When UW - La Crosse student Katherine Drewiske first traveled to Guatemala as part of a Chapina Bonita Smokeless Stove project, she didn't expect to make a second trip.

A public and community health education major, Drewiske joined the Hudson Daybreak Rotary trip in 2018 as an honorary member, completing independent study for her major.

"I knew it would influence my passion for public health in a lot of ways," she said.

When she returned, the impact of the project stuck with her, and inspired others to ask how they could help.

Now Drewiske is leading a group of students in a trip in March.

Drewiske's first trip was in January 2018 with the Hudson Rotary. That is how she was first introduced to the Chapina Bonita project, part of the Guatemala Del Este Rotary.

The project, created by Guatemalan Carlos Galvez, works to provide people with smokeless stoves as an alternative to open fire cooking.

Open fire cooking creates dangerous smoke in homes, leading to health issues. It also requires using a lot of wood, adding to an ecological crisis in Guatemala.

A study by the United States Agency for International Development concluded the stoves reduced carbon monoxide emission by 98 percent, while also reducing cook time and the amount of firewood needed.

Materials for the stoves are locally sourced, Drewiske said. They cost $70 to install, and half of the cost is donated to the family.

The group spent the week building stoves for families, from rounding up the materials to laying the bricks. They also had the chance to explore the area and get immersed in the culture.

Drewiske's independent study required her to write a research paper before hand, and then take in everything she experienced and craft a presentation when she returned.

"It was extremely eye opening," Drewiske said. "You really don't think about the things they encounter every day."

Drewiske was inspired to go into public health after she lost her mother to cancer. Access to healthcare and screenings, specifically for women, is something that's become important to her.

"Women and children are mostly affected by open fires because traditionally they're the ones around it the most," she said. "That was a big interest to me."

The stove provided a simple solution, that serves not only as prevention for health issues but the environment as well.

"It's completely getting to the source of the issue," she said. "It's also addressing environmental deforestation and carbon emission."

When she returned home and began making her presentations, students and faculty members came to her asking how they could get involved.

"I really didn't have an answer for them except to donate if they could," Drewiske said, until her adviser told her the trip opportunity could be available for more students.

Putting it together as a study abroad program would have taken a lot of time and costs, so instead Drewiske worked with the student organization Eta Sigma Gamma to organize a week-long trip March 16-23.

Drewiske worked with fellow student, Madeline Brown, to plan the trip.

"Our itinerary is actually very exciting," Drewiske said. "A good mix of fun, stove building and a public health experience."

Thirteen students and two faculty members will be on the trip that will take them to different spots in Guatemala, building stoves all along the way.

"Awareness is probably the biggest piece," Drewiske said. "And just allowing students to find and cultivate those passions."

Drewiske said she is glad to know there is a continuation of the effort.

"I'm super thankful for this opportunity," she said. "I call it the gift that keeps on giving."

To donate, visit chapinabonita.com, and note Drewisek - UWL in the note section. Donations will go to the Hudson Daybreak Rotary, which has a direct account to the rotary in Guatemala.


Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

(651) 301-7858