for my next adventure: the girl who’s never even been camping goes big.

Over the years I’ve thought about doing a continuing series on this site called It’s Not That Scary. Because sometimes I end up doing things that some people consider daunting or frightening. Like jump out of an airplane. Eat a bug in Thailand. Buy a house. (Okay, that last one I still consider rather horrible even though I barely had to do anything and had lots of help, but I’m still kind of scarred and unsure when I’ll attempt homeownership again.)

But I like new adventures, and travel is good for you. So here’s my newest It’s Not That Scary, even though I think I can’t really call it that until it’s over and I can prove that it’s not that scary.

I’m going to Guatemala.

I like to start with the big sentence like that, and then go back to explain. Dramatic!

Last week an email came in from a friend who was looking for a writer for a non-profit organization that had an upcoming week-long project in Guatemala. I know this friend through roller derby. This once again proves the theory that anything huge in my life has happened either because of or roller derby. Or, in this case, both. Anyway, I clicked and threw my hat into the ring before I even had a chance to think, “Isn’t this normally the opening scene of a girl-killed-in-remote-jungle story? Or, once again, is your life mirroring the opening fifteen minutes of Romancing the Stone?”

The details of the job, at first, were vague. My friend said they were a great non-profit with nice people and it’s a week of volunteering in Guatemala and she’d let them know I was interested. The next day I went to their office for an interview where I was invited to go and an hour after that I had a plane ticket. I’m a big fan of the rule “Always Take the Meeting,” but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything happen this quickly before. This was three days ago.

They’ve asked me to come along write about this project here on Now, it’s tempting to go just to get to see Guatemala, but luckily the project is also really interesting. Just like that. I clicked “reply,” shook a few hands, and now I’m going to spend five days in Central America with absolutely no control over my itinerary. It’s…Not… That… Scary…?

Okay, truthfully: I’m really rather nervous about just getting on a plane in a few days with a handful of complete strangers, getting shipped out to what I believe is technically called the middle of nowhere, but again… the project is really interesting, and it’s important to do good things for good people and I want to help, and maybe this will help with the guilty feelings I’ve got because I still haven’t gone to Africa.

The people taking me to Guatemala (I’m going to have to find a less kidnap-y way of saying that) are from Good Neighbors, which is an international humanitarian organization dedicated to helping poorer countries, particularly in the areas of self-sustainability and education. This project — Cookstoves with a Cause, comes from the formation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership recently announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Or maybe you read about it recently on your fancy Huffington Post?

To break it down: lots of families still use open flame or unsafe “cookstoves” in their kitchens for their food — nearly three billion people in the developing world. Exposure to smoke from this method of heating and cooking causes millions of premature deaths annually — with women and children the most affected. The World Health Organization estimates harmful cookstove smoke to be the fourth worst overall health risk factor in developing countries. Low birth weight, pneumonia, emphysema, cataracts, lung cancer, bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease… it’s not good.

Reliance on local natural resources not only puts a burden on the environment — it puts women and children in a situation where they must spend their days collecting firewood. This means that not only do they often find themselves in dangerous situations when they are foraging for fuel, they are working such long hours that they don’t have time to go to school. This is where Good Neighbors comes in.

They have this stove.

They sponsor a family (I believe one stove costs about $400), and then build this stove in the family’s home. The stove drastically reduces toxic emissions and improves both fuel efficiency and energy consumption. It gives kids their lives back so that they can go to school. This cookstove makes the day safer for women and girls who no longer have to risk getting assaulted to warm their homes. It is a stove, an oven, a furnace, and –when cool — a table. (…and it makes tortillas!)

So, next week we’re going to villages in Solola, Guatemala, to visit three families who are getting cookstoves installed in their homes. I think… I think we might be the ones building them? I’m sure there’s a few more people there to help. It can’t just be me. I mean, I’ll figure it out but… I’m sure there’s a few experts coming along. For their sake. And it’s not like I’m the first one to go. They recently had a group of high school students go during their summer vacation.

It’s a problem most people aren’t aware of (I certainly hadn’t heard about it before last week), with a solution that’s simple and affordable with existing technology. That’s the kind of exciting, positive, hopeful charity efforts we like here, right? And because of the work we’ve done at Dewey Donation System for public libraries, and the entries here at that have been geared towards raising awareness for various charities, the people at Good Neighbors picked me to come along. I’m excited to be able to help in any way that I can.

[Anybody out there in the media-world want to cover this, too? I’m open to all suggestions that would help Good Neighbors out with their cookstove fundraising project, which will kick off a couple of weeks after we get back (and have edited videos and written up press releases).]

Anyway, that’s what’s about to happen. Thanks for being a part of it, I will save the “I’M FREAKING OUT BECAUSE I AM HEADED TO GUATEMALA WITH A BUNCH OF STRANGERS” entry for maybe tomorrow. I think it’s best to keep this one on the positive tip.

You guys. Listen. You know what this means?

I’m the Ashley Judd of cookstoves.

Good Neighbors: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Vimeo

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