Celebrating Women’s History Month: A hands on experience

This February,  SOPHE employee Heather Flattery, MPH, CHES spent time in Guatemala on a service trip to expand public health outreach to provide safer and healthier living conditions for women and families in Guatemala through building fuel efficient brick stoves with the local organization La Chapina Bonita Smoke-Free Stove Project. This project is supported through an innovative partnership with the Hudson Daybreak Rotary Club and Club Rotario Guatemala del Este.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, SOPHE wants to celebrate this service-trip to highlight the empowered women who made a choice to provide a safer option for their families by implementing La Chapina Bonita stoves in their homes.

Guatemala is a developing country with an area about the size of the U.S. state of Tennessee. According to a report by WHO/UNICEF, over the past decade the sanitation and drinking water quality has been improving, however there are still many areas without sewage or sanitation support. There is a rich indigenous culture of Mayan ancestry and most of the families prepare their meals and heat their homes on open or partially contained fires.

A traditional stove used in Guatemala.

According to a National Geographic article from 2017, “Some three billion people around the world cook their food and heat their homes with open or barely contained fires, and while the smoke dissipates quickly, its accumulated costs are steep. The typical cooking fire produces about 400 cigarettes’ worth of smoke an hour, and prolonged exposure is associated with respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer. In the developing world, health problems from smoke inhalation are a significant cause of death in both children under five and women.”

This service trip was not only serving women, but it was also comprised of an all-female working team from different cities across the U.S. to build these stoves in multiple cities across the country. This team was supported by a group of masons to help teach the correct mixture of cement and the order in which to lay the bricks, as well as the founder of La Chapina Bonita Smoke-Free Stove Project, Carlos Galvez.

The new stoves built by an all-female team from across the U.S.

As you may already know, Guatemala is home to many rich and beautiful things (coffee, gorgeous natural landscape, a rich Mayan history and so much more). We’ve come to learn the pervasive problems of open fire cooking and deforestation leave this country looking for more innovative solutions. The work of La Chapina Bonita teaches women to ‘be the change’ in an environment that struggles to provide the best health outcomes for every family. The stoves that were built will support 16 new families and one elementary school with cleaner, more fuel efficient stoves. All funds raised will go on to support more than 90 future families to bring stoves to even more communities in Guatemala.