Making a difference in the Andes with smokeless kitchens
By Christine Torrison Mackay, Founder of Crooked Trails
Ten years ago when I was high in the Andes at over 13,000 feet in the small village of Umasbamba, Peru, I was inspired by a young man who had learned from a local NGO how to make efficient, smokeless ovens which heated the home an extra 20 degrees and provided warm water as well. I remember sitting in my room that night thinking how valuable such a system would be in these small-impoverished Andean communities with no running water, and simple open cooking fires. Winter temperatures drop well below freezing, and there is no way to release the smoke that builds up in the houses when the cooking fire is going. I made a commitment then and there, to help this young man build a new kitchen in each and every house in Usmabamba.
We recently completed our 30th smokeless oven in Umasbamba and have completed 20 in the village of Vicos to the north as well. Two years ago, I went back and stood in the small adobe homes of several people who were the very proud and grateful recipients of new kitchens. Margarita was one of these community members. She and her husband live alone in their mud brick home and are very poor. When I went to visit them and their new kitchen, she stood shyly with her hand outstretched to shake mine, and thank me. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking, how wonderful to be able to help someone like this, to truly make a difference in their life, it filled my soul with gratitude.
I love that tourism can transform lives of the local and the traveler. I have had countless people go to Peru and spend a day or two building a smokeless kitchen, which will improve the health and hygiene of its owner by getting rid of the smoke and by providing warm water for washing hands. Each and every one of them has returned telling me what a meaningful experience it was for them.