A team of 11 people, many from Federal Way and northeast Tacoma, will head to Guatemala in April to install stoves in two impoverished villages in the Barillas District.
Marine View Presbyterian Church near Federal Way has been sending teams to the Central American country since 1989 through an Everett-based organization called Hands for Peacemaking.
For Brian Dirks, the team’s leader, the trip – from April 12 to 22 – will be his fifth since 2012. The rest of the team is a mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, some who have gone on the mission before and others who are making their first trip. About half the team members attend Marine View.
“The church has sent people to build school in the past,” Dirks said. “The last 15 years or so have focused primarily on stoves.”
Installing the stoves is a big blessing to the villagers in Guatemala, Dirks said.
“As it turns out stoves are a big deal in a lot of third-world countries because the traditional cooking method is open-pit fires in the homes,” he said.
Many of the homes are built of planks with tin roofs and mud floors.
“They will put the cooking fire in the middle of the home,” Dirks said. “That creates all kinds of problems. It creates a lot of smoke inside the home and a lot of soot that goes up in the rafters. With the smoke the kids and adults will suck it all in and it leads to all kinds of respiratory issues.”
Installing the wood stoves not only helps improve health, but also protects the environment.
“It is also a solution to wood usage,” Dirks said. “Villages will go out and haul heavy wood on their backs by burning less wood with those.”
For the villagers who earn an average income of $5 a day, purchasing a stove is an expense they can’t afford.
The stoves, which are built locally in Guatemala, cost $200 a piece. Families in the village pay a small portion of the cost and the rest is covered through donations.
The trip costs approximately $50,000, half of which will purchase 125 stoves.
“We could send money down to the village and they would install their own stoves, but the real key is the interaction we have,” Dirks said. “Those who have participated get as much, if not more, out of it as they put into it.”
In addition to the stove installation, the group also takes bags of school supplies and toys, including notepads, coloring books, tennis balls, jump ropes and dental supplies, as well as Bibles and eyeglasses.
“We set up tables with different strengths and they can tell what they need either by reading, or if they can’t read, threading a needle,” Dirks said of the glasses. “It’s great to help people see again.”
In addition to Dirks, those making the trip include Dirks’ brother, Tom Dirks of Seattle, Bilhan Gonzalez of Auburn, Odilia Gonzalez of Milton, Ed Hong of northeast Tacoma, Winnie Lee of Bellevue, Diane Malone of northeast Tacoma, Erik Melton of Jackson, Mississippi, Loren Melton of Packwood, Kay Miller of Federal Way and Richard Shenk of Federal Way.
For more information or to make a donation, visit facebook.com/Guatamala2018/.