Tz'utujil woman using an ONIL stove
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, we were determined not to lose sight of our goals. The social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic could not be an excuse to postpone the transition to a cleaner and healthier future. On the contrary, we at Tui'k Ruch'Lew are convinced that we must see the global health crisis as an opportunity to mobilise for sustainable change and build resilience in communities particularly affected by environmental and health crises.
COVID-19, Air Pollution and Open Fire Cooking is a Deadly Combination
The vast majority of our community in Santiago Atitlan cooks meals on open fires or inefficient stoves, filling their homes with eye-watering smoke. Exposure to these pollutants increases the vulnerability to the respiratory infection to the already socio-economically disadvantaged. Research showed that household air pollution from cooking increases the susceptibility to respiratory infections such as pneumonia and aggravates respiratory illnesses like asthma. Given the preconditions, people with or recovering from COVID-19 have diminished lung functions and are therefore at higher risk of long-term respiratory health effects.
Our indigenous female clients spend 6-8 hours every day cooking on indoor open fires and are at high risk to suffer from severe consequences if they contract the virus. Governmental COVID-19 restrictions forbid home visits since March 2020, so our aim during this health crisis is to maintain the existing stoves so that our clients are not harmed by additional household air pollution. The heart of our project - the ONIL stove - is highly efficient and vents about 99.9% of toxic smoke outside, while saving about 70% of wood.
Utilizing New Technologies
Our clients have successfully integrated the innovative stove technology into their lives, but some still need help with repair and maintenance. We created self-help, instructional videos, which can be sent to clients via a smartphone. We have found that someone within our clients’ extended family or a nearby neighbour will have such a phone available or has access to social media - one of our channels of information dissemination.
Perhaps the up-side of COVID-19 is that it has brought even remote communities of Tz’utujil Maya into handling multi-media communication tools with ease -- a step forward into social inclusion for disadvantaged, marginalized people.
The Tui’k Ruch’ Lew Team
Stay tuned - we’ve got amazing news in the pipeline :-)