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“Changing lives, saving lives”




Terry and M.C. Laney in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala.

By Terry Laney
Executive Director, Our Towns Habitat for Humanity

I returned from Guatemala on January 30th, along with 13 other volunteers. We went there to help two families build their new Habitat homes. This was my 13th trip to Guatemala, but this trip was very different and filled with a lot of emotion for me (and M.C. - my wife).

During our trip this past November, the board at Habitat for Humanity Guatemala provided an update on their current programs and opportunities. One project was of particular interest, “smokeless” stoves for families who cannot afford a Habitat home. Another non-governmental organization has been building the stoves and providing the nutritional training for recipient families. The stove project is so crucial to the health and wellness of the families in Guatemala that I committed Our Towns Habitat for Humanity to raise US$60,000, over two years, to help fund this project. The commitment was subject to our Board’s approval… and they did approve it!!!

The cost of each “smokeless” stove is US$100 installed, including the nutritional training. That equates to more 600 families served through our tithe over the next two years. In 2008, Our Towns Habitat for Humanity set a lifetime goal to serve 1,600 families (locally and globally) by 2013. Of course, in 2008 we had no clue how we were going to achieve that goal.

Upon our arrival in Guatemala in January, we found out that in addition to building homes for two families we would also have the opportunity to be the first Global Village team to install the first ever “smokeless” stoves for Habitat Guatemala. To put it in perspective, Habitat homes in Guatemala cost roughly US$4,800, while a “smokeless” stove only costs $100. Obviously, a whole new level of housing solutions has come about through this project.

A typical low-income family in Guatemala cooks on an open fire (usually just a pile of wood in the corner stacked on stones), so the black smoke fills the home and surrounding area. The ceiling of the home for our first “smokeless” stove family was completely black. It looked like there was tar dripping off the ceiling. The nutritionist pointed out to the family, “that’s what your lungs look like,” a powerful statement in itself.

We returned two days later to see the stove in use. No more black smoke, only a little bit of white smoke flowing out the chimney. The carbon dioxide count with ashes from the old stove burning that first day was over 700. The count on the day we witnessed the new stove’s use was 1 (one!). The “smokeless” stoves also reduce the amount of wood used by up to 40 percent, which impacts reforestation and reduces the amount of money a family must spend to purchase wood, or the number of trips required to find wood to cut.

These “smokeless” stoves have changed the lives of the recipient families… and have also saved the life of a little 19 month old boy, Alex. He had been very ill and was taken to the hospital just weeks before our visit. The doctors stated that his illness stemmed from exposure to a massive amount of carbon dioxide. They said that if his family did not receive a “smokeless” stove he would die. Alex’s family was the first family to receive a “smokeless” stove in for Habitat Guatemala, and we had the opportunity to build it for him! We had a whirlwind of emotions when we saw the smokeless stove installed and working. We had helped save his life…a moment we’ll never forget!



Habitat for Humanity Guatemala helps families to build smokeless stoves that are safe, well-ventilated and burn efficiently, reducing the amount of wood that each family needs to survive and removing nearly all the smoke from the home.