Below, we will share his account of one of the many volunteer projects he has been involved in with Open Windows.
On Wednesday, September 18, 2012 Teresa, the Director of Open Windows and I visited a very special family, the family of Maria Concepción Reyes and Manuel de Jesua Xulú. We had paid this visit to find out how they liked their recently installed wood-burning stove, thanks to funds donated to Open Windows.
It is traditional in this part of Guatemala to cook over an open fire. The fire is typically in an open-air kitchen with a corrugated tin roof which provides some protection from the elements. There are many reasons why this is not the best method of cooking, as Maria Concepción soon informed us. She eagerly and enthusiastically told us why the stove made such a difference in the lives of her family. Looking on were three of her children – Josselyn Marisol 17 years old, Jonathan Manuel, 13 years old, and Nathali Concepción, 5 years old.
She first mentioned the absence of smoke. This was an especially important difference for Jonathan who is severely handicapped and has respiration problems. However, all the family appreciated this feature of the stove. For example, when asked why she liked the new stove, Nathali said she liked it because there wasn’t any smoke. Maria pointed out that it was better for all of them, for their eyes as well as for their respiration.
The next important benefit that Maria pointed out to us was a financial one. When they were cooking on the open fire, the family purchased a unit of fire wood for about the equivalent of 36.00 US dollars. The wood lasted for 15 days. With the new stove, the same unit of fire wood lasts for 3 months, a huge savings! To put this in perspective, most families like Maria’s and Manuel’s live on less than the equivalent of 4.00 or 5.00 US dollars per day. It is easy to see why Maria is so grateful.
Maria also appreciated that her children were safer now. She feared potential accidents with the open fire. As it was, the children often got minor burns from getting too close to the fire.
And lastly, she told us that it is much easier to cook on this stove. She can manage her various pots better, placing them on hotter or cooler surfaces over the fire as needed. There is also a shelf on the front of the fire for food that has finished cooking or for food that is finished while other food is still cooking.
We also spoke of the children’s education. Josselyn goes to high school. It is unusual for children in this family’s life circumstances to be able to attend school. The parents are often illiterate, as is Maria, and often don’t appreciate the value of education and/or can’t afford to send their children to school. They also want their children to be home working, helping the family to survive. Indeed Josselyn was actively assisting her mother doing the everyday chores necessary to run a household. However, she attends school in the afternoon thanks to parents who do support her, and to a scholarship provided by Open Window’s donors. It was she, who wrote down the names and ages of the family members for me.
Evelyn and Jorge were not present, both at school in the morning. Evelyn is also going to school on a scholarship. Jonathan had never been to school. There are no resources in this part of Guatemala for Jonathan to attend school. He doesn’t have control of his arms and legs, is confined to a wheelchair, and doesn’t speak, or so I thought.
After our interview, Teresa spent time with Maria, admiring the many flowers that Maria had planted around the house. As they were engaged in this, Nathali was vying for my attention. Jonathan was nearby and happily participating in our play. He is a very cheerful boy, with a big wide smile. His birthday would be in two days, and he was very excited about his upcoming party.
As part of our play, I was trying to get Nathali to speak a few simple phrases in English. She was not drawn in, simply breaking into giggles and wanting me to continue “threatening” her with tickling. So I gave off the English lesson and some few minutes later, I heard a male voice say, “Thank you”. I was taken aback because I was the only male there, other than Jonathan, who I thought didn’t speak. When I finally put this all together, he then said, “How are you?” He spoke the words perfectly, with no trace of a Spanish accent. There is an intelligent mind in this broken body. It is impossible not to think how different his life would be, if he had been born in the U.S.
When Teresa and I were finally ready to leave, I felt like I had participated in something very special. There was such obvious love and joy in this family. Everyone was quick to smile and to laugh and to participate in this intrusion into their daily routines. They cheerfully waved us off and I left this family, knowing that the money spent on their stove, and for the education of these children, was money well-spent. It takes so little by U.S. standards to make a huge difference in the lives of this family.