuj

Rosa Maria turned twenty-three this past week, and she reflects how different her life has become in the past year. Moving out of her parents’ house was one grand step. Another unexpected, yet, important event was building a new smokeless stove for her home. “For using a little bit of wood and the design of the stove, you can cook quickly and make more plates for family members,” she says.

Rosa Maria and her husband, Maynor, live a few doors down from her mother and younger brothers in the community of Caserio la Fe, a small village located on a gently sloping hillside in the department of Sololá. Rosa Maria is pregnant with their first child, and she is eager to begin a new chapter of independence, something that she has never quite experienced before. However, she recognizes that there are still difficulties. “Here, it takes two half day trips a week to get food for our families,” she explains. “And those are just the basics.”

Stirring a simmering pot of atol, a Mayan corn drink, on her mother’s stove, she alternates speaking in Spanish and Kaqchikel about her relationship with Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. “I shared the experience of learning about the stove with my mother,” she remarks. “I was there when we decided to get involved with Habitat Guatemala. The same day, the same time.”

Around that time, she says, she knew that something had to change for the sake of her health. “I was cooking the ground. It was a hole, and it had no grill for me to use. The smoke affected me the most. It got into my eyes, my throat, my head. I burned myself a lot, and we live somewhere where there is no medical clinic nearby, but rather, a small pharmacy that runs out of supplies a lot.”

Rosa Maria also remembers the economic burdens that cooking in the ground brought her. “We bought wood, which was expensive. 300Q for a bundle,” she mentions. “Now, it lasts me two months, even though the price hasn’t gone down. However, I can cover other household expenses, like eating food.”

Building the stove, she recalls, was a group effort, including many different entities. “For the construction of the new stove, we all worked together using a block machine.” Soon after, a group of international volunteers arrived to help her family put the pieces together. “The group was funny. They hit their heads on the roof because they were too tall.” She giggles. “I remember them playing with my little brothers, eating together, and getting along well.”

When asked if she has any words for the group, she smiles. “I send them my greetings. Thank you very much to them, for the work that they came to do.”