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Stove Team Installs Preventive Medicine for Guatemalan Families

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By Krista Van Tassel, Director, Corporate Communications, AMN Healthcare

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AMN volunteer Misty Hill explains the process of cleaning and installing an ecofilter to a local family.

In teams of four, AMN Healthcare and International Esperanza Project (IEP) volunteers took off each morning to install stoves for families scattered along the hillsides of Guatemala. Each team had a mission to install four stoves each day and often walked muddy paths or drove winding roads to make it to their destinations.

Installing stoves is part of IEP’s community work and really counts as preventative medicine for the families that invest in and receive these new inventions. For many families in Guatemala, cooking can be a dangerous and time-consuming proposition, as it is often done on open fires inside small homes. These open fires are not properly ventilated or contained, causing both smoke inhalation and burn hazards for young children who breathe the air and may fall into the flames. In addition to the health hazards, maintaining open fires requires a lot of fuel, and the task of gathering wood often falls on the women and girls of the family, taking time away from school or play.

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AMN stovers Jamil Sipes and Noah Zimmerman haul the stove box up a muddy hill after a rainstorm to help a family.

Removing the risks associated with open fires is one of the goals of IEP’s community work. The organization partners with local entrepreneurs like David Evitt to install Dona Dora stoves. Each stove costs $250 and is funded in part by the family that receives it, and the rest is subsidized by donations. In fact, team members at AMN Healthcare helped purchase 50 stoves for this trip, running office fundraisers and contests to buy the stoves. In Guatemala, many communities of women will work together to raise funding and help install stoves for each other.

The stoves are installed by volunteers in about two hours. Once up and running, the stoves offer several options for cooking, including a griddle for tortillas, a contained flame for quick boil, and various levels of heat. But even better than the cooking versatility is the fact that each stove ventilates all smoke out of the home to ensure cleaner indoor air quality, and contains the fire to reduce flame hazards.

In addition to the stoves, each family also receives an EcoFilter, which efficiently filters local water to ensure a clean and safe drinking supply. The filters are easy to use and long-lasting, which is especially important for families that live in very remote and rural areas.

The results of the new stoves can be felt immediately and often children will run out of the house to see just where the smoke is going. Families are provided a demonstration on how to properly use and clean the stove. The final test of readiness is to see if the stove can cook poporopo, the Guatemalan word for popcorn. With much fanfare, the stovers prepare Jiffy Pop for the family, often under the watchful eyes of the children. Anticipation rises in line with the expanding foil until the poporopo is ready to be served.

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All eyes on the poporopo as several stover “assistants” check in on the progress of the stove.

While installing the stoves can be hard work, all of the volunteers find it incredibly rewarding. Sometimes stovers can take turns distracting the children with games and toys while the stove is being installed. And for most, the gratitude of the families who receive the stoves provides immeasurable returns.

Said second-time stover and AMN team member Caleb Stewart, “When we do this work, we don’t just install a stove – we create a lasting impact for these families that can help make their lives healthier. This is one of the many reasons I am thankful to be a part of this trip.”  

You can learn more about our volunteers, the stoves and the families we are serving through Facebook #AMNGivesBack.

NOTE: Photo credits for Charlie Neuman

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