Jun 15, 2021

Improved Cookstoves for Santiago Atitlan

A. Open fire cooking
A. Open fire cooking

Did you know that three billion people cook their food on an open fire? 

When entering a typical kitchen in Santiago Atitlan, you are welcomed by talk, laughter, and smoke -- gritty, eye-watering smoke that sticks in the throat and provokes deep, scratchy coughs. This smoke kills more than four million people annually and sickens millions more. To fuel these smoky fires, families spend 4 days a week or more gathering wood, time that might otherwise be spent at school, at work, or simply at rest. Cooking a simple meal becomes a major health issue, consumes excessive amounts of natural resources, and is at the same time a significant barrier to sustainable economic development. Since 2016, we at Tui’k Ruch’Lew address these environmental, social, and economic obstacles with our improved cookstove program. As an innovative and forward-thinking organization, we wanted to know quantitatively how much we are actually helping the Earth. 

ONIL cookstoves offset 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year!!

Our improved cookstove (ICS) program constantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions because the ONIL cookstove uses 70% less fuel than the open fires commonly used in the Lake Atitlan region. In addition, regular maintenance increases their energy efficiency, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Thus, a single ONIL cookstove offsets three tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in its first year of use. This equals about one-fifth of the average per capita emissions in the US.

We all know by now: climate change is a very serious problem and one of the biggest responsibilities of our time. The objective is clear: to become carbon neutral by 2030. Our improved cookstove project contributes to GHG emission reductions (burning less firewood) and increasing carbon sinks (protecting the native forests from deforestation). YOU are helping us work toward these key strategies.  

Thank you for your support

Since the beginning of 2021, we have installed 65 ONIL stoves thanks to your financial support. Let me share our comprehensive digital monitoring system prior to introducing you to one of the new stove owners. 

As TRL is currently monitoring over 2,000 improved cookstoves in the area of Santiago Atitlan, we have developed a digital system to register our beneficiaries and to monitor the use of the stove and to conduct household surveys in order to receive the verified carbon standard with the labels of the sustainable development goals. 

Thus, the installation of the ONIL stoves follow a strict (now also COVID-safe) protocol:

  1. First household visit: Survey about general information about the beneficiaries and site visit so that TRL’s outreach team knows the condition of the kitchen and the current cooking situation.  
  2. Second household visit: This is the actual installation of the ONIL stove within a week after the site visit.
  3. Third household visit: A week after the stove installation, the outreach team is checking on the stove and assisting the beneficiaries in adapting to the new stove. This visit is accompanied by a more in-depth survey about the firewood use, firewood collection, health conditions, and the poverty assessment. 
  4. Fourth household visit: Three month after the installation, TRL’s outreach team is checking again on the stove to ensure proper use and long-term usage of the improved cookstove. This survey is accompanied by an in-depth survey of the satisfaction of the stove users. Here TRL is assessing the firewood savings, and the improvements of the health situation of the families, women and children in particular. 
  5. Fifth household visit: A year after the ONIL stove installation, TRL is checking again on the stove. Simple maintenance of the ONIL stove is being made by the team to ensure the optimal functioning and heat flow of the stove. 
  6. Yearly follow-ups or on demand. Over the lifetime of the ONIL stove - about 10 years - TRL’s outreach team checks on the stove every year or on demand. Simple maintenance, like cleaning the bottom of the metal plate and its removable rings to increase the heat transfer. If the combustion chamber needs to be replaced, the team will return usually within a week to change the combustion chamber. 

Before: Open fire cooking situations

To get you some ideas of how Maya Tz’utujil communities are cooking, we would like to share some typical kitchens.

See pictures A. Open fire cooking and B. Preparing food on an open fire is challenging.

After: Meet some new ONIL stove owners

Thanks to your donation, TRL was able to install 65 stoves in the Maya Tz'utujil community this year. Our target for 2021 is 200 ONIL cookstove installations. We are very optimistic to reach our target as installations and demand have increased in the second quarter of 2021. 

All beneficiaries are very happy to have received an improved cookstove and are grateful for the financial help from you. 

See pictures C. Maria is happy with her new ONIL stove and D. Making tortillas on the ONIL stove works well.

Donations of any type are welcome. Donate today through our fundraising partner GlobalGiving or get in touch with Dr. Jessica Kind at director@trlearth.org. For more information about our programs, please visit www.trlearth.org

We are wishing you good health. 

Jessica and the Tui'k Ruch'Lew team

B. Preparing food on an open fire is challenging
B. Preparing food on an open fire is challenging
D. Making tortillas on the ONIL stove works well
D. Making tortillas on the ONIL stove works well
C. Maria is happy with her new ONIL stove
C. Maria is happy with her new ONIL stove
Mar 23, 2021


Circularity of the biodigester system
Circularity of the biodigester system

Dear Friends of Tui’k Ruch’Lew,

First and foremost, thank you for supporting our “From Poop to Fuel” program! Your contribution helps make it possible for TRL to introduce this new technology to the indigenous community of Maya Tzu’tujil.

Secondly, we would like to share our progress on this project with you. In the last months, we have intensified our efforts developing the concept for the demonstration project for the biodigester . 

Together with our partners in Honduras (Edy Omar at CASM Act Alliance) and Cuba (Cesar Parras at Centro Cristiano Lavastida) we finalized the customized design of our fixed dome biodigester for the school. Did you know that Cuba legalised private WiFi networks less than 2 years ago? And only with a permit! Overall, access to technical infrastructure is extremely limited. Thus, our final biodigester design was not made with software -- it was made by hand! This was very special to receive, knowing how much work lies in this drawing. And we will share this drawing by Cesar with you.

Together with an online, international team of volunteers from various fields, from natural science to anthropology, we have carried out a comprehensive stakeholder analysis and identified the strength, weakness, opportunities and threats (SWOT) for the biodigester project. 

Our aim for this demonstration project is to present an ecological solution for the wastewater problem to the Tzu’tujil Maya community. We at Tui’k Ruch’Lew truly believe that sustainable community development is always linked with people’s empowerment. Therefore, we designed a series of three workshops for the parents at the school, with whom we will (COVID-safe of course):

  • evaluate the sanitation situation in Tzanchaj, Santiago Atitlan in a co-creative process prior to the construction of the biodigester
  • demonstrate the simple design and construction of the biogas plant during the construction phase, and
  • present the circularity of the system (eat, poop, cook) at the school after completion of the construction at the school.

We are excited to get to know the parents of the girls and boys from the primary school. And as we learned this week from Melchora, the director of the school, they are also excited about the biodigester. The vision of the staff and the parents of the school is to become an example of sustainability. The idea to produce gas for cooking from poop was being adapted in the blink of an eye - because the benefits are so obvious: free gas for cooking the meals for the kids at the school, and free fertilizer for the permaculture garden. 

Thank you again for your support. In order to realize this project, we still need financial contributions. So please feel free to share our GlobalGiving campaign “From Poop to Fuel” with your friends and family. 

Best wishes,

Jessica and the Tui’k Ruch’Lew team

Hand made technical drawing for the biodigester
Hand made technical drawing for the biodigester
Biodigester as a wastewater treatment
Biodigester as a wastewater treatment
Feb 14, 2021

We are back to a new normal

Every day women and men are carrying firewood
Every day women and men are carrying firewood

2020 was a remarkably difficult year for the people and the planet: The novel coronavirus pandemic forced people to contend with a new normal: lockdowns, mask rules, economic crises and travel bans. Families were separated. Many people fell ill or lost a loved one. And on top of that millions of people lost their jobs and thus their livelihood. And if that was not enough, countries held elections, protesters took to the streets, and wars broke out. 

The aftermath of 2020 is still unknown and the future uncertain. For us, 2020 was a challenge as most of our work is community work. From the ONIL stove installation, the monitoring of the stoves, to our environmental education, everything is linked to human contact. 

The human connection is hard to replace. 

The small interpersonal gestures, like a simple handshake or a hug to greet someone, the fleeting and comforting touch during the conversation were all of a sudden a threat to our health. At the beginning of all this, we felt anxious about what the future would bring for us and our organisation. Last year we had to put down the core activities: installing and maintaining the stoves and bringing people happiness and joy. I remember the long discussion with the team on ZOOM, where we expressed our worries about the conditions of the stoves as we were not able to do the usual follow-ups. 

At the same time, we received many requests for Onil stove installations as people noticed the advantage of having an energy-efficient stove that saves about 70% of the wood. This is a huge saving in money if people purchase the firewood or in time savings if they are collecting the firewood in the nearby forests.

As a team, we brainstormed ideas on how to help the Tz’utujil people keep up with their maintenance of the stoves to ensure the hassle-free and energy-efficient functionality of the stoves. Thus we started making maintenance videos for our clients, we tried to remotely check on the stoves by individual phone calls and much more. 

2021 is a new beginning

At the beginning of the year, we decided to leave the baggage of 2020 in the past and look forward again. “With a new spirit into the new year,” was our motto. We developed safety protocols in consultation with medical professionals for different project activities. And we slowly started operation, while evaluating our precautionary measures again and again until everyone felt safe and secure in their job.

Since January 2021 TRL’s outreach team has installed 27 ONIL stoves and has checked on 62 ONIL stoves. How the faces of the team lit up after the first ONIL stove installation!

With new motivation and positive spirit, we are confident that we can install about 240 ONIL stoves this year in the Tzu’tujil communities. 

Stay safe,

Jessica and the Tui’k Ruch’ Lew team

Happy ONIL stove owner
Happy ONIL stove owner
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