In the late 1980′s, HELPS International’s medical teams reported an alarming number of children being treated for burns and numerous respiratory problems. Engineer Don O’Neal, a medical team leader with HELPS, investigated and found that the problem was the method of cooking used by the indigenous Mayan women in their homes. This centuries’ old tradition of cooking meals within the home using an open fire pit on the dirt floor known as a “three-stone fire”, had no ventilation, causing families to inhale dangerous fumes causing Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI). More specifically, Mr. O’Neal found:

  • The high instances of facial and hand burns were due to children falling into these open fires when they were playing or learning to walk.
  • According to the World Health Organization, excessive smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death in Guatemalan children under the age of 5. In a HELPS study, the deadly gas carbon monoxide was found to be fifteen times greater than the EPA base level considered to be dangerous.
  • The inefficient burning of wood for three-stone fires required the women and children to gather huge amounts of wood daily (18,000 lbs per family per year), contributing to Guatemala’s deforestation level of 2% per year. The safety issues for women plus the time lost to long treks to gather the wood, combined with the impact of carrying these heavy loads has detrimental health ramifications on women and their families.
  • For families that purchased their firewood, this required spending up to 40% of their entire income simply to cook their food.

From this start with the ONIL stove, HELPS has developed the ONIL product line that changes the way families live and has become one of the “pillars” of HELPS poverty reduction efforts.  Richard Grinnell, HELPS Vice President, with Don O’Neal and their team has implemented these solutions for families across Central America and Mexico.