A Stove for Andrea

The merciless Honduran sun makes it impossible to open my eyes further than a squint.  Attempting to give my eyes a break from sun, I turn my head.  A gust of wind filled with sand, dirt, and dust makes sure my eyelids don’t budge.  The small gap between the top and bottom of my eyelids allow me to see the rural aldea (town) gradually getting closer as we make our way up the mountain.     Ah, my legs are thankful we’ve made it.  I immediately forget about the tiresome trek when we’re greeted by Andrea’s wise, welcoming smile.  Wrinkles on her rough face permanently hold her aged eyelids in the defensive position mine were in just a minute ago.  The wrinkles tell a story of a life of struggle.     I zone out from the story that her face is telling for a moment when the dust clears, revealing the view behind her.  The green trees touching the blue sky are endless and alive with wildlife.  It’s easy for my mind to get lost in the vast, alluring landscape.   Andrea begins to speak - I focus on her again- her Spanish is difficult to understand.  She is the product of a childhood of malnourishment, no opportunity for education, and passing each day in this remote location.  This is the poverty about 50% of Honduras lives in.  Surviving is the goal upon waking each day.        Her words are exhausting to comprehend, but she speaks elegantly in the same universal body language that we all understand.  Her smile tells us that we’re welcome and she’s excited to be a part of this project.  Time to begin this “improved stove construction” project we came here to do.   The goals of the new stove system are:
-More efficient use of firewood (a previous family went from using 4 bundles per week to 1- that’s a lot of trees and $ saved)   -Use of a chimney (tunneling the smoke outside the house; all the homes in this village are filled with smoke every time something is cooking.  Terrible for eyes and lungs)   Andrea communicates feelings of uneasiness as we tear down the dirt fogon (stove) she has used for her entire life.  We make necessary adjustments to our construction plans to accommodate her requests of where she wants the stove located in her house and how she stands to cook over it.  It’s vital she feels comfortable using this new device - she’s the one that will be cooking on it - not us.   Each local that comes to spectate the big event going down at Andrea’s home makes it a point to welcome and thank us.  They’re looking forward to the next step of the project - a meeting in the town church to demonstrate how anybody can construct one of these stoves.  With the stove completed, the mess we made cleaned up, and the confidence that Andrea understands how to use the appliance, we venture down to the tiny packed community church.   The energy is curious and excited inside the walls of the adobe-brick church.  Citizens are eager to ask questions.  As we explain the health, environmental, and economic benefits the improved stove can provide, there is an exciting consensus of acceptance of the project.  Let’s head to Andrea’s house for a demonstration on how to use, clean, and maintain this new stove.     I feel like the community gets it.  They’re noticeably enthusiastic.  Ideally, there will be a collective push within the residents to raise funds and implement these stove systems in their homes.  They know how to do it; it’s now on them to find a way to use the information.     The focus of the work is on development of the people, not things.  Identifying themselves what people would like to see changed and using their own strengths to learn new skills is the ultimate goal.    No matter if the intent for a project is great, the funding in place, and the construction done perfectly, if the people for whom the project is being built are not trained to use and maintain equipment properly, it will not be sustainable.  Therefore the interest in a project must first be of the communities, they must work alongside the people who are providing equipment, and must have an understanding how the system works.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.