Thursday, December 03, 2009

2009 Review/ Update

las Vidas Mejoradas

I want to take this opportunity to write and update all who have followed our efforts in Peru.

Our first few months of 2009 were spent again in the region of Cusco, Peru. As you may recall, we first returned to Sipascancha to see how our previous project had done in our absence and to see how the stoves were working for the villagers. We were very disappointed to discover they had "de-constructed" the stoves, making a larger burn chamber for both heat as well as to improve heat received to the second pot that is customary for this culture to use. Thankfully the chimney was recognized to be very important and they remained! We were knocked off our pedestals, so to speak, seeing the work we had done the previous year needed to be reevaluated. We realized that it took more to improve the lives of these folks than to just provide a stove. (A cocina mejorada does not make a vida mejorada.) We needed to remember they also needed the stove for warmth and to listen to the people who would be using the stoves rather than assume we knew more about what they needed than they did.

Our project was in a community called Mandorani, a short distance out of Cusco. We and the wonderful families of this community successfully constructed 20 stoves. Tomas, a friend and former participant helped us to design a stove folks would actually use. The burn chamber was a bit longer allowing a flame beneath each pot. He designed a way to collect the ash so it could be recycled for the garden or pit toilet. Again we used local materials and workers. And he assisted us with each stove, building each model the same, and he is there now to help care for them.

Each participant opened their homes to us and we were able to use the stove together demonstrating how a lesser amount of wood produced a clean effective fire beneath each pot. We taught families how to use a retention cooker in combination with their stoves in order to save even more wood. Our time spent with each family included a conversation on how to avoid common illnesses. Discussions ranged from how diarrhea can be spread through a family, to ways to use a simple bleach solution to clean plates and vegies, and what was possible to better manage their waste. Our success here was totally due to the lessons we learned in Sipascancha and Soncco, not to mention an incredible group of families to work with. And future successes will hinge on our willingness to learn from the people we help.

Since returning in March of this year we have set our sights on forming a 501c-3 non-profit so to better continue our work. We have hired David Atkin, a lawyer in Eugene who specializes in helping non profits to get set up. Much of the progress in this is both due to my son, who made a donation to this cause, as well as David, for charging us a bit less. We have formed our group and named it Las Vidas Mejoradas (The Better Lives). We have our board which includes Elayne Quirin, myself, Steve Bouton, and his mother Ellen Bouton. We have with David's assistance written our bylaws and begun!! At our next meeting we have three other folks interested in joining, which is a relief as you can see many of us are related!

Our goals now include maintaining a presence in Mandorani, despite our being here. We do get phone calls in spite of the system I thought would work where a resident was to visit each home and then send on to us a follow-up report. So, what we have heard is that the stoves are working fine. We are always asked when we are returning! A Canadian friend did visit and agreed we had made quite an impact on the community. We've made a calendar with photos of various folks involved with the project as well as aspects of the project. Messages on each month reinforce in Spanish principles on using the stove, the retention cooker and hygiene. They are being sent out next week. We are beginning research on where to take our work next, consulting with people we have met along the way doing similar work in Peru. We will return to Mandorani in early 2011 to evaluate the stoves, and their appropriate use and care, and to complete our agreement with the good folks of that community, which includes giving them 35 soles each for working with us. It is at that time we will visit other communities. Finally, we will continue to support local Peruvians involved in this work in Peru. We'll be attending the January 2010 ETHOS conference to share experiences. We are making a web page! Currently it has a placeholder and will be at

Long term goals are to successfully see this non-profit formation through. What this means is submitting our documents to the IRS in early 2011. All of this will be with David's help. It will be at that time, should we be approved, that we will have those privileges to give our donors documentation for their taxes. We're happy to add that anyone donating from the time of our formation (4/20o9) until we submit our documents will have retroactive receipts from us.

Always feel free to contact us. Your support through our trials and successes is very important to us, whether you are a donator or not. While we are not physically in Peru doing this very important work, we are here doing our best to establish a foundation to continue this work for a long time to come. Best wishes to all this holiday season and for the new year.