Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chad Solar Cooking Project Evaluation

In October of 2009, as I was finishing up my last East Africa tour for SCI and was vacationing in Ireland, I got a phone call requesting my participation in a solar cooking evaluation in Chad for a local nonprofit called TchadSolaire. It was a chance I couldn't pass up, and I gladly jumped a plane to Brussels to get my visa & necessary paperwork sorted out. A few days later I was on a plane to Chad with 5 other evaluators, each chosen for their relative experience in solar cooking around the globe. For three weeks we collaborated, accumulated statistics and held interviews with refugees in the camp. In the end, the six of us were able to put together an unbiased and accurate synopsis of the solar cooking project in the Touloum Refugee Camp, which you can find on my website under the Work tab, if interested.

Aerial view of the refugee camp from the small UN commuter plane.

The 'town' of Iriba, which is not so much a town as an outcrop of the refugee camp itself, housing mainly military and government workers, along with a smattering of local people.

Military is required to escort anyone traveling the 15K or so to the refugee camp due to random renegade thieves. (AFTER I returned to the States I learned that Eastern Chad is one of the most dangerous places in the world... I might have been a little more freaked out by the daily precautions had I known).

A caravan of about 30 cars consisting mainly of development workers, medical personnel and military, follows each other out every day at 8am, & comes back @ 4 or 5p. The terrain is awful, and we got stuck in the sand more than once. I never believed how sandy central Africa was until I experienced it first hand ~ the sand is so light & fine that it seems to get into everything, & when it's windy it's worse than going out in the rain. Hence the clothing, but isn't it gorgeous?!

A shot of the camp from the 'HQ' building ~ rather than the tents and squalor you see in the news and movies, the Touloum Refugee Camp is more like a large village with closely built housing and neighborhoods... while people live more closely together than they would outside the camp, every home seems to have ample space and very big courtyards, with regular huts rather than tents, and areas are kept very neat. Really it just seemed like a big, organized village, with happy kids running around, an outdoor market and everyone doing their job.

The Headquarters for the TchadSolaire workers, this is where the trainers are trained, where refugee workers make solar cookers, and meetings are held about ways to move forward.

Refugee workers constructing solar cookers out of materials imported by TchadSolaire.

A refugee worker drinking water as she tends the solar cookers in front of HQ.

As everywhere else in thre rural areas of Africa, women walk many miles everyday to collect firewood for cooking and treating water.

Normally the methods of cooking leave a lot to be desired, with indoor kitchens emitting smoke from firewood directly into the lungs of the cooks, and normally their children as well. Indoor air pollution is the leading causes of lung disease in Africa.

But aside from the respiratory problems induced by cooking with wood, women and girls often face the possibility of attack, rape or even death when they venture outside the camp to gather wood, which is a necessity despite the wood rations provided by UNHCR each week.

Cooking with a solar cooker reduces the amount of wood that needs to be gathered each week, and significantly improves the respiratory health and safety of the women and young girls who live in the camp.

While solar cooking takes about twice as long as conventional methods, this woman can engage in other activities like making crafts to sell in the market, rather than spending hours each day looking for firewood and risking her life in the process.

Kids begin helping their mothers gather firewood and water early in life, and they are also at risk when forced to leave the camp.

We spent the majority of our days during the three weeks in the camp, interviewing women who regularly engage in solar cooking, and gathering their opinions on the benefits and procedures.

A woman makes tea from a solar cooker for our visit.

Each of the evaluators was assigned an interpreter, who interpreted the villagers' Arabic into French for us, and sometimes it was necessary to get an interpreter for the interpreter when a villager spoke only their local language from Sudan. Due to the language barriers, we kept the interviews as simple as possible to avoid losing sentiment in translation.

Most of the people we interviewed were kind and forthcoming with their opinions on the solar cooking project, allowing us to produce what I hope is an accurate an unbiased account of the procedures and effectiveness of the solar cookers in the camp.

Pat McArdle, Marie-Rose Neloum (TchadSolaire's second in command) and myself.

An impressive display of most of the solar cookers in the camp, put out for a grand celebration for us and TchadSolaire just before we left.

A solar cooked feast, fed to the men first, of course. As you can imagine, there was plenty of food for the entire camp.

A video of the vastness.

The Group ~ evaluators, TchadSolaire staff, and refugee workers at the Touloum Refugee Camp. (solar cooking evaluation)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Follow-Up Workshop in Musuma, TZ: Fall 2009

Together with Margaret Owino, SCI's East Africa Director, I arranged a follow-up workshop for the 30+ participants of the previous two solar cooking trainings in Musoma, TZ. Fostering a partnership with Global Resource Alliance (GRA), we are working to bring a sustainable solar cooking program to this Tanzanian region of Lake Victoria. The workshop participants are dedicated and enthusiastic, working in numerous diverse regions in the area and under a variety of vocations. It was a pleasure working with them again, and with a home base provided at GRA to obtain additional materials and training, I have no doubt that solar cooking will spread well in this area.

The wall outside the TanzSolar compound. I try to ensure that TanzSolar and SCI work together as often as possible to supplement shared, respective solar technologies and programs.

Workshop participants preparing food to solar cook. These folks are experts by now, and this workshop is simply to answer questions and brainstorm training methods and income generating activities.

Team putting the food into the plastic bag to retain the heat absorbed by the black pot.

Placing the pot & bag into the solar cooker.

A man making a cake in Africa?! Will wonders never cease...

The facilitators ~ myself and Margaret Owino of SCI's East Africa Office in Nairobi.

Omena ~ tiny fish. Totally grody.

Getting the food out of the solar cookers for lunch after a long morning in the workshop.

A feast of solar cooked food.

Happy participants enjoying their solar cooked food.

Amazed that all this food was cooked by the sun!

Friday, September 18, 2009

New SCI Offices in Kenya

The new offices in Kakamega and Kisumu in Kenya are positioned in popular areas where many passers-by pop in to see what's cookin' outside and check out our new products, like the Nova Solar Lantern that now charges cell phones as well as lighting up a room.

Kakamega is a trek to get to, but once there it opens up into a beautiful, green utopia in the lush hills of Western Kenya. There is a vibrant modernity to this town, and our Kakamega officers are excited by the liberal atmosphere of their new home, and the positive reactions to alternative energies that they've received.

Various alternative cooking technologies available at the office, located in a convenient spot in town.

Simon & Julius in front of the Kakamega office.

Simon's cute son.

Simon in front of his garden.

Dinner at a schwank restaurant.

SCI office in Kisumu.

Solar cookers, fuel-efficient stoves & solar lanterns available at the Kisumu office.

Lunch on the lake with Elijah and Eric.

You can't beat the fish on Lake Vic!

Beautiful Lake Victoria

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Follow-Up Plans for UG & TZ

One of the most important aspects of development work is not the introduction of a new technology or a progressive concept to a community in need, but the regular follow-up of methods to ensure progress and a sustainable outcome. I am currently working with SCI and collaborating partners in Uganda and Tanzania to implement follow-up workshops on safe water and solar integrated cooking.

In Uganda this September, together with Solar Connect Association (SCA), I will drive the 15 hours north on bumpy, dusty roads, past the Nile River and back to the tiny village of Obia on the border of Congo, where SCI worked with Mary Lou and 13-year old Max Ozimek last summer to develop the first solar integrated cooking workshop in this area. During the initial training, in addition to teaching the 36 participants how to use and make solar cookers, hay baskets and fuel-efficient stoves, we also gathered water samples from six major water sources, tested the water with the Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML) and presented our results to the class during the 4-day workshop. As you can imagine, most of the water sources showed a high enough level of contamination of E.coli to warrant the use of solar water pasteurization ~ an essential component of the workshop’s curriculum using a CooKit and a Water Pasteurization Indicator (WAPI). The exciting part is that, in the months following the workshop last summer, the participants got together and created the Obia Solar Cooking Group (OBSG), taking their own initiative to train others in the community how to build solar cookers and use them to cook food and pasteurize water. This follow-up workshop in September will capitalize on the skills this group has mastered; brush up on any procedures or concepts that need work, and brainstorm ways to make the OSCG successful, independent and sustainable for the future.

In Tanzania, a similar follow-up workshop will take place in the northern village of Musoma, located on the shores of Lake Victoria. I am working together with SCI, Global Resource Alliance (GRA) and TanzSolar in Musoma to provide a refresher course to the 35 men and women who participated in the initial solar integrated cooking and safe water workshop that took place in January of this year. The three organizations will work to ensure that the original participants are proficient at making solar cookers, painting pots with locally-found blackboard paint, using and promoting simple solar lanterns, organizing outreach workshops, developing income-generating activities and creating community-appropriate methods for sustainability. The advantage of having two locally-based, community-minded organizations located in Musoma allows SCI the ability to collaboratively support the participants as they work towards promoting solar integrated cooking and water pasteurization in the area.

The difference between try & triumph is just a little umph! ~ Marvin Phillips

Monday, August 10, 2009

Discovery Channel Show Features Solar Cookers

Living Off the Grid: A Dozen Skills to Get You Through

A new show depicts solar cooking as a tool for living in a post-apocalyptic world:

How Solar Cooking Works
As those appearing in the show “The Colony” know, you don’t need an oven to cook a good meal. All you need is sunlight. The sun’s rays can heat food anywhere from 180 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (82-204 degrees Celsius). In other words, a solar cooker can kill harmful microbes and make food and water safe for consumption. Read more about his simple technology and how it’s being used.

How to Start a Fire Without a Match
There are many different ways to start a fire without a match and plenty of different methods to make it happen. It all depends on your location and the materials available. HowStuffWorks has a whole slew of cool ideas, using everything from a soda can and chocolate to making a fire plow. See detailed illustrations and instructions in this article.

How to Build a Shelter
We all know that shelter is one of the most basic needs in any survival situation. Yes, it protects us from the elements and wildlife intruders, but perhaps provides psychological comfort, too? In this article from HowStuffWorks, author Chuck Bryant shows the basics of making a shelter using on-hand materials. Read more…

How Emergency Power Systems Work
In this article, learn how emergency power systems can help in almost any situation. Topics include understanding your power needs and goals, working with the resources you have and showing the difference between an inverter and a generator. Read more…

How Hand Powered Generators Work
There's one way to generate electricity that never runs out of power and is easy to carry: a hand-powered generator. It's the “gadget” that can power all your other travel gadgets – but for those living in “The Colony” – it’s essential. Learn how they work, how to use them and even how to make your own. Read more…

If I kill an animal, can I eat it raw?
Let’s envision for a moment that you haven’t eaten for a few days and you don’t have the resources to build a fire to cook an animal you just killed. Can you eat it safely? If not, are there some animals that OK to eat and others that aren’t? Read this HowStuffWorks article to find out.

What’s the universal edibility test?
There are more than 700 varieties of poisonous plants in the United States and Canada alone, so how can you tell which are edible and which are potentially toxic? Use the four steps outlined in the universal edibility test and you may prevent potential disaster. Read more…

How can I tell if a bug is edible?
Ever accidentally swallowed a bug? Some of us might have joked about it (“Mmmm … protein,” you say). But all over the world, people eat insects every day. It’s called entomophagy. In a survival situation, how do you know which bug is edible – nutritious, even -- and which can make you sick? Read on to find out.

5 Ways to Snare Dinner in the Wild
If you are used to being in remote places, you might be pretty adept at recognizing telltale signs of nearby animals. Droppings, tracks by a nearby watering hole, chewed up plants. But we’ve got 5 really cool tricks for snaring dinner, using fairly easy-to-come-by resources. Read on…

How to Find Water in the Wild
To maintain good health, the human body needs a minimum of two quarts of water per day, according to U.S. Military Field Manual 21-76. In a survival situation, that might be tough. There are some basic ways to find, filter, collect and store water, however. We’ve got the answers here.

How to Send Smoke Signals
Let’s put it this way: The Boy Scouts of America still teaches smoke signaling. So if it’s easy enough for a 12-year-old boy to do, you can learn the skill, too, right? Learn how to send specific messages in one-puff, two-puff and three-puff style. Read on…

Top 5 Everyday Items You Can Repurpose in a Survival Scenario
Whether you’re living in “The Colony”, just survived an airplane crash or are caught in a freak winter storm, there are five basic items that might come in handy in a survival situation. The first one on our list? You might be wearing it right now.

The Colony: Living Off the Grid : Discovery Channel

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

SCI Featured in Lift Up Africa Newsletter

Olika Solar Cooking Distribution

Helping Maasai women in Southern Kenya

Since July 2005, Solar Cookers International (EA) has been working with women's groups in Kajiado to promote the use of solar cooking as a means to help poor women save their meager resources for other pressing needs. The women are generally Maasai women with their new CooKits, a small, portable type solar cookerwidows or single parents who need group support to move forward with their lives. Many are engaged in petty trade like selling vegetables, beads, milk and eggs.

(Me with the Maasai Women's Group & 2 local Peace Corps Volunteers in Kajiado, Kenya)

Several groups devised a way to purchase solar cooking materials for each member. Thus far, some have been able to purchase CooKits--a small, individual solar cooker. (See photo) However, this system is slow and many women are still waiting to receive the materials they need to either begin or fully realize the maximum benefit from solar cooking.

Because the purchasing process has dragged on for three years, SCI approached Lift Up Africa (LUA). They asked SCI to partner with several of these groups so the women could more quickly enhance their energy savings, thus improving their living standards.

On May 22, 2009 the first of these partnership distributions took place in Oloika. At the distribution event, SCI's Stella Odaba informed the women that through Lift Up Africa (LUA) they would now receive donations of the equipment they still needed, including hay basket fireless cookers.

Although the weather was a bit cloudy, some CooKits were set up to demonstrate pasteurizing water using the WAPI (water pasturization indicator.) The use of the fireless cookers was also demonstrated. While the members watched and timed the process, some rice was simmered for 5 minutes. Then the rice was transferred to the hay basket. Half an hour later a member went to check and found it cooked.

At the meeting Agnes Osoi, one of the group members, said:

"... solar cookers have been of great help to us....We can pasteurize our drinking water and our children don't suffer from diarrhea because of taking dirty water. FurtherSCI's Faustine Odaba demonstrating the hay basket fireless cookermore, it's safe around the child; I can leave the food to cook while I go to sell my beads in the market without any fears of fire accidents at home. Now with the addition of fireless cookers life will be even simpler for me. I will warm water at night, pour it in the ten liter plastic container then put it in the fireless cooker. In the morning my children have ready breakfast and warm water to bathe before school. I will not be exposed to smoke for so long; I will use firewood only when there's no sun and save some wood."

Other participants chimed in saying:

"The fireless cooker will bring peace in my home; my husband will always find hot food whenever he comes late. I don't have to wake up to light a fire to warm the food for him."

"...I am so excited and grateful to SCI and Lift Up Africa for their support in making our lives better!"

A vote of thanks was given by Esther Sekeyian, the group's chairlady. The women then gave gifts (beaded ornaments) in honor of Lift Up Africa and adorned Ms. Odaba with beaded ornaments, too.

The distribution to the 17 women who attended the event cost $700 (USD). This small grant will help an estimated 150 people.

Information on all of our solar cooking projects is available on LUA's Solar Cooking Wiki.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sun Ovens on Good Morning America

Sun Ovens featured on Good Morning America: "Harnessing the Power of the Sun; Philadelphia invests in green tech, such as solar powered ovens and golf carts".
The segment features the Sun Oven, the SOS Sport and the Hot Pot, aired during the 8am segment (ET) on July 29th, and hosted by Sam Champion.

Here's the link:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PSR: International Development Online

Sun in the Oven
by Karyn Ellis
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Across Africa, cooking fires are projected to release about seven billion tons of carbon in the form of greenhouse gases by 2050. More than 1.6 million people, primarily women and children, die prematurely each year from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution from such fires. Scientists estimate that smoke from wood cooking fires will cause 10 million premature deaths among women and children by 2030 in Africa alone. These statistics can be addressed by promoting inexpensive, effective solar cookers, along with hay baskets (retained-heat devices that extend cooking temperatures after food is removed from a heat source) and fuel-efficient stoves for cooking when sunshine isn't available. These technologies are made with local materials whenever possible, and are easily used and constructed by anyone willing to learn.

Smokeless cookers can dramatically reduce respiratory infections caused by smoky fires, treat drinking water by eliminating waterborne pathogens, reduce the debilitating effects of deforestation, free time from hours of firewood gathering for women and girls and enable young girls to attend school rather than spend their days looking for firewood.

Millions of people become sick each year from drinking contaminated water. Worldwide, about 1.3 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, resulting in an estimated 1.5 billion cases of diarrhoea each year and the deaths of nearly two million children. Yet, in many of the most severely affected regions, sunshine is an abundant source of energy that can not only cook food but can also heat water to temperatures that kill harmful microbes, making water safe to drink. This process is called solar water pasteurisation.

SCI co-founder Dr Bob Metcalf, a Professor of Biological Sciences at California State University, Sacramento, studied solar water pasteurisation in the early 1980s with one of his graduate students. They found that water heated to 65�C for a short time will be free from microbes including E. coli, Rotaviruses, Giardia and the Hepatitis A virus.

Since thermometers are not accessible to many people around the world, there is a need for a simple device that indicates when water has reached pasteurisation temperatures. In 1988, Fred Barrett of the United States Department of Agriculture came up with the idea of using wax with a specific melting point as an indicator. In 1992, engineering student Dale Andreatta created the Water Pasteurisation Indicator (WAPI), a reusable clear plastic tube partially filled with a wax that melts at 65�C. So, with minimal investment in a simple solar cooker and reusable WAPI, people in developing areas are able to pasteurise their water and make it safe to drink.

While solar water pasteurisation helped, the question still remained as to which water sources were contaminated. The Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML), designed by Dr Metcalf, contains tests for E. coli. Each PML includes 25 inexpensive and easy-to-use water tests. Using principles and methods from food microbiology, the PML is able to accurately test water in rural areas without the need for electricity, running water, or the expensive laboratory equipment normally needed.

In 2007, as part of its Safe Water Project (SWP), SCI began teaching Kenya's rural health workers how to test water sources using the PML and how to treat contaminated water with a solar cooker and a WAPI. The PML can be used anywhere by practically anyone, and is currently helping Kenyan government ministries in charge of water analysis who have had difficulties gauging water quality in rural areas due to travel limitations and technical expenses. Anticipated outcomes from the SWP include significant reductions in the incidence of waterborne diseases in over 20 communities, and broader community awareness of simple and effective water testing and water pasteurisation techniques. In June 2008, PML was used to help contain a cholera outbreak in Kenya's Nyakach region near Lake Victoria.

SCI is also now exploring collaborations with local solar lighting companies to meet another express need of those who benefit from its programmes.

Successful execution of solar cooking and water treatment programmes in developing areas can drastically decrease hunger, respiratory and waterborne diseases, and deforestation; increase food security, school attendance, and income generation; and empower women by providing entrepreneurial prospects and participation in micro-business.

By Karyn Ellis
Director of International Programs
Solar Cookers International

The Public Service Review is an online publication based in the UK.

To see the article, click on the PSR link on the right and go to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene under Contents on the left.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kenya ~ Site Visits

I recently returned to East Africa in January of 2009 with the intention of promoting current and future International Development programs and partnerships, contribute to a workshop in Tanzania with SCI’s East Africa trainers, and collaborate with East Africa Director and Staff about the direction of current programs and plans for expansion of SCI's Sunny Solutions and newly established Kenya offices.

In Kenya I met extensively with SCI's Nairobi staff, as well as assisting in a local solar cooking demonstration in the Kangemi Slum outside Nairobi, which was inspiring due to the large number of excited orphans in the charge of the Hamomi Children’s Centre, but also because this solar demo provided the first lunch these children had received at school in months. Since both food and firewood has increased in price due to recent economic crises, it has been not been possible for the Hamomi Centre’s administrators to purchase both fuel-wood and food for these 30+ students everyday. The Hamomi Children’s Centre kept a box cooker, two CooKits and two Hay Baskets when we left, which will enable them to cook food with the power of the sun and allow them to buy rice and beans for the children’s new lunch program. To see the looks of delight on the faces of these underpriveledged kids, and to know that they will now receive a nutritious solar cooked lunch on a regular basis thanks to the help of solar cookers and integrated cooking methods, well that’s what it’s all about.

Dozens of orphans and displaced kids are educated at the Hamomi Children's Centre in this small 3-room classroom.

This single room houses over 30 children per class on a daily basis, with a maximum of 8 benches as seen here, in the baking hot sun under hot tin roofs.

This is the first meal that's been served at the school in months, since there is not enough money to buy both food and fuel for cooking.

Now that they're cooking with the sun, the two single fathers who founded the Hamomi Children's Centre can afford to feed these kids lunch on a daily basis.

- - - - - - -

During my time in Kenya I had the opportunity to visit one of SCI/EA’s newest offices in Machakos (about an hour southeast of Nairobi) and assist in a demo / training for single mothers at a women’s group house. This group of about 20 single mothers reside in a common domicile, each having at least one child and normally two or three. It is a nice facility with a large number of western toys donated by local NGO’s, and the women were eager to learn a new and inexpensive cooking and water treatment technology that would relieve some of their daily burden and expenses. The day long training session included not only instruction on how to cook food with a solar cooker, but how to make CooKits and train others, as well as how to pasteurize contaminated water for storage in water tanks already present on the compound. It was uplifting to leave this group of strong and independent women with the ability to cook daily meals without needing to walk half the day for firewood, but also to ensure that they will have adequate food and safe water for their children, in addition to more time to bring in income, furthering their independence and ensuring the well-being of their families.

Machakos Women's Group preparing food to put in the solar cookers.

Curious girl on her way home from gathering wood, gets an idea of what she could be doing with her time instead.