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LDS Church helps Guatemalans buy stoves, reduce wood use


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On the hills outside Senahu in Northern Guatemala trees are vanishing fast.

In fact, between 1990 and 2005, 17 percent of Guatemala's rainforest disappeared -the fourth worst rate in the world.

Blas Cuz and his wife Magdalena live nearby in the village of Seamay in a small hut that overlooks the valley. For most of their lives Blas and Magdalena have spent hours every week gathering wood for cooking.

"We go a long ways to get firewood and we realized in the process of getting wood that we are damaging nature," Magdalena said.

In the villages most Guatemalans cook over open pit fires which consume wood at an alarming rate. One solution may be a new stove Cuz recently installed in his kitchen. He bought it with assistance from the LDS Church and the Maya Relief Foundation, a California based charity.

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"These stoves have multiple purposes," said Carlos Barrios, director of Socorro Maya. "One, is to reduce the consumption of firewood. Two, to eliminate the smoke so that the women that cook and the children in the kitchen do not get pulmonary infections and irritation. The other additional benefit is that these stoves save 12 trees per year, per family."

Over the last year the Maya Relief Foundation and the LDS Church have brought stoves into the homes of 100 people in Seamay, who pay one third the cost.

"The stove has been good," said Blas Cuz Coc of the Seamay Water Committee. "We used to use two loads of firewood a week. Now we only use one. So it has been really good in that sense. It has had a good impact."

The stoves also make homes safer for children. Exposure to smoke results in about 22 percent of the deaths of children under five in Guatemala, and hospitals often see injuries caused by open-pit fires.


"Since we have a new stove, I don't have headaches and my eyes don't burn anymore." Magdelena Cuz

"Since we have a new stove, I don't have headaches and my eyes don't burn anymore," Magdalena said.

The push to bring stoves to Seamay is part of a broader effort by the LDS Church to improve life in the village.

"So the other aspect of the work that we've done up here is focusing on economic growth," said Elder John F. Curtiss, volunteer humanitarian missionary of the LDS Church.

Traditionally, a finca -or coffee plantation - was one of the only ways for people in the mountain valley to feed their families. But now many are finding new ways to support themselves with the help of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Federico Call's new business is just one example of different ways to support themselves. His chicken farm yields 70 to 90 eggs a day that he sells in the market.


The greatest thing that happened in this project, was that they did the work.

–- Elder Don R. Clark


"Thanks to the humanitarian services, they are the ones that got us started in the business," Call said. "The training was really important. We needed to understand how to take care of the birds. It was valuable information."

Seamay, Guatemala is just one tiny village in a largely forgotten corner of the world. But it represents the humanitarian work the LDS Church does every day from Africa to India.

"The greatest thing that happened in this project, was that they did the work. And now they know they can have a school," said Elder Don R. Clarke of the First Quorum of the Seventy in the LDS Church.

The Church has helped the village of Seamay change forever, but they've only helped. The real work has been done by the villagers themselves. They brought clean water into their homes, they are building a new school, and saving the forest around them. It's a lesson in self- reliance, and a reminder that with a little bit of advocacy, change is possible everywhere.

"I think the way the projects are carried out now, they're really structured to changing people's lives," Curtiss said. "Because we free them up to have a much more productive life."

Email:jhyde@desnews.com.

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Jesse Hyde

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