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Pop Wuj Estufa Project

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Centro de Estudios de Espanol Pop Wuj is a Spanish school in Xela, Guatemala. Throughout its history, it has involved its students in development projects for Guatemalans. One of its projects is to build stoves, or "estufas." Without estufas, Guatemalan families cook over an open fire in their home. The smoke causes respiratory problems -- the second leading cause of death among Guatemalan children. With estufas, the smoke is contained, and eshausts through a chimney. Estufas are also much more energy efficient. With an estufa, a family would use half as much wood for the same energy. Estufas, therefore, reduce deforestation.
On 2004-04-13, I had the pleasure of volunteering to help build an estufa in the home of Maria Christiana in Llanos de Pinal, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. We were led by Mynor Arrivillaga and Alberto, two teachers at Pop Wuj. We met at Pop Wuj at 8:00 a.m. We walked to Calvario park in Xela and caught a bus to Llanos de Pinal. Here is where the bus dropped us off.

Here is the path we walked to Maria Cristiana's house. The bus drop-off is behind the mountain on the right. I had a hard time complaining about carrying sand after I passed her:

Here is Maria Christiana's home. It has two buildings. Her current cooking fire and the estufa are in the far building to the right.

Here is how the estufa looked after last week's work day. Each estufa usually needs four half-day sessions to finish.

Here is the open fire Maria Cristiana uses:

The insides are covered in soot, including these rafters:

The doorway shows the path of smoke:

Below: Samud carrying sand. This is a lot harder than it looks. We had to carry the buckets or basins of sand from the road. Alberto scraped the sand from the side of the road and loaded my basin full. I had to stop and rest many times. I think the farmworkers in the field enjoyed seeing us suffer with this physical labor.
Mynor Arrivillaga instructs us.

Here is Samud carrying the sand.

Chris is cutting block to fit.

Mynor, Rose and Josh mortar:

The upper part of the estufa is made with "ladrillos" [bricks] instead of blocks. It will contain the fire. We use two types of mortar. On the outer half, they use cement to get the best adhesion. On the inside, they use barro to give the best seal around the burning wood. The barro is made from pulverized dirt. Above, you can see Maria Christiana pulverized it herself with a roller. We add just enough water to make it pasty, but not so much that it runs. We add just a little bit of a panela [black sugar] solution. Sugar is added to seal the pores as the fire burns. Mynor checked it by putting a pinch in his mouth and tasting it. When Marco and I showed that we were grossed out, he did it again. I only added about a cup of the solution, but Mynor said he could taste it, so it was good enough.
Here are Rose, Alex and Alberto dissolving the sugar.

Alex and Rose mix the cement, water, sugar and sand.

Maria Cristiana pulverizes the sand:

Samud and Mynor set the ladrillos:

Here are the before and after shots:


Pop Wuj has scheduled addtional trips for student volunteers to finish this estufa for 2004-04-20 and 2004-04-27.
Samud says goodbye to Maria Cristiana:

Walking back, we notice that this high voltage electric line is humming. We learn that the government's decision to place this line over the existing residences was controversial. The bus that takes us back to Xela has to stop to unload to live pigs and deliver them to their owner:

On 2004-04-20, I had the pleasure of returning to Llanos del Pinal for another work session on the estufa for Maria Cristiana.
We soak bricks (ladrillos) to help the mortar stick to them.

Colleen and Rachel start mixing barro.

Jarod mixes cement.

I pulverize panela for more solution:

Byron uses a knife to trim and shape ladrillos:

Josh shows off a finished ladrillo:

Colleen mortars the ladrillos with barro:

Rachel "proves" the barro has enough panela:

Here are the before and after shots for the third of four sessions:


Another work day is still needed to finish the interior ramp, and install the chimney, the metal door, and the metal plancha on top. Then Maria Christiana will have to let is cure for 40 days before using it. Still, she is appreciative, and has asked us to wait for something. Here it is:
She and Josh bring out the kitchen table:

She brings out watermelon:

They serve plates with frijoles and meat:

Byron and Alberto enjoy:

Maria Cristiana asked for a photo to be her "memoria." Here it is:

Pop Wuj is located in the second floor of this building. It is at the corner of Calle Rodolfo Robles and Primera Calle in Xela. The entrance is on the right, off Primera Calle.

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Dated 2004-04-23
Copyright © 2004 Richard Renner
All rights reserved. Permission granted to Pop Wuj and Todos Juntos, Inc., to use these photos.