More than half the world’s six billion people depend on solid fuel for cooking–wood, charcoal, coal, crop residue, or dung. Fuel must be purchased or laboriously gathered and carried home. The humanitarian toll of this dependence is staggering.
Forests dwindle; brush becomes scarce. Women and girls walk miles to find wood, carrying up to sixty-pound bundles home. Many face dangers of attack by villagers or landowners, or by roving thugs, rapists, or wild animals. Women with no one to care for infants carry them low in a hip sling to leave room for the load. Infants have been killed–some decapitated–when a basket or rope breaks and the load slips. These women have no alternative. Staples like rice and cornmeal require cooking. Raw vegetables may not be safe due to ground or water contamination.
Indoor pollution from cooking fires kills 1.6 million people each year, mostly women and young children, who spend hours each day with open fires in poorly ventilated spaces. Many children are injured or killed in cooking fire accidents. Diarrheal diseases from unsafe water cause another 2.2 million deaths. Billions experience misery and downtime. With little fuel for cooking, none is left for pasteurization.
Solar pasteurization uses free power. A simple Water Pasteurization Indicator makes solar pasteurization easy and sure. Solar panel and box cookers do not make smoke or fire and cannot themselves cause serious burns.
Solar cookers free girls to attend school. Some schools in the developing world use solar cookers in their lunch programs. Smart Mexican teens built solar ovens for their school, to heat lunches brought from home. Solar cooking science projects can engage and empower students, as in this pilot project in Eldoret, Kenya I have been e-advising, in which middle and high school age students have invented a new solar panel cooker design that outperformed two others in tests.
Solar cooking jobs as constructors and trainers empower women with new opportunities for employment. Many entry levels are possible for manufacture, sales, and entrepreneurship. The large, powerful Global Villager Sun Oven–which has propane back-up and is also suitable for large schools, orphanages, hospitals, etc.–enables start-up of village bakeries, providing jobs and producing fresh bread and baked goods in places where they were previously unavailable.
Even with a smaller cooker or two, many women find they can cook for their families and still bake a cake, often sold by the slice or for a special event such as a birthday. Women frequently use time saved by solar cooking to enlarge their gardens or do craft work that they can sell. Families starting with savings from one solar cooker have worked their way up to purchasing livestock and trees.
Solar cooking, introduced with cultural sensitivity, training, and follow-up, saves money, time, pain, and lives. Successes like the Iridimi and Tuolom refugee camps in Chad, where solar cookers keep women safer and provide employment, show that this sunny solution can play a significant role in improving lives.
Solar cookers are going out by dozens, hundreds, thousands, and are increasingly welcomed and accepted. They need to go out by millions. Solar cooking and pasteurization technology addresses all eight of the United Nations Millennium Goals, and it is time for it to come into its own. Scaling up to meet the crying need and gaining acceptance by larger aid and emergency response efforts and programs is a subject of considerable discussion and effort among underfunded organizations promoting solar cooking and water purification.
Solar Cookers International maintains the most comprehensive online repository of information on solar cooking, related technologies, and the people and organizations that promote them, the Solar Cooking Archive and accompanying Solar Cooking Wiki. SCI representatives to the United Nations work for stronger support for solar cooking programs. SCI has partnered with projects in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Chad, and more, in addition to maintaining the Kenya-based East Africa Office. A recent response to the Haitian earthquake sent 200 solar cookers to Haiti, with another 200 on the way. SCI’s upcoming turnkey package will make it easier for larger aid groups and disaster relief organizations to plug into solar cooking.
Many dedicated organizations work toward similar goals. Solar Household Energy (SHE), Sun Ovens International, Gnibouwa Diassana’s Sun for All, Sun Cookers International, Vietnam Solar Serve, Solar Oven Society, Solar Cookers World Network (an umbrella organization), and hundreds more are working bright miracles in more than 100 countries.
Support the solar cooking solution. Help make the world a brighter, cleaner place for everyone.
What You Can Do
Donate to Solar Cookers International or other solar cooking NGOs and projects. Persuade your church or club to do a fundraiser to donate to solar cooking. If you like carbon offsets, solar cooking is a good way to go, since one solar cooker keeps an annual estimated 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere.
–Make at least one simple solar cooker and attain at least enough competency to heat soup (if you break the seal and slide the can into a clean black cotton-blend sock and keep it right-side-up, you can heat soup and such in the can in a solar cooker) and pasteurize water in an emergency. See the first post in this series for more information.
–Churches, clubs, or communities with “sister cities” or an “adopted” neighborhood or village or institution in the developing world can consider a solar cooking project with their community. Many solar cooking NGOs will provide advice for a successful project. If you have a partnership with a hospital or orphanage or school, consider raising funds for a Global Villager Sun Oven (preferably with the whole bakery package) project.
–If you are involved in mission work, teach outgoing missionaries how to rig and use a simple solar cooker or two. Same for people joining Peace Corps or going to remote or primitive places to live and work at any jobs. They will have an easier, safer time, and it is another way to minister or serve. The CooKit is a light, inexpensive folding cooker, good for traveling and emergencies, if you’d rather buy one than make one. (Travel tip: In some places where oven bags are not available in stores, it is possible to obtain autoclave-able bags from hospitals that will work just as well.)
–If you are involved in emergency relief work or charitable organizations that serve the developing world, promote solar cooking to your group or organization.
–If you are involved with youth groups or organizations, do a solar cooking project. Kids love learning to make their own treats in solar cookers, and today’s youth are tomorrow’s Peace Corps volunteers, scientists, and innovators.
–Volunteer time and skills to a solar cooking organization. Help needed ranges from stuffing envelopes or other office tasks through things like donating computer skills, writing copy or editing, doing promotional art, or constructing cookers, all the way to traveling overseas to work in projects (though often you must pay your own way to do this).
–For more ideas, visit What You Can Do To Promote Solar Cookers on the Solar Cooking Wiki.
Sharon Cousins lives, loves, works, writes, reads, gardens, enjoys playing music and singing, and cooks with sunshine, high on a ridge ten miles north of Moscow, Idaho. Sharon’s fascination with solar cooking began late in ’06, while doing research for a novel series she is working on. You can read more about her solar cooking activities on her Solar Cooking Wiki page. You can learn more about Sharon’s writing and approach to writing on her unique writers’ website, Write ’em Cowgirls! and in her free writers’ e-newsletter, the Write ’em Cowgirls Express. Sharon is currently a member of the executive board of Solar Cookers International and also serves as a regional representative for the International Women’s Writing Guild.