Good Neighbors Project Cookstove

It can be said that most of us take our kitchens for granted.

We think of the kitchen as a gathering place, the room where our families start and end each day. This is where stories are swapped, homework is scribbled, meals are cooked, bread is broken, secrets shared– our lives unfold inside our kitchens, each and every day.

It is the center of our homes, the heartbeat of our families. It nourishes us. It comforts us. It’s even there in the middle of the night when we can’t sleep.

But what if the kitchen was where you sleep? And where your children sleep. And what if – instead of the safe, traditional range oven you’re accustomed to – you cooked your meals over an open flame? What if your stove was nothing more than a pile of firewood, and beside that rising smoke and ash was where you kept your baby’s cradle?

For the families nestled among volcanoes in the villages of Solola, Guatemala, in the hills jutting high above stunning Lake Atitlán, this is the reality of everyday life.

The most basic of our camping necessities — a pile of burning firewood – is their traditional form of cooking. It needs constant attention in order to keep its flames fed. These fires must burn all day and through night because it isn’t just a stove, this is how families keep warm at night when the temperatures plummet. It’s not uncommon for families of eight or more to share a twelve by twelve room — their entire living space — piled together five to a bed, their only source of heat an open fire near their faces, the only ventilation a few inches of space in a corner between the walls and the ceiling.

Imagine being trapped inside a house fire in your bedroom, every single night. This is every day for over an estimated three billion people throughout the world.

The World Health Organization estimates 1.9 million premature deaths a year can be attributed to daily exposure to harmful smoke from cooking fires – the fourth worst overall health risk factor in developing countries. Exposure to this smoke causes low birth weight, pneumonia, emphysema, cataracts, lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease. Women and children are the most affected, as they spend their days inside the confines of their home, inches away from a steady stream of carbon monoxide, not to mention the constant risk of fire damage.

But this isn’t just a health issue.

Keeping their traditional stoves burning requires daily trips to the forest – often a two-hour trek each way. This massive daily requirement for over five million families accelerates deforestation, straining the planet’s natural resources, contributing to climate change. The smoke rising from the homes thickens the air black with soot and ash.

But this isn’t just an environmental issue.

This is how you get six-year olds holding machetes instead of schoolbooks. The women and children who gather this firewood put themselves in mortal danger. It isn’t hard to imagine the tragedies that unfold every day. Teenage girls are brutally attacked and assaulted. Young boys fall from trees, suffer injuries from carrying massive amounts of stacked wood on their backs and heads, or cause irreparable bodily harm from wielding those machetes. Unfortunately, everyone in Solola has a story. They all wish it could be different.

There wasn’t much of a choice. Until now.

“Today we can finally envision a future in which open fires and dirty stoves are replaced by clean, efficient and affordable stoves and fuels all over the world,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated as she recently announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. “By upgrading these dirty stoves, millions of lives could be saved and improved. Clean stoves could be as transformative as bed nets or vaccines.”

Good Neighbors USA is proud and excited to be partnering with Good Neighbors Guatemala on a three-year campaign to replace traditional “dirty stoves” in Solola, with safer, energy efficient, life-changing cookstoves. The new cookstove drastically reduces toxic emissions and cuts the need for firewood by more than half. The cookstove’s improved design takes the cultural needs of the families of Solola into account, functioning as a stove, an oven, a furnace, and – because of the tiled edges that are cool to the touch even when the stove is in use – a table. It creates the safe, warm kitchen environment so many of us associate with healthy, happy families.

This means cleaner airspace. This means more trees survive. This means children have time to go to school. This means women are safer, and more empowered.

Good Neighbors hopes to install one thousand cookstoves a year over the next three years to deserving families in Solola. But they need your help. For just $400 USD, you can sponsor a family, providing the installation of a brand-new, energy efficient cookstove that will save lives. For more information, or to start helping immediately, go to here (more information will be added to that link November 29th) or please contact Good Neighbors at gnusa@gnusa.org.

Working with Good Neighbors, you have the power to change a crisis into a kitchen.

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Good Neighbors International (GNI) is an international humanitarian and development non-governmental organization in General Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). GNI strives to improve lives, especially children’s lives, through education, food, shelter, community development, medical care, advocacy and emergency relief. GNI has made great strides in its mission by providing people around the world with a better quality of life since its establishment in 1991.