As volunteers with Alfalit International, Inc., we teach nutrition, gardening and solar cooking throughout Latin America. Alfalit is an interdenominational program in 25 countries, mostly in Latin America and Africa, working for 50 years to combat illiteracy and to improve the integral development of individuals, families and communities. Other programs focus on basic education, preschool and community development.
Since our retirement in 1998, my husband Chuck and I have taught in homes, schools and preschools, prisons, churches, hospitals, health clinics, universities, community centers and dining centers, in the following countries: Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the United States, Portugal, Liberia, Angola, and Mozambique. I have also taught solar cooking in Argentina, El Salvador, and Honduras,
In the high Andes Mountains of Peru, Quechua women thought it impossible to cook in a cardboard solar cooker — until they tasted the potatoes and cabbage Chuck cooked in one! Although they begged us to leave our cooker, as always, we taught them to make their own at almost no cost. Survivors of the “Shining Path” guerrillas, they had returned home after, in their words, “losing 10 years of our lives.”
Indigenous people in Panama were amazed and excited to taste the green plantains we cooked in a simple solar cooker. Eager to avoid walking 2-3 hours to collect firewood — often with their small children — and to avoid constant wood smoke in their lungs and eyes, they made their own solar cookers from cardboard boxes, glue and aluminum foil. They quickly learned how to cook a delicious local recipe using plantain skins.
Just months before the disastrous December 1999 floods in Venezuela, where 25,000-50,000 people drowned, we had taught solar cooking in several areas. Some survivors later reported they had cooked and pastuerized water using solar cookers, the only means available.
In a part of Nicaragua still suffering from Hurricane Mitch, almost nobody came to our announced solar cooker program -- until some curious passersby noticed foods cooking in the solar cooker. As we demonstrated the cooker, more and more folks gathered, ready to learn more about both solar cooking and ways to feed their families better with very limited resources and still-limited foods. Some others had relied on solar cookers after the hurricane.
Haiti has a special need for solar cookers. Most of Haiti is deforested, and therefore eroded, arid, and much hotter than before the trees were cut. Much of the country is now, literally, a desert.
In several countries, even in cities, many quickly grasp the value of solar cookers to pasteurize water and to cook because people are very concerned about fuel shortages and rising prices of cooking gas. Often, no gas is available at any price. One Mexican family bathed their new baby in water heated in their solar cooker.
We have taught approximately 1000 persons in 20 countries to make and use solar cookers and have demonstrated and explained their use to several thousand more. Our purpose is to teach those who will teach others. Usually we do not return to the same places. We recognize that systematic follow-up is essential to adoption of solar cooking. However, because Alfalit works mostly with volunteers, with major emphasis in literacy and basic education, there is little specific follow-up related to solar cooking. Result: more people are taught to make and use cookers and teach others, but with limited follow-up. Return visits by Alfalit staff and others indicate some continued use of solar cookers. We have observed much interest in solar cooking, but sustaining it is a challenge. Overall, we have found that increased use of gardens and solar cooking contribute significantly to improved nutrition and health.
[Written for Solar Cooker Review by Ruth Dow in March 2002, updated November 2011]
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