Smokeless Stoves: the de León de Tay Family

Isabel in front of her stove

Isabel de León de Tay’s happiness is contagious. She has lived in Santa Lucía Utatlán, Sololá, for over thirty years with her husband, Eduardo (59), and their three children, Josue, Cecia, and Elia. Entering the community, it is easy to spot Isabel, who waves furiously to someone she may (or may not) recognize.

For this reason, when a group of Habitat for Humanity volunteers came to help her family build their first stove, Isabel says that she was over the moon. “Five people came to construct the stove. It took about fifteen days to cut the blocks. Then about half a day to put them together.” She grins at the memory. “They chatted a lot and played with my children. They were so happy.”

For over thirty-two years, Isabel (50) prepared meals in the ground. Speaking K’iche, an indigenous language to the area, she recounts that her old way of cooking was a nightmare. “I used to cook in the earth before, with no grill atop.” She draws block shapes in the air as she speaks for emphasis. “It was a few bricks stacked on top of one another, then lined with a piece of iron, and that way, I cooked my tortillas.”

She feared for her health and her children. “The stove bothered my eyes tremendously. It cost me so much to cook—my health, my work. Everything took so much more time. I couldn’t leave my children for a single moment, because they would always grab at the pieces.” She giggles, cutting the story short. “Now, they still try to touch the stove, which I let them do, because I’m no longer afraid that they will burn themselves!”

The new stove has made an enormous difference. Isabel holds her arms out as if she were about to embrace a large person. “When I cooked in the ground, I needed this much wood every single day. I had to buy it.” She notes that although the new stove still needs wood as fuel, it uses so little that she no longer has to purchase it. Instead, she only has to look for wood once a week. With the extra money she saves, Isabel can buy maize. “So much more maize!” she beams.

We ask if she has something that she would like to say on the experience. She claps her hands together in appreciation. “I don’t have many words to say in Spanish, but in K’iche, I thank you for your hard work. I’m so happy with the stove. When are you all going to come back to visit me?”