Smokeless Stoves: Maria Antonieta Chávez Saloj and Magdalena Catarina Chox Choror

Maria Antonieta Chávez Saloj

Six years ago, Maria Antonieta Chávez Saloj found herself in an odd meeting. She and her neighbors gathered to listen to the story of one family who had decided to sign up for a program sponsored by Habitat for Humanity Guatemala.

“We chatted with them, asking about how they had benefitted from this programming, and how they wanted to form a group, a committee I believe, to see how other people could benefit, too,” Maria explains. Although she didn’t take action at that moment, the family would stay in her head for the next five years.

Maria never had a stove before. For her entire life, she had cooked in a hole in the ground, which was always filled with heaps of firewood. As a single mom struggling to support her daughter, Maria found odd jobs with needlework. “My old way of cooking used a lot of wood. I would go through extremes to find enough to feed the fire. For hours, every single day, I looked and looked for wood.”

Still, the stove didn’t leave her mind. Maria was especially fascinated by stories claiming that the stove improved health. She had no idea what that felt like. “I had always had a cough, a cold,” she said. “My eyes were always bothered by the smoke. I burned myself. Once in awhile, I went to the doctor, but I was always told to take expensive medicines for the cough.”

Eventually, Maria decided to take action. “My family help me cut blocks for the new stove. It took a month to cut and dry the blocks. Then, this group came to construct it one day.” For the past year that she has used the stove, Maria notes that it has made an enormous difference.

“This new stove gives me much more, just like the promoter said. Whenever people now ask me, I now say, yes! It is true!  I can cook everything at the same time. And I take about two hours to look for enough wood, which lasts three days.” Because she can better prioritize her time, Maria also looks for wood to sell to her neighbors, which can help pay for her daughter’s university tuition. And a bit more food for the both of them.

To the group that made the stove possible, Maria is incredibly grateful. “Thank you for your support. I am so grateful to everything that you did.”

Magdalena Catarina Chox Choror

“I look for wood in the mountains.” Magdalena Catarina Chox Choror points outside in the distance, where purple crags rear up under a hazy gray sky. “It takes about half of a day, but because it’s just my aunt and me living here, it lasts us almost an entire month.”

Magdalena is accustomed to difficult work and also to completing it diligently. To support herself and her eighty-year-old aunt, she has two jobs as a laundry and cleaning woman in the bustling communities below her village of Paraje Tzantinamit. While she enjoys being busy, Magdalena is grateful that she no longer has to invest a staggering amount of precious hours looking for firewood.

For most of her life, Magdelana struggled daily with preparing meals for the household. “I had been cooking in the ground for twenty-five years, since I was a little girl. I had a hotplate balanced over a hole in the ground, which made it a lot more dangerous.” She explains the smoke highly affected her, and she faced multiple health problems, especially with debilitating headaches. However, she had no way to fix or alleviate them. “I couldn’t go to the doctor because it was too expensive for me. Sometimes, I took medicine, but not a lot.”

Since building a smokeless stove with Habitat for Humanity Guatemala volunteers and her extended family, Magdalena’s life has become a bit easier. She notes that her favorite things about the smokeless stove is that she can save more money. “I can buy little things. And it’s easier to make tortillas because it doesn’t take so much time.”

Thanks to the smokeless stove, Magdalena can continue to work hard and thrive. She is grateful to the support that those have given her along the way. “It is a great help that you have given me,” she says. “Thank you to the group that made this possible.”