In this interview for Ottawa Magazine, Stephen Dale says to Hans Sinn, who co-founded Peace Brigades International in 1981, “Tell me about PBI spin-offs.”
Hans replies, “The Guatemala Stove Project is a big thing for people in Perth. It helps people build stoves, which replace open wood fires that are health hazards, in particular for women, who traditionally cook.”
The Guatemala Stove Project was started in 1999 by Tom Clarke, a carpenter and mason, who like Hans lives near Perth, just outside of Ottawa.
This Fifty-Five Plus article highlights, “The first time Tom was in Guatemala was in 1985. He was there volunteering for Peace Brigades International, a group whose mandate was to make political space so that people could protest and advance change.”
That article from May 2012 continues, “His job was to accompany Guatemalans who were in political danger, in the belief that they would be safer moving around with a foreigner during a time of armed conflict.”
Tom says, “If the police or army took them away, we would report it. The group that they were supporting was called GAM [Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo] and they were mostly widows of men who had been disappeared during the civil war.”
But Tom wanted to help in a different way.
He says, “I have a very clear memory of when I was 42 and in Guatemala and having a sleepless night in this village called San Jose de Mas Alla. I think that was the beginning of the stove project for me in my consciousness.”
That vision has turned into an amazing reality. This November 2015 article in the Ottawa Citizen reported that The Guatemala Stove Project builds “300-500 stoves each year and recently went over the 6,000 mark since its inception” in 1999.
As noted on The Guatemala Stove Project website, “Due to the circumstances of poverty, hundreds of thousands of indigenous Maya in Guatemala continue to cook indoors over wood burning fires.”
The vented stoves the Guatemala Stove Project has built mean that fewer Mayan women and children are at risk for respiratory illnesses, blindness and burns.
The design of the firebox also means a reduction in wood consumption by about 50 per cent, an important consideration in a country where deforestation is a huge issue. And as this article in The Guardian pointed out, burning wood releases more CO2 than gas, oil and even coal for the same amount of heat.
As such, the greater efficiency of the stoves, both helps to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation, another accelerant of climate breakdown.
To donate to the Guatemala Stove Project, please click here. It costs CAD$300.00 to build a stove for a family and every dollar helps. The Guatemala Stove Project is a great expression of practical solidarity and if you can support it, please do!
To see the 2-minute Global TV “Everyday Heroes” segment on Tom, click here.
You can also follow the Guatemala Stove Project on Facebook here.