Registered: December 2016
City/Town/Province: Woodland Hills
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The sparks pop and crackle as the fire comes alive. The wisps of smoke slowly turn to clouds as you breathe in the scorched air. In the room are a small pile of ashes and a few pots that you call your cookstove. The walls and ceiling of the poorly ventilated room are covered in soot. Finally, the fire is large and hot enough for you to cook your tortillas. Your stomach is ready for food, but what about your lungs? What happens when you inhale all of that smoke?
Sponsored by a nonprofit organization Good Neighbors, a volunteer trip is held every summer to encourage the youth to take care of their environment and to allow them to experience a new country through the eyes of poverty. During the summer before my senior year in high school, I was able to take a weeklong trip in the city of Antigua, Guatemala. In an area located near several volcanoes, the rural area in Antigua is filled with a tight-knit community of villages.
Throughout the week, the four other volunteers and I faced the challenge of time and strength. Every day, we had to work hard to meet our goal of three cookstoves and one chicken coop total. First, we had to transport all the materials, such as bricks, water, soil, tiles, and mud, to each home. From there, we filtered the rocks from the sand, mixed the sand with water, and used that material as our mortar. Then, we washed the bricks to make them easier to break with the machete to fit the measurements for the cookstove. With the help of a Guatemalan man who worked with Good Neighbors, we were able to build the cookstove brick by brick. Each hole and crack had to be filled with mortar before it dried. After we finished the general structure of the cookstove, we placed tiles on top, and that concluded the process of making the cookstove. The work we did in Guatemala was one that not only provided me with a new experience, but it was also one in which I was able to physically see a community in action. As we had to transport materials back and forth with the small amount of manpower we had, the kids in the neighborhood all lent out a hand.
Out of the three clubs sponsored by Good Neighbors at my school, I chose to lead Project Cookstoves because this club specifically tackles numerous issues at once. The fuel-efficient cookstoves we provide for the families are geared towards providing better lives for those living in poverty.
First and foremost, the cookstoves address health. With the cookstove, we provide a chimney that allows the smoke to ventilate outside of the house. Not only does it benefit their lungs, but it also benefits their postures. With the cookstoves they currently have, they have to squat beside the fire and poke at the sparks with a stick. With the new cookstove, they can make the fire standing up. The counter we also provide with the cookstove gives the families space to place ingredients.
The second issue addressed is education. With the old cookstoves, the children have to walk for miles to gather wood. Instead of receiving an education or playing with friends, they have to complete these chores to help provide for the family. The time saved from gathering wood is veered towards education instead.
The third issue addressed involves the environment. With these energy and fuel-efficient cookstoves, the amount of deforestation, pollution, and climate change decreases.
At my high school, the Project Cookstoves club also originated from this project. The club itself exists to bring more awareness to our communities and to raise funds to provide such an opportunity. The money that the club raises is used to purchase the bricks, chickens, and other materials essential for the project.
The majority of the youth in California only experience California. Personally, I had only experienced Los Angeles before my trip, so seeing the living conditions of the families and experiencing a week in a rural area was definitely eye-opening. Coming from my background, I was incredibly astonished by the living conditions of those living thousands of miles away.
The difference between those families and my family is that I was privileged enough to be raised with clean water and sanitary restrooms. The families I met in Guatemala didn't even have money to attend school or afford plumbing. My community needs to come face to face with this kind of experience. To us, our essentials consist of our phones, laptops, and expensive shoes. To people living in poverty, water, food, and wood is everything.
This project not only addresses the obvious issues with health, education, and the environment, but it also addresses society's perception of countries like Guatemala. Before I traveled to Guatemala, I viewed the country as frightening and violent. Don't get me wrong, it was scary to see policemen carrying rifles in public areas such as gas stations and men carrying machetes nonchalantly like someone would casually take their phone with them. Of course, this is not the full picture. As the media portrays unappealing aspects of the country, society forgets that the country is actually filled with beautiful people, different cultures, languages, and landscapes.
As a college-bound senior, I would definitely love to continue this project at a university in which I can address a larger crowd to bring even more awareness about these issues. I plan on taking the International Relations or Developmental Studies major to understand and directly address the global issues in various countries.