Small Stove, Big Difference – Antigua, Guatemala

Open-fire stove and the pile of wood needed for cooking | runawayrice.comHow often do you think about the wonderful household invention we call a “stove”? Probably not very often, yet most of us use it daily to prepare our meals. We simply walk up to it, turn it on and expect it to provide a range of heating options for cooking. Now imagine you don’t have your convenient stove and have to cook the old-fashioned way, over an open fire. It’s not as simple as turning a knob or pressing a button to get instant heat. Instead you have to gather firewood, build a fire, tend to the fire and then cook your food all the while inhaling toxic fumes from the thick smoke. Cooking doesn’t seem like much fun and more like an excruciating chore. For many people throughout the world, this is their reality. Cooking a simple meal is a toiling activity often taking an entire day to execute.

Open-fire stove filling the air with black smoke |

Open-fire stoves like this one consume a lot of wood. The fire needs constant tending to keep the flames going. When wood is burning, the air is thick with black smoke. The stoves are usually built outside with just a partial tin roof covering it. The tin roof is charred and covered with a heavy coat of black soot.

How I Got Involved

I was invited on this trip through friends and was really intrigued when I learned we were installing stoves. Cooking is near and dear to my heart. Thinking about how wonderful new stoves would be to the ladies of these households, I was so excited for them and to be a part of this voluntary team. I had no expectations but was prepared for a day of grueling labor.

Meeting Helps International

Helps International (HELPS) is the organization leading this charitable activity. Started in 1981, HELPS has assisted thousands of people in Central America through a loyal community of volunteers and donors. Unlike many charities focused mainly on monetary donations, HELPS strives to break the cycle of poverty by offering sustainable solutions through community development, agriculture, education and medical programs. Providing stoves is just one of their many community development programs.

Instead of an outright gift, the stoves are offered for a nominal fee. Having the recipients pay for the stoves promotes the pride of ownership. It doesn’t stop there. In addition to subsidizing and installing the stoves, HELPS offers recipients training classes for proper use and maintenance. Additionally, servicing is available should there be any problems with the stoves in the future. This comprehensive program promotes ownership and successful user adoption.

Installing the First Stove

The Onil stoves are fabricated and delivered to the recipient homes in advance. On installation day, all our team of 6 had to do was level the ground, assemble the stove pieces and install the ventilation system. The entire installation process took about 1 hour, hardly a grueling day of work. We installed two stoves in two separate locations that day. On the first installation, we had to level the ground so it took a bit longer. On the second installation, the space was much larger and the ground was level and ready to go.

Leveling the Ground
Installing Onil Stove-Leveling the ground |

Laying the Cinder Blocks
Installing Onil Stove-Laying down cinder blocks |

Assembling the Stove
Installing Onil Stove-First Pieces |

Installing Onil Stove-Adding the top piece |

Installing the Ventilation
Installing Onil Stove-Vent pipe |

Adding the Tabletop
Installing Onil Stove-Adding the tabletop |

The Completed Stove

Installing Onil Stove-Completed Stove |

Building The First Fire
Installing Onil Stove-Building the fire |

The specially engineered Onil stoves have a small firebox and consume considerably less wood while generating a lot of radiant heat quickly. The pipe mounted on the back of the stove, vents the smoke up and out of the house. Cooking is now smoke-free.
Firebox on Onil stove |

Making Tortillas

After installing the stove, we had to test it out. What better way to try out the new stove than by making tortillas?! Yum! (Homemade tortillas are just the best and I think I ate about two dozen during my visit to Guatemala. 🙂 )

Making tortillas on the new stove |

Installing Onil Stove-Making tortillas on the new stove |

The not so round tortillas ones were made by yours truly. I definitely need more practice…lol 🙂

How a Stove Can Change Lives

The open fire stoves consume a lot of wood, so wood must be gathered daily to keep up with the demands for cooking meals. Over the years, people have chopped down all the wood nearby. Now the ladies must travel farther to gather firewood. Often they must walk for miles before ample wood is available. Next comes the tasks of chopping the wood into pieces that can be carried. With about 30-40 pounds of firewood on their back and shoulders, they must make the trek home. As it’s mostly the women who gather the firewood (the men are working outside the homes), along the journey, they fall prey to bandits waiting to steal their firewood and vicious attackers. The inordinate dangers and toiling involved just so they can feed their family is shocking and horrific. Yet for many ladies, this is their everyday and something they must do because buying firewood is too costly.

Open-fire stove and the pile of wood needed for cooking |

We met with a lady, Marta, who has had her stove for 14 years and she recounted the story of how her stove has changed her life and her family’s lives. With the new stove, she didn’t need so much firewood any more so she could buy firewood instead of gathering it each day. Having the extra time each day and her new modern stove encouraged her to open a store-front selling tortillas. Business has been great for Marta over the years. She’s put the extra money to her children’s education and has helped her daughter to open an Internet café. When asked what her favorite thing is about having her stove, she replies, “I like that I can cook an entire meal at the same time.”

Marta’s 14 year old stove

This is a picture of Marta’s well-used and beloved stove. As one of the first recipients of the program, Marta’s stove is 14 years old and still going strong. She’s truly a testament for how a small stove can change lives for the better. Her story is truly heart-warming and speaks volumes to the positive impact of HELPS’ sustainable solutions program.

14 year old Onil Stove-still going strong |

Installing the Second Stove

Second Onil Stove Installation |

Meeting David at his house in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala |

This little gentleman, David, quickly captured my heart. His mother’s house was our second installation and he was so excited to welcome us to his house.

David showing me his baby chicken | runawayrice.comHere he is David showing me his pet chickens, so cute!
David's Mom making tortillas on the new Onil stove |

David’s Mom making tortillas using the new stove. David is awaiting his snack.

More About Helps International

To learn more about HELPS, please visit their website. They offer many different programs and are continually looking for supporters and volunteers. If you’d like to help, there are many ways. You can donate your time, like I did in their various community development programs, or provide monetary donations.

HELPS motto is “The Life You Change May Be Your Own” and how spot on it is. My trip to Guatemala was a truly enlightening and uplifting experience. It made me count my blessings, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to the extreme poverty prevalent in the world. We all have the means to give back and I encourage everyone to help out any way you can.

Adorable Guatemalan children |

I am taking pictures of the adorable kids and trying to make them smile in my broken Spanish. (I’ll need to brush up on my Spanish before my next trip.)

Adorable Guatemalan Kids |

Trang in San Andres Itzapa |

Have you participated in a similar charitable event? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Please tell me in the comments below.

If you’re a charity looking for volunteers for community development programs, let me know what you do and how I can help.

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6 Responses to Small Stove, Big Difference – Antigua, Guatemala

  1. Trang Nguyen June 21, 2017 at 10:19 am #

    So wonderful and meaningful project! A kitchen is the most important room in the house! It’s very nice and thoughtful of you to contribute to those needy!
    Hooray 😉

    • Trang July 6, 2017 at 5:37 pm #

      Hi Trang,
      Thanks for reading my post! I couldn’t agree with you more. The kitchen is the best room in the house! 🙂

  2. Amy May 26, 2017 at 9:55 am #

    Thank you for sharing this story with us. What a lifetime experience!! Sometimes we don’t really appreciate things around us. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate my kitchen and the things around me more. Keep the good work and I love hearing about your stories! XOXO

    • Trang May 29, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

      Thanks Amy! I am glad you enjoyed the post. It was a truly enlightening experience. Appreciate your support! 🙂

  3. Kiet Lam May 24, 2017 at 6:54 am #

    Thanks for your sharing. I like to know more about your trip to Guatemala particular the expenses for trip like this because our family would like to participate. My wife took two of our kids to Guatemala through Forever Changed International to help the orphans last year.

    • Trang May 29, 2017 at 5:16 pm #

      Hi Kiet,
      I am so happy to hear you and your family are interested in helping. The most expensive part of the trip was the flights. Round trip tickets are about $600 leaving San Diego. Since I am really close to Mexico, I flew out of Tijuana airport and this reduced the price to $300 round trip. (I flew from Tijuana to Mexico City and then Mexico City to Guatemala City.) Once in Guatemala City, it’s about 1 hour by car to Antigua. A taxi charges $10-15/per person. Your hotel may also have preferred car services so it’s good to ask. Upon arriving, we spent 1 night in Guatemala City, stayed at the La Inmaculada Hotel. It’s a lovely boutique hotel, less than $100 per night and includes a wonderful breakfast. In Antigua, we stayed at Casa Santo Domingo. Rooms ran about $160 per night. (There are lots of other hotel options in the area.) We stayed at this hotel because our sponsors were also there. I hope that helps. If you have any questions or need more information, please feel free to email me at I’ll check out Forever Changed International as well. 🙂

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