The fact that Open Windows is a learning center makes its focus on education obvious. Sometimes, though, simply teaching is not enough. If a child is frequently sick because his or her house is filled with smoke from open fires used for cooking, more tutoring will not be enough. If the house in which the child lives is not safe from the elements, homework is less likely to get done, not to mention any additional learning.
That is why, with help from our volunteers, we get outside the classroom and into people’s homes. Most often that involves installing eco-stoves to replace the open fires on which many Guatemalans cook. That cuts down not only on the smoke the children breath in but also on the time and money needed for firewood collection. Think about it. Up to 20 percent of a typical family’s income may go for firewood (or, for those with no cash, an equivalent amount of time searching for wood). That money is in direct competition with the costs of an education. Once the youngster is past primary school the costs rise dramatically and the chances that a family can meet those costs improve with the savings they can make from an eco-stove.
Somewhat less frequently we build houses. This past April our volunteers built a house consisting of one room and a bathroom for a family of four. That does not sound like much, but the dirt floor was replaced with one made of concrete and the walls of corrugated metal and cornstalks yielded to cinder blocks. That does not even count the advantages of a metal door, the metal frame window and a shower. All of those things make the house not only safer but also healthier. Perhaps even more important than the practical advantages of a substantial house is that it gives both the adults and the children a vision of a life better than the one they have known. That is exactly the kind of vision we want the children we teach to have.
If you want to help make that vision come true, there are at least two ways to do so. One is simply to donate money specifically for eco-stoves or for a house. The other is to become one of the volunteers who get their hands dirty and install the stoves or build the houses. We just happen to be looking for volunteers to build another house this October or November, so here’s your chance. You’ll never forget it.