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Health Risks of Indoor Fires

Our projects will primarily focus on the construction of improved wood-burning stoves, as the majority of participating families cook with an open fire on the floor of their homes. The smoke from these open fires fills their houses with highly poisonous chemicals, and with no proper ventilation, family members constantly inhale these toxins.

As principal caretakers of the home, women are particularly affected by these conditions, and even more profound is the ill effect that this smoke inhalation has on babies and small children. From birth, children are traditionally carried on their mother's back for several years; as these mothers spend the day tending the cook fire, their babies are exposed to dangerous and deadly smoke levels.

Numerous illnesses and long-term health complications, especially a chronically debilitated immune system, result from this early and sustained toxin exposure.

The situation is grave; stemming from open fire smoke inhalation, acute respiratory infection is the primary cause of mortality in Guatemala.

Benefits of Improved Stoves

An improved wood-burning stove is a relatively simple and very efficient means of correcting the dangerous conditions of an open fire in the home.

Our stove design incorporates a three-foot high rectangular base made of cinder blocks and cement. The lower portion of the base structure is filled with earth to provide reinforcement and also to support the firebox in the upper portion of the base. The firebox is constructed of brick and cement and provides an insulated space for the fire. A thick iron stovetop and aluminum door seal the firebox, and a chimney removes smoke from the house.

The elimination of indoor smoke is the main priority and greatest benefit of this project. Additionally, the stoves' heat and wood-burning efficiency will drastically decrease the amount of firewood families use, lessening the rate of deforestation in the area and alleviating some of the work burden on women and children, who are responsible for wood gathering.

Further, the replacement of an open fire on the floor with a sealed, raised firebox also decreases burn accidents and helps alleviate back stress for mothers who are almost constantly carrying a child.

Project Plans

To receive a stove project, a family must attend all training sessions, which include topics of health education and construction and maintenance of the stove.

Community members will benefit from the capacity-building trainings in our participatory construction process, learning through experience how to build the stoves in the future for their family. When possible, each family is responsible for transporting within the mountainside village the materials from a drop-off point on the road, as well as the construction of their own stove. For those families that this is not possible, the community has committed to assisting them.

The committees will monitor the process, and house visits will continue after the constructions to ensure that the families are properly maintaining their new technology. To ensure reproducibility, only locally available supplies will be used for this simple design. Our overall project plans include the construction of roughly seventy stoves at a cost of $150 per stove.


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