Students help Mayan community
March 9, 2012
A simple vented stove can help prevent respiratory complications and eye damage for the Guatemalan women who spend the majority of their day in smoke-filled buildings. Six members of the Park City High School Interact Club spent their winter break in Antigua, Guatemala building the new stoves in a Mayan village.
According to Park City Rotary Club member Frank "Fuzzy" Furr, the local chapter has been sponsoring domestic and international service projects for years. He said this year they partnered with the high school club along with Behrhorst Partners for Development, a company that has been working in Guatemala for more than 15 years.
The group spent a week building stoves to improve the lives of the women working in the village smoke houses. Many of the villages in the Antigua area are still using these ancient smoke houses as a primary means for cooking.
"The women spend a lot of time inside that smoke house building with a lot of that smoke," Furr said. "The idea is that the people have major respiratory and eye problems. One of the houses I worked on you could barely see into because of smoke coming out. There was woman in their rolling tortillas with a baby on her back."
According to Park City Rotary Club member George Hull, Behrhorst builds the stoves out of concrete blocks with a fire brick lining, adhesive mixtures, a metal cook place and flue pipe. The company started working in Antigua after a doctor formed a medical clinic.
"That has expanded to different foundations and organizations, so Behrhorst is a spin-off from that original clinic," Hull said. "We found them through a Rotary Club up in Ogden and we talked to them about the project."
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Interact Club members and the Rotary started planning the trip in October. The students paid their way for the trip by fundraising months in advance, and the Rotary funded the building supplies for the stove project along with expenses such as transportation. The members were interested to see what that money bought and how the process works.
"Working with the Interact Club has been a big deal with Rotary," Hull said. "The Interact kids, I’m just amazed by them. They all seem to be very sharp and well versed in social skills and they demonstrate that by going internationally and interacting."
They also brought along a Spanish teacher chaperone from Wasatch High School who helped the group communicate with locals of their own age.
"This was a big help being in Guatemala," Hull said. "The students spent time in the village at the school interacting with the kids. It was a real neat experience for all the students."
For every vented stove that is built 33 trees are saved, Furr said, adding that this decreases the women and children’s daily tasks of collecting firewood and water for cooking.
"That opens up their day and they can do whatever the community needs, which in this case down there is agriculture," he said. "We were told that within a year people have substantial health benefits from this because they aren’t breathing the smoke all the time."
Both Hull and Furr said they are hoping to go back to Guatemala next year. Their goal is to generate more student interest and have more students apply for the trip than they have space.
For more information regarding the Park City High School Interact Club call the high school at (435) 645-5650. To learn more about Park City Rotary service projects contact Frank "Fuzzy" Furr at (435) 659-6218.