Indoor Air Pollution
Due to the circumstances of poverty, hundreds of thousands of indigenous Maya in Guatemala continue to cook indoors over an open fire or rudimentary stove. The resultant smoke pour directly into the room and contributes to a wide range of chronic illnesses and health impacts such as early childhood pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease and low birth weight.
These fires are often in the room of a home where members of the family sleep, eat and work on a daily basis. Young children and women are exposed to burns from spills and sparks from wood. Indigenous women spend long hours preparing food over these open fires.
Creosote is the brownish/black oily liquid, which results from the inefficient burning of wood. In unventilated rooms this sticky substance collects on walls and ceilings. It has a major impact on the quality of air in the house. Particulate matter from unventilated wood burning cooking fires remain in the air and are hazardous.
A family that receives an improved cookstove is helped in multiple ways. A GSP stove uses 50% less wood than the traditional 3 stone fire, thereby saving precious trees and reducing carbon emissions.
It is estimated that at least 2% of the forests in Guatemala are lost every year to over-harvesting of wood and conversion of forests to agriculture. This causes damage to wildlife and vegetation and can contribute to landslides.
Since many families must buy or collect their firewood, using 50% less firewood represents a significant savings. Reduced fuel consumption allows a family to spend their hard earned money in a more sustainable way. Savings in time also allow the women members of a family to engage in a wider variety of income earning activities. The cookstove saves 2 to 3 tons of carbon emissions annually so that over the average 10 year life span of the cookstove 20 to 30 tons of carbon emissions are avoided.
Since starting in 1999, Guatemala Stove Project has funded the construction of over 7000 masonry cookstoves. The 2017 book Drawdown; The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawkins, documents the positive impact of clean cookstoves. Researchers analyzed and evaluated numerous current solutions addressing global warming. From these, 80 solutions were selected and ranked based on their ability to avoid and/or sequester carbon dioxide measured in gigatons. Impressively, clean cookstoves are listed as number 21. https://drawdown.org
Since its inception, small changes have been made to increase the efficiency of the stove design and ensure the longevity of materials.
In February 2017, the stove design used by the GSP was tested at the University of San Carlos, Guatemala City. Changes were made to the design of the firebox and subsequent test results indicated increased thermal efficiency and reduced carbon monoxide and particulate matter.
In March 2018, Aprovecho Research Centre (ARC) in Oregon, USA, carried out similar tests for GSP on this modified design. In September 2018 GSP volunteers and Ishim Yac of CEDEC attended one week of stove-building camp with ARC. A stove with a modified design and three other configurations were constructed and tested. Some of the variables included: type and moisture of firewood, door open or closed for wood burning, method of stoking the fire and firebox dimensions. Tests used were the water-boiling test (WBT) with a cold start, then simmer; and hot start, followed by simmer.
The modified stove, which is currently in use, results in lower CO and particulate matter, due to increased wood burning efficiency. It also rates highly for safety. This stove design is very compatible with regional cooking methods and well used and enjoyed by Maya families.
We continue to investigate ways to build the best stove possible for our families in Guatemala.
Other Benefits of a GSP Cookstove - A Cleaner, Healthier Kitchen
The larger cooking surface allows for a wider variety of foods to be prepared at the same time.
Water can be boiled and used for washing and drinking.
Food is prepared up off of the floor on a cleaner more hygienic surface.
The ‘plancha’ or grill has three openings with different sizes to hold pots of various sizes while the flat surface is excellent for cooking the many tortillas that are prepared each day.
Families can now sit around the stove while eating their meals.
The stove is safer particularly for small children – burns and spills are less likely.
The stove is well insulated so is safe to touch.
Women have more time to engage in other household tasks.
Every year GSP volunteers travel to Guatemala to document stoves built during the previous year by our three partner organizations. They travel in pickup trucks to remote communities and hike up and down steep hills to photograph and record family information. The stove is inspected for quality, correct usage and cleaning practices. Families consistently report their appreciation for their new stoves. We often hear the phrase – “Ya no me duelen los ojos”, “my eyes don’t hurt anymore,’ (when I’m cooking). This is confirmation for us that our stoves are important!
Stoves for Schools
In 2020, GSP began a new initiative with our partner CEDEC and director Jose Yac. We are now funding the construction of school stoves and to date 9 school stoves have been built.
Violence and poverty have pushed tens of thousands of Central Americans to join the caravans heading for the US and Mexico. Hunger has been the main reason for Guatemalans to flee their homes. Individuals especially those from indigenous populations suffer from malnutrition and many are food insecure. Malnutrition leads to lower school performance, inability to concentrate and to participate actively in learning.
With these GSP school stoves, hundreds of hungry children can receive nourishment each day. It may be the best daily meal they receive. The school board pays for the mostly local raw ingredients, some of which are rice, corn, black beans and lima beans, chicken and pork. The children each bring a stick of wood to school for the fuel. Volunteer mothers of the students do the actual buying and cooking of low cost but high protein stews that in one big pot can cook enough for up to 200 hungry children. Tom Clarke is very excited about this new venture and has visited the schools. Teachers report that where once the children were quiet, drowsy and slow they now appear bright-eyed and lively and now they can learn and think clearly.