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Rotarian starts plan for Latin families

Local committee to begin stove program to help local Latin American residents

LEWISTOWN – In 2001 Nancy Hughes lost her husband to cancer. Her children were all grown with families of their own and she was wondering what to do with her life. So, she joined her local Rotary Club. Hughes didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would go one to improve the lives of thousands.

Tuesday members of the Rotary Club of Lewistown watched a presentation by Forest Resener on Hughes and the formation of the StoveTeam International program which helps facilitate the placement of the low-smoke, fuel-efficient and safe Justa cookstoves for Latin American families.

During the presentation Hughes spoke of how, through Rotary, she volunteered to join a medical team in Guatemala. Having no medical training Hughes was assigned to work in the kitchen of a military base at the northern border of the country. As one of the support staff of the clinic Hughes saw first hand the living conditions of many in the country. Hughes recalled the times when babies at the hospital could not be intubated because their airways were clogged with creosote, a byproduct of burning wood.

After realizing the importance of the team’s work Hughes continued to volunteer. During her third year she spoke to a woman who fell into her family’s cooking fire at the age of two. The woman’s hands were burned closed for 16 years until the team was able to open them up with surgery.

Hughes couldn’t believe open fires were being used inside the homes to cook the family meals. Upon returning to the states Huhges asked her Rotary club for help to rectify this problem. With assistance from a fellow Rotarian Hughes wrote a grant to raise money for stoves for families in Guatemala where she had volunteered. After her and her team installed around 120 stoves which at the time Hughes thought was a huge accomplishment. Until that is when she discovered the need for stoves was much greater. In Guatemala alone the number of homes needing a stove was 6 million.

Hughes was considering giving up on the project until she was approached by the leading designer of the rocket cook stove Dr. Larry Winiarski, who as fate would have it, lived only 20 minutes away. After discussing the problems with Dr. Winiarski, Hughes was convinced to continue. After a month had passed Hughes got a call from Dr. Winiarski about a manufacturer in El Salvador who can produce the stoves he designed. Again, with help from the Rotary Club Hughes and other members were able to set up the funds to build 1,400 stoves. Realizing the potential the StoveTeam International was formed. Now similar projects have been started in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico to produce different stoves for the needs of the different regions. To date the projects combined to manufacture 78,000 cook stoves.

What makes the cookstoves so important? The fuel efficient stoves use less wood than cooking over an open fire. Also, the fire burns hotter which produces less smoke. The smoke that is produced leaves the home through an attached chimney. The Justa stoves are much safer too. The stoves are made of brick and mortar which is lined with pumice stone leaving the outside of the stove cool to the touch. The risk of falling into the flames is significantly reduced since the fire is contained inside the stove. Since the stoves are more efficient and use less wood to operate the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is greatly reduced.

The team continues to support the projects in making the cook stoves and looks to grow in the coming years. In the presentation Resener stated that almost all projects StoveTeam has started was made possible by the grants from a Rotary International Club or a Rotary District.

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