EUGENE, Ore. -- When Eugene resident Nancy Hughes was volunteering at a medical clinic in Guatemala, she grew frustrated by the children whose health conditions were severe -- and avoidable.
"They couldn't intubate their throats because there was so much creosote in their throats that the children couldn't be saved," said Hughes, director of Stove Team International, a non-profit organization. "I said, why are we treating this, why don't we prevent it?"
The culprit: open cooking fires in homes. In Central America, it's common for families to keep a fire burning inside the house all day, filling the small homes with smoke.
Immediately after returning from the trip, Hughes began working with her rotary club, the Southtowne Rotarian Club.
Hughes obtained enough grants to provide 120 stoves to Central American residents, but she thought that wasn't enough.
So after a few years, Hughes and friends formed Stove Team International. They worked with engineers to design a concrete stove that reduces the amount of smoke produced.
"There's essentially no smoke because there's complete combustion," she said.
The stove, called an Ecocina, is made of concrete. It's insulated with pumice, which keeps the heat inside.
"It's just barely warm on the outside, so there's no chance of child will fall against it and get burned," said Don Steely, who is also a Stove Team International director. He demonstrated by patting the outside of the stove.
The stove also requires much less fuel than the traditional open fires. That cuts down on the amount of wood each family needs--saving money and hopefully reducing deforestation.
Stove Team International was formed in July 2008. Since then, a team of volunteers has traveled several times to Central America. They've set up factories in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The goal is to make each factory self-sufficient, so residents are running the factories on their own. Steely and Hughes estimate more than 6,000 stoves have been distributed.
"We got to change a country," said Hughes. "That's very cool. you don't often get that chance."
The group is heading to Guatemala in November. They are looking for volunteers and donations. Visit the Stove Team International Web site for more information.