Last Wednesday, Katie and I had the pleasure of spending time with women from the Saqâ€™ Jal womenâ€™s collective in San Alfonso, a community between Xela and the Pacific coast. The women are originally from Huehuetenango; they fled from Guatemala to Chiapas, Mexico in the early 1980â€™s, during the civil war that was threatening their lives. They returned to Guatemala in the 1990â€™s, but preferred to settle in a different community rather than try to return to their home. Many of the women are skilled artisans (weaving intricate tejidos) but they have a hard time finding a suitable market in their community. Coffee harvesting, which lasts only a couple months and pays 18-34 Quetzales a day (the equivalent of $2-$4), employs many members of the San Alfonso community.
The women of San Alfonso heard about the work of XelaTeco and sought their assistance in procuring stoves for their homes and community buildings in an effort to improve their health and welfare. Most women currently use the three-stone method of building cooking fires, and they are usually on the ground in a closed room.
To quote from former intern Elena Kriegerâ€™s research on stoves:
â€œThe wide array of health complications associated with smoky homes includes acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung/trachea/bronchus cancer, perinatal mortality, low birthweight, asthma, and eye irritation. Open fires on the floor increase the potential for small children to get burned and hunching over the flames for hours a day can lead to back pain. Women and children in developing countries tend to bear the brunt of the health impacts of indoor air pollution because of their continual proximity to stoves and fires.â€