Smokeless Stoves: Catalina Xoquic Cuxulic and Antonia Tuy Tuy

Catalina Xoquic Cuxulic

Catalina Xoquic Cuxulic’s kitchen hugs close to the ground, capable of only fitting two to three people at a time. The Habitat Guatemala volunteers faced some issues with her ceiling, discloses Catalina, laughing.  “They kept hitting their head on the roof!” she exclaims, pointing to the low-hanging beams. “But they were eager to get to know us and build.”

That group of volunteers were determined to assist Catalina. Their mission? To build her a new smokeless stove, which would relieve her of the daily burdens that she faced. “The volunteer group was filled with great people,” she smiles. “Thank you for coming here to help construct the stove. My daughter also uses the stove to cook and support herself. Thank you for sharing this experience with me.”

For years, Catalina had been preparing meals with nothing more than a few cement blocks topped with a precarious iron grill. Without a stable cooking device, both she and her children suffered. “My eyes hurt, I was sick because of the smoke,” she says. “My children were burning themselves all the time. It was awful.”

Catalina went to the doctor for her family’s ailments, but found the experience frustrating. “I went to the doctor about once a month, but I really don’t have time to do so. In the health center, you have to wait hours and hours for medicine.”

Luckily, Catalina discovered a solution through her family. One day, she was visiting a relative in a neighboring community who praised a Habitat Guatemala smokeless stove program that had helped her tremendously. Catalina knew that this path would be a solution; she has never looked back.

“I cut the blocks for the stove together with my family. It took about a day to do,” she says. “Then, the volunteers came.”

For the past six months, Catalina has found joy with her stove. “I like that the new stove uses less wood, that it cooks faster, that I can make tortillas,” she explains. “And I save money. Fifteen days of wood used to cost me 250 Quetzales ($35.00). Now, half of that lasts for a month. And any extra money goes to my children’s education expenses.”

Catalina is filled with gratitude for the experience. “Thank you to Habitat for Humanity Guatemala, thank you for getting in contact with me and thank you, God, for letting them build stoves and giving help with the process, educational classes through it. May you continue your work.”

Antonia Tuy Tuy

One seemingly ordinary day, Antonia Tuy Tuy made a fascinating discovery. “In Consuelos, a community a bit farther down from our own, we were working in the fields with my siblings,” she recalls. “There had been a smokeless stove built there. Through a cousin, we were told that we could work with a volunteer group that would provide us some assistance to build our own, if we were willing to cut the blocks.”

Patiently, Antonia asked a few more questions, took a few mental notes, and then felt committed. If her family members could prepare enough blocks to make a stove, then she would receive help building it from Habitat for Humanity Guatemala. “We work in the fields and don’t earn very much, so this was very important to us,” her daughter, Juana (40), affirms.

The new stove had been a long overdue improvement. “The old stove was about 18-20 years old,” Antonia reveals, slipping into her native Kaqchikel, a Mayan dialect. “The old grill was thick and difficult to cook with. There were a lot of problems with smoke, which made it complicated to work and cook. We had coughs and colds. We would go to the government health center, and we would wait for medicine. If there was none that day, we would have to pay extra money.”

She rubs her palms together as she speaks. “Basically, the old stove was a mess. It burned my arms when I cooked.” She turns her head and contemplates the new device with a loving look. “For that reason, the new stove has been a beautiful invention to us.”

Antonia is happy with how her new stove works. “I like how the stove is thinner, not as bulky. It heats up more, you can make tortillas with it, and multiple people can make all of their tortillas on it throughout the day. We can put a lot of pots on top.” As if in agreement with the stove’s greatness, a small cat perches on the stove, its eyes half closed in slumber.

Antonia also recalls the day that her stove was built with great fondness. “Eight volunteers came to help. They were friendly. We couldn’t communicate well amongst us, but thanks to the help of translators, we chatted a little bit.” She smiles at the memory. “We can’t travel a lot, we haven’t been very many places, but Habitat Guatemala has allowed us to gain more things, and we are grateful for the organization. And as for the volunteers, we are grateful for everything that you have done. We can’t give so much as our thanks. May God bless you for helping and supporting our family.”