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Special diary from Guatemala trip (Weston Town Crier)

Weston Town Crier

By Meredith Rahman

 Weston - Every morning Carolina wakes up in a sleepy daze and walks on the soft dirt of her kitchen floor, compacted by generations of use. Thick smoke fills the room as kindling begins to burn on the stove. From dawn until dusk, 365 days a year, this smoke infests the room.

Carolina is 7 years old. With every breath she takes, more and more soot fills her developing lungs. Without some help,  she will most likely develop the respiratory problems her family and friends have. Fortunately, thanks to an AIDG-designed stove installed by a group of 10 high school students from Weston, Carolina might breathe a bit easier for the rest of her life.

AIDG, a Weston-based nonprofit, has an ambitious agenda. Its goal is to provide basic services such as electricity, sanitation and clean drinking water to as much as a third of the world's population. Access to these services is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty in developing countries.

Through a combination of business incubation, education and outreach, AIDG helps people get technology that will better their health and improve their lives. AIDG has been working for the past few years creating appropriate technology for poor people. They develop machines that use local resources and are inexpensive to produce.

This year AIDG invited 10 students from Weston to accompany them to Guatemala for both a cultural experience and to provide some additional manpower. We were that group of 10 high school students, nine from Weston High and myself from Phillips Academy, who signed up for 10 days of a "Teco-Tour," as AIDG billed it. We had a full itinerary of outdoor activities. One day we built a biodigester, another day we toured a geothermal electric plant, but most of our time was spent building the cooking stove that Carolina and her family would use for years to come. It is a properly ventilated stove that burns fuel efficiently, producing a lot less smoke which is routed outside by means of a vent.

Our first few days in Guatemala were spent as any "Weston trip" would - touring, eating and taking too many pictures. Our only worry was showering. We were told that the water was electrically heated and so if we touched the shower nozzle a 40-watt jolt could possibly rocket through our body. The following day our group traveled by private bus that sped down rolling hills. The roads were steep, narrow and without guardrails. We gazed down at deep gorges only a few feet from our windows. Our conversations about the safety of our bus rides typically ended with nervous laughter and an eerie silence. Nonetheless, we arrived in Xela (pronounced "shay-lah") in one piece. There we got right to work.

Our first task was to build a biodigester, my personal favorite. Its function is to take in human and animal waste to produce fertilizer, to be used on the fields, and methane gas, to be used in stoves. I'm not an engineer, so please excuse me for this crude description. The biodigester is basically a big plastic bag with three holes for waste, fertilizer and methane.

Soon after building the biodigester we moved to Nueva Allianza, the "rural village." It had a bio diesel factory, coffee and macadamia factories, and its own hotel. However, poverty was everywhere. Few villagers had access to clean drinking water. The schools were dilapidated. We went straight to work.

Our mission was to build two stoves for two families and our group broke into two teams to accomplish this task. Each team was assigned a house in which they were to build a stove. Each morning we hiked up our mini-Everest to the houses we worked at. We stared wide eyed at the machetes used to cut the cement and brick blocks. For three days we measured, cut, leveled, and measured again. Finally we neared the final stages of our masterpiece we had created. Not only could it cook food like other stoves, it used less wood, and most importantly, prevented smoke from entering the living room and into the lungs of adults and children.
We met the family we built the stove for. Dimitri, the father, would smile sweetly as I stammered in broken Spanish to him. Manuela, the mother, was the true head of the household and nothing seemed to get by her. The children and grandchildren ran over to us when we worked and helped us in various tasks, be it mixing the mortar or nailing some wood.

Some in our group remarked how the trip broke their "Weston bubble." I'll admit that happened to me too. We often forget how different most of the world is from Weston. We are indeed fortunate to be living in this town and grateful for what we have.

It seems odd now when people honk in anger at me in their cars. We realized what a luxury a flush toilet is and it is a blessing to be able to take a shower without fear of being electrocuted. Our trip to Guatemala seemed like a dream. I met the friendliest and the most hospitable people on earth. They had very little, yet they shared whatever they had with us.

Meredith Rahman is a Weston resident and a sophomore at Phillips Academy.


 

Original article can be found clicking here.

 
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