Volunteering To Build An Oven Out Of Poop

El Hatillo Nicaragua Brick Oven

Poop is a Natural Hand Moisturizer

El Hatillo, Nicaragua

Who needs to buy cement when poop is plentiful & free! My first stop in Nicaragua was volunteering in the village of El Hatillo, building an oven out of manure.

Danielle Costanza is a Peace Corp volunteer in Nicaragua. She invited me to help her and some friends from Traveling Tradesmen with a few volunteer projects while I was passing through the country.

But before I could start, my first challenge was getting into the tiny town of El Hatillo (population 400) way out in the Nicaraguan countryside.

Nicaragua Building Brick Oven

Cutting & Placing the Bricks

Rural Nicaragua

Everyone gets around by horseback in El Hatillo, the road is usually too rough for buses and vans. To start the journey I jumped on a local chicken bus (public transportation) for about 20 minutes. When I got off, it was time to start walking down a dirt road through ankle-deep dust for 30 minutes.

The path was full of people and horses going about their daily business.

Luckily, halfway into my dusty hike, the town’s engineer saw me as he rode by on his dirtbike. I jumped on with him and we sped on to meet the rest of the volunteers who had already begun working.

Balancing on the back of a small dirtbike over the rough & rocky path with a 40+ pound backpack turned out to be somewhat challenging…

The project was to build inexpensive wood-fire cooking ovens for local families at this pretty remote village in the countryside. The ovens provide an efficient way for people to cook for themselves, or to start a small business by cooking on a larger scale and selling to others.

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Mixing Manure with Feet

Ancient Poop Mixing Technique

Building Poop Ovens

Each outdoor oven costs about $60 US to build. Local families pay for the materials themselves, then the oven will get built for free by volunteers like us. There is no electricity yet in El Hatillo, so these are the first real cooking ovens these families have ever owned.

The traditional method has been to use campfires inside the home. Having an open fire inside the house is not the cleanest, safest, or healthiest way to cook, so the ovens we build will provide a better alternative.

The ovens are made from bricks, a 55 gallon steel drum, and mortar made primarily from manure. Animal poop is much cheaper to use than cement, and works surprising well! Plus there is a healthy supply of it in a farming community like this.

A special mixture of dirt, horse manure, water, and sap from the Pitaya Cactus is combined to create the natural mortar.

You’re gonna get a little messy mixing wet poop with your feet and applying it with your hands! Some people in the volunteer group had a harder time with this than others… but in the end everyone got down and dirty.

There was even a short poop-ball fight. Handfulls of poop were flying in all directions!

Nicaragua Building Brick Oven

Building Poop Ovens is a Team Effort

Family Fun

To cook with the new ovens, you stoke a fire in the space under the steel drum. This heats up the inside of the drum and cooks the food. Simple, no?

The ovens are not only useful for cooking meals though, they also provide a way for local women to get out of the house and socialize with each other.

Boys tend to enjoy helping their mothers prepare food with the oven as well, which breaks up some of the strong local male/female stereotypes prevalent in Nicaragua.

Despite popular opinion, men can cook too!

Nicaraguan Family

The Cruz Family with their Finished Oven

Volunteering In Nicaragua

The whole poop-oven building process takes about 2 days. Once it’s completed, families cover the oven with a fine layer of white ash to make it pretty and hide the brown poop color.

When we were finished, we were able to eat a large homemade pizza cooked in one of the poop ovens! Absolutely delicious. Poop oven pizza is highly recommended.

Spending a few days working with volunteers and local families to build this oven was very emotionally rewarding for me. The work was fun and we helped honest & hardworking people improve their living situation.

The project has inspired me to attempt more volunteer work in the future. ★

READ NEXT: Budget Travel Tips For Nicaragua

Do you enjoy volunteering while traveling?

Any Questions Or Comments?

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22 Comments

  1. Awesome post! I’m in Nicaragua right now, and would love to have a poop fight (I never thought I would type this… ever!) Can I just go there and talk to people in the village, or do you have to have had contact with people of the project in advance?

  2. The other advantage with poo, is if you dry it out, you don’t need wood either, this works well with a sealed barrel oven, but not too pleasant to stand by until its really going, and not recommended for pizza ovens, as it gives the food a bit of a twang.

    Joe Denmark.

  3. Hey Matt,

    Am quite impressed with how you guys built these ovens. Though, this looks a little dirty, but I’m sure it would be great fun to work together as a team. I remember having seen a poop oven in my village way back when I was a kid, and have had some breads prepared in such ovens. Undoubtedly, they were great to taste.

    All the good luck and cheer for your upcoming volunteer activities.

  4. Just too bad you have to be in the Peace Corp to do stuff like that (or get invited by someone in the peace corps).

    while manure of any kind is icky and vile for the most part its mostly hay and grass (hay for horses, grass for cows). I don’t know if I’d want to play with cow manure its worse than horse manure IMO.

    I can say manure just as much as POOP! Nice article!

    1. I’ve seen other organizations that offer these types of volunteer activities Shannon, you don’t necessarily need to be part of the Peace Corp. It’s definately a fun, feel-good activity. Everyone should play with a little POOP now and then. :D

  5. how fantasic “poop” ovens… lmao! hey how ever the job gets done right??? :) nice to see you all create these for families… im sure they were blessed!

  6. Hey Matt!

    Cool pics and nicely written – really like your style!

    So, there you have your new topic for a “how to…” online-book, right? ;-)

    We did more or less the same about 2 weeks ago in Costa Rica – with the difference that we built walls with that poop-material combined with stones. Long live the poop!!!

    Robert and Pookie

  7. This is such an entertaining (and informative) post. Can’t help but giggling throughout the post from how often the word ‘poop’ was mentioned :)

  8. Im flattered you picked my poop ovens as the topic. It’s just as funny reading about them as making them! I think i’m making up for lost childhood time. I didn’t make enough mud pies as a kid or something.

  9. Too many people with smiles on their faces with their hands and feet in yuk.
    Looks like the perfect oven for Poo Poo platter and flied lice. Any cats around there?