Today I visited the community of La Retama with Tula, located high in the mountains in the District of Baños del Inca. We took a combi to the farthest drop-off point and hiked the remainder of the way to visit five families participating in the cocina mejoradas project. The altitude got the best of me…after ten minutes of an uphill climb I was out of breath and in desperate need of some oxygen. Lucky for me there was little climbing after that first climb. I was extremely impressed by the progress the women have made with their cocinas. Most are missing the final section of their chimney and have about two more weeks before they begin using them. Tula was on the phone today pressuring the mason to attach the final section of the chimney by Sunday or else. She desperately wants the project to be a success and wants the women to have the best product before the project culminates in October. She is defintely the women's best ally and strongest supporter.
One of the last women we visited today really broke my heart. Maria is twenty-seven, has three kids and another on the way. Her youngest child is a year and a half and won’t be able to breastfeed with the new baby due in October. Maria and her husband are currently rebuilding their house and have made wonderful progress on their cocina. They even decorated the kitchen countertop with beautiful tiles. Her situation really struck a chord with me. Here I am twenty-six years old, one year away from finishing grad school, and have all the opportunities in the world at my feet. Maria is one year older than me and fears the possibility of having more children. Although we cannot change her current situation, the project has given her a new set of skills that will help her better care for her family and eliminate the risks from smoke inhalation. I look forward to following her progress.