The pilot project began in the spring and summer (USA spring/summer) of 2009, when Camily Wedende read a story in the Solar Cooker Review about Sharon Cousins and her solar cooking projects with middle school students in the USA. Camily wrote to Sharon asking for advice on working with young people, and out of that correspondence the pilot project was born.
In our pilot project, twenty middle and high school age students researched solar cooker designs on the Internet. They constructed three solar panel cookers, one established model and two new concepts they came up with by applying creative thinking to ideas they had seen. They then performed comparison tests on all three cookers, carefully observing and recording results. All cookers reached cooking temperatures, but one idea outperformed the others at their location (almost right on the equator, which presents special challenges). They named their new design the Panel Stove Cooker. Elegant in its simplicity, just two simple shapes of plywood covered with foil, some of its secret is in the hinges. The adjustable back lets the cooker take best advantage of the wide range of angles that are presented as the sun goes so straight up and then all the way down.
Sharon Cousins, with the help of friends, family, and generous vendors from her local Farmer’s Market, raised a materials fund, so that each student could make a cooker. It was stressed to students that they had earned the materials by their hard work in developing their cooker and doing the comparison studies and experiments. When all the cookers were ready to take home, an event was held that attracted community attention. Students were encouraged to record their cooking progress at home. When all of the students had been using their cookers successfully at home for a couple of months (some of them attracting considerable attention from neighbors), a well-attended ceremony to celebrate the successful project was held.
Students were presented with certificates and field notebooks with built in pen-holder and small pen to encourage them to keep writing down ideas and recording observations. The students performed a poem about solar cooking making Kenya’s skies clean, a distinguished visitor from one of Solar Cookers International’s East Africa Offices read a speech to the children from Sharon (aka Grandma Solar), students answered questions, there were demonstrations with samples, and more. Community members encouraged the students and told them they are doing a good work and they should keep it up. A reporter came and asked many questions.
We believe our pilot project was a solid success that sets a high standard for projects to follow. The pilot project has evolved into the pilot program for Student Solar Cooking Science Projects, registered in the state of Idaho, USA. The Eldoret team is registered separately with the Kenyan government as Solar Cooking Science Projects. America-based SSCSP works to find funding and provide advice to the pilot program in Eldoret. Think of us as sister organizations.
More students are clamoring to do projects, and a second project has begun and come up with another new concept that is doing well in testing, despite the extra challenge of keeping the cost down due to current budget limitations. A materials fund is needed for prototypes and to enable students to make cookers to take home. The modest dream for our pilot program is enough funds to allow more groups of students to innovate, test, and build cookers, whether existing models that test well or new ideas.
The big dream is a space in which to work and store materials, cookers, and other resources. Currently they work their bright miracles of paint and glue and foil in the dirt, in the hot sun. Storage is a constant problem. A secure indoor area would provide a safe place for resources we hope to obtain for the projects, like a TV and DVD player, so students can watch videos on solar cooking and other useful ideas. A digital camera (that takes AAs and includes a solar charger and some extra batteries) would be immensely useful in their work and in networking what they are doing, and a computer would also be enormously helpful. At present, Camily takes the students to Internet cafés for what online connection them have, but a computer of their own and Internet connection would make for better access and more efficient progress.
Ideally they would rent or build a simple solar workshop/community space, with a larger area at the front for workshops and meetings and events, and a smaller living quarters at the back where Camily’s family can live and provide on-site security. This space might also serve other community groups and workshops. The space and basic services line Internet, along with at least a modest budget for prototype materials for successive project groups, could be accomplished for as little as $500.00 (US) per month, a small investment for a very solid gain.
Sharon believes the center could eventually provide at least some of its own support, either through manufacture and sale of cookers (some start-up micro-loan money might help this enormously) or possibly through running some sort of solar café, even if it only part time, like certain days of the month when people could buy slices of cake with solar coffee. (Cake is growing in popularity in areas with solar cookers. It is difficult to bake cakes over a three-stone fire, so most Africans don’t get a lot of cake, and many women with solar cookers bake cakes to sell.) We also hope some of the older students will be able to move on to skilled employment as solar cooker trainers and solar integrated cooking conversion consultants (orphanages, hospitals, neighborhoods, schools, youth clubs, missions, and more), manufacturers, and entrepreneurs. If we can get the projects off the ground—quite literally, in this case—there are many possibilities for growth.
We believe that we are developing a replicable model that could work in many places to promote solar cookers through the enthusiasm of youth while giving the young people valuable life skills that go far beyond the ability to cook food with sunshine. We hope to see this idea grow and spread to many places.
While we cannot consider helping with funding for new programs in other places until our pilot program in Eldoret is on a firm footing, any group that promotes solar cooking and can find a strong mentor family or couple (or possible a two or more individuals non-family team) is welcome to emulate our successful methods. We will make simple materials to help you do this available on this site as soon as we can. Meanwhile there is quite a lot of information in the Notes section of our pilot program’s Facebook page. The one detailing the steps of a basic project is fundamental.