This morning, I'm sitting out on the patio of Casa de Cafe looking out over the palms and flowering bird of paradise. Part of our group has gone off with a guide to visit the ruins, and another group has gone to Macaw Mountain to visit the birds. One dedicated volunteer has gone back to the factory site to help finish the cement floor, and one guy is hanging out in his room recovering from a bout of “tourista”. Yes, it does happen, but it was a quick recovery. He is well, but just suffering from lack of sleep and caffeine.
This adventure started, as you well know, with a big spew of ash from Fuego, a volcano near Antigua, Guatemala. As the ash made it difficult for planes to land, and the Honduras team was flying into Guatemala City, we had volunteers stuck all around the U.S. This meant coordinating flights to get everyone to Honduras by some other method. Many of our team members had come to Guatemala earlier in the week for a little touring, so we only had half the team when we were ready to board the bus to Honduras. My problem was what to do with the remaining folks who were stuck in Dallas or Miami. We ended up flying them into San Salvador and arranging a bus to take them from there to Copan Ruinas.
Those of us in Guatemala City delayed at the Hotel Barcelo until we figured out a plan, and then we took the original shuttle to Copan Ruinas, arriving late but without incident. Those in Dallas flew to Miami and overnighted there awaiting a flight the following morning to San Salvador. Leann, the sole traveler who had flown from Orange County via Miami, and who spoke no Spanish, flew to San Salvador and we arranged for her to take a shuttle and spend the night in the San Salvador Comfort Inn. The other group coming from Dallas arrived in San Salvador the next morning. I arranged with the help of Don Udo from Copan Ruinas to send a van to San Salvador to pick up everyone at the Comfort Inn, and the entire group arrived the following day, just in time for supper.
The first group, most veteran “stovers”, was impressed at what Anibal had done with the bare piece of land he purchased in June to build the new stove factory. Parts of the previous factory had been used to build a chicken house where he was raising 500 chickens. He sells the chickens or eggs for a profit and this has supplemented his income during the building phase of the stove factory. He had also built a small bodega or warehouse to house all of the tools and keep the property safe.
Our small group spent that first day moving rocks and sifting sand for the base of a cement floor in the existing bodega or warehouse. By the end of the week, we had not only built the cement floor inside the bodega, but also inside the entire covered area of the factory site. Our team moved at least six cubic yards of dirt and sand every day!
On the second day, when the entire group was working at the site, Bob Way, Richard Amos and Mason Davis analyzed the workspace area and started on the major program to provide a structure for the new factory. There were three E’Copan employees, two of whom were veterans and a new guy, all ranging in age from 17 to 26. One was in charge of the cement floor project, another the manufacturing and painting of stoves, another in charge of the big structure. By the end of the week a huge structure was in place, and today, with the help of two more temporary employees, the roof will be put on so that more stove work can start at 7am on Monday.
As you can see, the team worked extremely hard - those with strong backs shoveled and screened sand, those with less physical strength painted creosote on beams, made the interior canastas (screen baskets) for stove interiors and painted the stoves. Those with more technical expertise planned the larger structure and organized the employees who climbed on the tall beams to weld and hammer. Our volunteers don’t go on ladders or roofs, however Anibal assured us that his employees were used to the work.
In the midst of all of this, we took a day to visit Sompompero a village high in the mountains where we delivered 50 subsidized Ecocina stoves. We only drove 6 kilometers, but the roads were so rutted it took more than an hour before we arrived. At one point the stove truck was stuck, and a cadre of ten to twenty village men came to push the huge truck up the road, throwing large rocks behind the wheels as the truck pushed along. All of the volunteers were in four-wheel-drive pickups watching and awaiting the experience in the village.
make sure we were coming. Along the road we passed the three teachers who walk from Copan Ruinas every day to teach in the one-room school, and on the return we encountered three people commissioned by a Yale study to investigate the health of people in the Copan Ruinas area.
The school is a building cobbled together with a few planks, and there are about 80 children with three teachers who teach all grades from 5 year-olds to sixth graders. We saw about 20 books on a single shelf, but the kids were all engaged and delighted with our visit. As they rarely have visitors, we were an amazing sight.
Anibal again demonstrated the stove for them, and a local woman made tortillas so everyone could see that it needed only a few branches to cook. He talked about how it would improve their health to be out of the smoke and how the trees protect the water supply, so now it is possible to leave the trees standing and only use branches.
The mayor said a prayer thanking God for our work, Katie thanked the village for welcoming us, and then a village official said they wanted to thank us for coming, but as they didn’t have much money, they wanted to present each member of the team with a necklace made from local gourds, dried corn and flower husks.
It was at this point that our volunteers really understood the impact of their work!
Now we are all off to Guatemala where some will fly home, others will continue on, and new volunteers will arrive to be part of the next team.
All in all, it was a wonderful week of hard work and great rewards.