A Somerset native recently traveled to Guatemala as part of a Habitat for Humanity mission.

Chelsea Smith graduated from Western Kentucky University in May, then just weeks later joined the WKU Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter the trip to Tecpan, Guatemala, June 8-16, as part of the Global Village program through Habitat for Humanity International.

Global Village trips are short-term service trips with Habitat for Humanity that give volunteers the chance to experience another culture and help communities that need safe, affordable housing.

The trip for Smith's 11-member team consisted of breaking ground for one new home built from concrete units assembled with the help of skilled local master masons as well as building two masonry cook stoves per day for families living on the outskirts of Tecpan.

"Each day, three of us would go to build stoves and the remaining would stay to work on the house," Smith explained. "There were always children running around eager to help out and play with us when we had the chance. Everyone was so welcoming and excited to have us there."

Most homes within Guatemala's rural communities have open fires for cooking inside the homes. The building of masonry cook stoves for indigenous Mayan families helps to reduce the carbon footprint of wood fuel by over 50 percent, reduces the amount of smoke that children breathe thus lowering health issues such as emphysema and keeps smoke from the eyes of the women who do the cooking in the families -- reducing the cases of cataracts within the population.

"We were able to help build stoves made from adobe bricks, mud and some concrete," Smith said. "Prior to their stove, they cooked with an open fire. The ceiling in the kitchen was covered in black residue from the fire, which is the root cause of a lot of respiratory disease."

As for the home the team was building, it was for a young man named Oscar and their work consisted of digging trenches, tying rebar for the house's support structure, and excavate (move blocks, dirt and rock). Smith called it a pleasure to meet Oscar, his parents Benjamin and Maria, and the rest of the family.

"Outside of working on the house, they showed us how they weave their clothing and make corn tortillas," Smith said, laughing. "As far as the tortillas go, theirs were perfect and our attempts were kind of a mess!"

Smith said she's glad she was able to go on the Global Village trip, calling it a wonderful experience.

"It was so eye-opening and humbling to immerse myself in their culture for a week," she explained. "It made the world seem so small and so large at the same time. The people that we met were no different than we were. At the end of the day, we're all people that deserve to live decent lives; we all want to take care of our loved ones and enjoy the time that we have on this Earth. But they don't have the accessibility that we do to basic necessities that we often take for granted such as clean, running water or a sewage system. And yet, they are some of the most grateful and close-knit people that I have ever met."

Now that she's back stateside, Smith is making her home in Eugene, Oregon. Having earned her Bachelor's degree in Biology with a minor in Finance and a Certificate in Personal Financial Planning, she has gotten a job as Service Coordinator for Physician Family Financial Advisors. She is currently working toward her Series 65 Securities license and CFP (certified financial planner) certification.

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