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AMN Mission to Guatemala: The Stove Team Changes Lives – Including Mine

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Aurelia Simpson, Business Systems Analyst – IT, AMN Healthcare

GUATEMALA -- On day one as a “stover” in this magical green land, our team from the partnership of HELPS International and AMN Healthcare installed four stoves in the simple homes of the village of El Rancho, Coban, in the highlands of Guatemala. But this wasn’t just any stove. Here, in a remote village of dirt paths and wood and corrugated metal shacks, the stove is the family hearth, previously an open fire that was the focal point of home life. But an indoor open fire produces toxic smoke that causes eye and respiratory diseases. And, it’s a burn hazard, especially for young children who can fall into it.

In the homes we visited, the walls were covered with black, sticky soot, and toddlers ran around the fire area, smiling shyly at stove team members who arrived to install a new safety stove. This specially designed stove vents smoke out of the home, keeps fire away from children and uses only a fraction of the wood compared to an open fire. We also brought a simple water filtration system so families would have clean water.

As I helped install the safety stove in the first home, I began to cry, moved by knowing that the babies who live in the home will not have to breathe fire smoke. This was the home of Flora, who was 16 and newly married. She covered her mouth out of shyness but eventually let me see her beautiful smile. We laughed together as we washed the filtration buckets, and I showed her how to use them. At once, I felt so close to her.

In the local pastor’s home, we installed another stove, and when it was ready, we made Jiffy Pop popcorn on the new stove. The women of the family also made tortillas and tried to teach me how to make them, patting the dough and spreading it onto the new, hot griddle. Of course, mine didn’t turn out so well, with half of the dough sticking to my hand. I made one in the time it took the pastor’s wife to make ten.

The whole experience has left me feeling humbled, blessed, honored and happy. But most of all, I can’t wait to get back out tomorrow and build more stoves. Thank you to HELPS International and AMN Healthcare for these moments that I will remember forever and for the opportunity to contribute to the lives of people in need.

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