Spread the Light About Solar Cooking

Remember that old phrase “it was hot enough to fry eggs on” ? Guess what? It’s really true. And you can cook a whole lot more than you ever imagined with today’s solar cookers.

I confess, we actually own both a solar oven and a solar stove, so I really know of where I speak.  Most recently my aunt and her travel companion came for a visit and we cooked both the potatoes and the roast pork (grass fed, free range, with herb rub mixture of salt, cracked pepper and coriander, rubbed rosemary,  and a few chili flakes ) out side on the solar appliances. Needless to say they had some great stories and pictures to take home to Edmonton.

But solar cooking is also having a dramatic impact on the lives of people in the “developing world”.  It has spawned a very successful and highly laudable micro-enterprise in the northern mountains of Nicaragua. Here’s some information.

Nicaragua Solar Project

We are very happy to be working on a program with the Solar Women of Totogalpa in Nicaragua where we bring a small group of people from North America to a remote village in the Central American highlands.

We have partnered with a local NGO and a Nicaraguan tour company to create a unique tour that will take participants to the village of Sabana Grande to spend a week in what is termed a Sustainable Communities in Renewable Energy project. After the week here we take a few more days to see some of the rest of country and end up with a couple of nights in a small beach town near the Costa Rican border.

The idea of the project came several years ago and has really been advanced by the local women. This has proven to be very successful  as opposed to so many well-meaning, but poorly supported, aid programs that have failed in the past.

This is a very real experience and participants will stay with families in their homes. Conditions are very rudimentary, not that much different from camping – however, you will have incredible experiences that will probably change your view of the world.

Participants will:

* Build a solar oven with the local women’s group, the Solar Women of Totogalpa
* Tour an organic coffee farm and make your own solar roasted coffee in the community
* Listen to talks on Solar Dryers, Medicinal Plants, the Green Store project, and our micro-loan program
* Take a solar cooking class and learn about the importance of soy as you make delicious soy empanadas or chorizo
* Visit local families that have photovoltaic systems installed in their homes and learn how the sun’s light generates clean energy. Plus there will be some visits to other areas around Sabana Grande to see local sites.

More Background on the Women

The Solar Women of Totogalpa is a group of women with a vision for the future which they are making a reality every day.  They have been constructing, with adobe bricks made with their own hands, the first buildings on their newly acquired solar center grounds.  But along with the physical construction, the women are building strong bonds between former Sandinistas and Contras, and new economic and social models to further their development in a sustainable way.
Totogalpa lies three hours north of the capital city Managua, Nicaragua.  Nested among rolling hills and fertile plains, it is primarily an agricultural community tied together by strong family values.  By modern standards, life here is simple and lacking in amenities, yet it is a place where hard work is valued as highly as friends and family.  Through their own efforts and with the help of national and international organizations and volunteers, the Solar Women have been making progress toward a brighter future.
It has been eighteen years since the war officially ended in Nicaragua, but remnants of the conflict, such as landmines, continue to affect the community.  Many soldiers’ and civilians’ lives were taken by landmines, and those who survived have struggled for years to regain their mental and physical health.  It is that much more difficult being physically handicapped in a society which suffers from extreme poverty, natural disasters, and severe unemployment.  The immediate and most devastating effects are born by the land mine victims, of course, but the community as a whole also suffers from the impact that landmine injuries have on family and community relationships.

Recently, the Solar Women took a huge step to make their dreams reality by completing the construction of their adobe Solar Center building on three acres of donated land situated on the main through highway to Honduras, right off the Pan American highway.  The women have created a plan for a Solar Center that would house an office, research center, production shops, market, restaurant, and hotel.  This solar “campus” would provide the infrastructure they envision to promote and sell solar products and house and feed visitors coming to their model solar community for courses in solar technology.  They have planted many fruits and medicinal and culinary herbs on this site, all grown organically and with an eye toward not only feeding their community, but also marketing them regionally.  They enjoy experimenting with new foods and plants and how best to cook and dry them in the solar cookers and dryers they have designed and built. They also are in the process of exploring partnerships with coffee growers to solar roast and market their beans.

Dreams of a Solar Campus

In one year alone, the Solar Women contributed over 8,000 hours in volunteer work just on the their first building, making every one of the almost 6,000 adobe bricks with their own hands.  The first Solar Center building is now open and houses a small office, a shop for building photovoltaic panels and solar cookers, and a small warehouse.  It also functions as a center for the community for special occasions, such as the arrival or departure of Solar Culture Course participants and international volunteers.  The women, together with a local NGO , offer solar culture courses several times a year that not only teach the skills and technology of building solar panels and cookers, but the realities of life as a campesino in Nicaragua.

The Solar Women have also built a Clivus composting toilet and installed a solar water pump on the center grounds, and in partnership with ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency), replanted more than 14,000 native trees in the community.  The women also maintain a Green Store (Tienda Verde), a Nanoloan Revolving Fund, and a Scholarship Fund/Committee.

The Solar Women have received national and international recognition for their dedication to sustainable development and for serving as a model to other communities in Nicaragua and beyond.  The most recent came from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in partnership with the UN Commissions on the Environment and on Development.

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