Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Getting to Work: Fogones Mejorados (Improved Stoves)

I am finally ready to start my first project! Based on the needs assessment I did at the community meeting and what I have noticed from visiting families at their homes, I decided to form a women’s group to make improved stoves. Most families here cook on a metal plate that is held up by mud sides with a pile of wood directly underneath the plate. The smoke fills the whole house because they basically just have a campfire going in the middle of the kitchen. Emphesima is one of the main causes of death here in Nueva Esperanza and respiratory infections are the most prominent health problem. It’s such a serious problem that is so easy to fix! Also, these stoves are more efficient in that they use less firewood which reduces deforestation. Once this project is underway, I am hoping to start some cooking classes on how to cook different meals and more healthily. The design of these stoves includes an oven so I can teach them how to bake or how to make meals without so much frying. (Hondurans love fried food and cook everything with lots of lard, which is cheaper than oil, every day).

So, last week I held an interest meeting for women who wanted to form a group to start this project. I went to get the key to the school a few days before the meeting but Don Anastacio, who had the key, told me he was going to be in the school in another meeting when mine began so he would open a room for me when I arrived. However, 40 minutes before my meeting was going to start, my host mom told me that he had cancelled his meeting earlier that day. So here I was again without a key to the school with a meeting about to start. Anastacio lives about 20 minutes away and doesn’t have a phone, so I called his neighbor to see if he could go over to his house and tell Anastacio to bring me the key. The neighbor explained, “I am not at my house now but I am headed there now and so I will ask him.” (Oh that infamous word “now”). Just in case, I decided to start walking there anyway. When I passed the school, it was open because another meeting was going on. Doña Ursula, who usually has a key to the school, was there and I asked if she could open another room for my meeting.
“Yes,” she responded (to my relief), “I have the key to a Professor’s room”. But then after trying all the keys in the door, she replied, “No, I don’t have the key”. (It is rare to hear someone say “I don´t know”. Most people usually respond with “yes” and then correct themselves if that´s not true.)
“Well, I am going to call Anastacio’s neighbor then and see if he has talked with him yet”, I explained.
“Oh, well if you want to talk to his neighbor, he’s right over there,” Ursula pointed to about 100 meters away where he was busy digging a ditch and where he had been all day and was going to be for a few more hours by the looks of it.

Luckily, there were some men working in the kindergarten and they had a key to the rooms there. So, this meeting was in the exact same room as my community meeting. However, everything went smoothly. I made a list of 17 women who are interested in forming a women’s group to implement this project.

Truthfully, I feel a little worried about if this project will succeed. The women are very shy and most of them are not used to being part of an organized group or put in a situation where they can actually have a say in something. Also, I have to remember that their education level is much different than mine. This was definitely apparent when I showed them a picture of the stove. I had drawn a large color-coordinated picture of the stove and I slowly explained every part of it even though most of it was clearly labeled. I asked if there were any questions and after a long pause, one woman explained to me, “It’s just that right now, we’re taking this all in.” After waiting for a few more minutes to allow the women to talk amongst themselves and orient themselves, a few women had questions and I ended up repeating the description two more times a little bit slower than before.

I feel that there is a very fine line between what I should help with and what I should leave to the women to learn to do on their own. As I want this project to be sustainable and I want to give the women a chance to gain more self-esteem, leadership experience, and motivation to take a stand on making their own lives better, I don’t want to do all the work. But, I feel that if I leave everything for them to do, they will become overwhelmed, disheartened, and leave the group. I had made a list of all the materials that the stoves use and explained to the women that before we apply for a grant to do this project, we need to come up with the cost of everything and that I needed their help with investigating the prices. I knew it would be hard to get the women to volunteer to research the prices of some things, but they were hesitant to search for the prices of anything, even things they use in their everyday life! It was like they didn’t want to be labeled with a responsibility and didn’t want to stand out in any way. Already, I feel the women are very delicate and it was impossible for me to tell how these women felt about this project. Did they just come to the meeting out of respect because I invited them or are they excited to start this project? Were they motivated by my talk about the importance of this project or did they leave disappointed that I told them I would not be doing all the work? Are they going to come to next week’s meeting? I have no idea.

Women working on parts of the grant proposal

I’m hoping that once things get going and when the women gain more confidence in me and in themselves, they will be more willing to take charge. I also have to realize that there are differences in culture, lifestyles, education, and habits which play a significant role in starting any projects here. This was definitely clear when I showed the women the picture of the stove and it took them time just to comprehend it. Also, some of these women never leave the house or have had responsibility outside of cooking for their family and keeping the house clean. For some of them, their husbands, brothers, sons, or cousins go into town whenever they need something. So, to ask a woman who never leaves her house to go into town she may not have visited for months or years, ask strangers where to purchase an item they may have never seen before, enter a shop where it is bizarre to see women (any hardware store) and investigate the price of an item although they may not know how to write the info down, this does seem like an impossible task.

No comments: