In an unprecedented show of dedication to the environment and future wellbeing of Nicaragua, the Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa delivered 22 solar cookers from their workshop in Sabana Grande to the city of Estelí in the fall of 2007. The women’s group is a long time affiliate of Grupo Fenix, and together they have been incorporating and promoting renewable energy in rural Nicaraguan communities for nearly a decade.
The opportunity for the women to spread their solar energy culture to Estelí came by way of winning a solar cooker competition hosted by the Mayor of Estelí and the Universidad Nacional Autónomo Nicaragüense. The Mayor of Estelí then provided most of the funding for the Mujeres Solares to build the cookers, with essential funding also coming from The Body shop Inc.’s ongoing environmental program.
Four members of the Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa presented the solar cookers to the chosen recipients and the Mayor of Estelí September, 13. The women then hosted a solar empowerment workshop demonstrating how to use, care for and assimilate the solar cookers into their daily routines.
Solar cookers heat food using only direct energy of the sun, a fact that Nimia Lopez, President of the women’s group, believes to have many advantages over conventional wood burning ovens that are used throughout Nicaragua. Use of the solar cookers displaces the burning firewood which helps families save money, puts less pressure on the deforestation and environment of Nicaragua, avoids the respiratory health risks associated with indoor fires, and has a positive overall effect in the worldwide effort to curtail climate change.
While the Mujeres Solar de Totogalpa have been building and using solar cookers for years, this is the first major order that the women’s group has received. They hope that the event in Estelí will help spread the demand for renewable energy options throughout the country and that people around the world will be motivated to live more sustainably.
The Solar Women of Totogalpa envision not only economic self-sufficiency but also growing our solar businesses to the point where we can create the infrastructure necessary to share our vision of renewable energy community development with others. Our long-term vision is to create a model sustainable community that hosts the businesses we have started in photovoltaics, solar cookers and dryers, and solar cooked and dried foods and herbs. We also envision a “campus” with a research center so we can continually improve our products, a restaurant serving solar cooked meals, a lodging facility for course participants and others visiting our model community, a children’s playground, and a multi-purpose court for fairs, promotional events, and sports use for community youth.
El Centro Solar is the name of the demonstration solar energy campus in Sabana Grande, Nicaragua run by Las Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa.
News and recent developments
- December 2013: Adelante Con El Sol: The Solar Women of Totogalpa is a short documentary set in rural Nicaragua that follows a group of women through their journey toward a sustainable lifestyle. The film was created by CalmDog Productions. Watch this excellent twenty-two minute film, and help the producers receive the Audience Choice Award.
- June 2013: Turismo más sostenible con energía solar fotovoltaica en Latinoamérica. - Suelo Solar (English version)
- February 2013: Cornell University students working as the Solar Cooking Team, visited the Solar Women of Totogalpa and Grupo Fenix in March 2012. The project for this year was to design and build versions of cookers intended for easy prefabrication and shipment. The standard cooker design is 30 inches square (exterior), 12 inches high and weighs roughly 60 pounds. It is an effective cooker, but is not easy to ship, especially with its heavy and brittle double glazed top.The team brought two new designs. A main design parameter of the cookers was to be able to use materials readily available in Nicaragua and with methods already understood. The first cooker used wooden framing, fiberglass insulation and sheet metal typical of the cookers produced at the Centro Solar. This cooker weighed about 50 pounds and used Reynolds cooking bags stretched on thin metal frames instead of glass for the top glazing. Both metal cases were hinged to allow easy folding. The cooker was partially disassembled and packed in a cardboard box which was checked onto the airplane for the trip, to prove its transportability. It was reassembled after arrival in Sabana Grande. The second cooker used interior and exterior sheet metal boxes framed with light aluminum angle stock. The boxes were separated by a layer of fiberglass board insulation. The tops of the two metal cases are secured by screws to a rectangular wooden frame, which supported the door/top. The door/top also used cooking bags stretched on thin metal frames as glazing. This cooker weighed approximately 30 pounds and was brought inside a suitcase. Read more at Cornell University Solar Cooker Team visits Nicaragua Spring 2012
- May 2011: Twelve women participated in a program where they first constructed solar box cookers under the direction from the Solar Women of Totogalpa in Nicaragua. Then they set about to create their favorite recipe and demonstrated their new ovens in a cook-off at the Solar Trade Fair. Mauro Perez, a member and only man in the Women's Association is working on the project to develop solar equipment use. In addition to solar cookers, the association constructs solar energy panels and equipment for homes and farms. The group also sponsors international university students to come to the workshop and participate in the construction programs. Perez also reported to have received support from United Nations Program for the construction of infrastructure at the workshop. It is encouraging to see the participation of the United Nations in the effort to promote solar cooking programs.
- October 2010: The Solar Women of Totogalpa, the inspiring women that SEI works with in Nicaragua, are soon to open their solar restaurant in Latin America. The restaurant, in the small village of Sabana Grande, will offer solar cooked foods, solar dried fruits and coffee, and will be PV powered.
- October 2010: Coming in February 2011, The Solar Women of Totogalpa and Eco-Zone Explorers have partnered to offer a two week tour to the remote village of Totogalpa for a solar cooking workshop, both making and baking with a solar oven. Then a few days at a beach town near the border of Costa Rica. Also included will be a tour of an organic coffee farm. More Information...
- July 2010: The Solar Women of Totogalpa have been involved in their community for quite a while helping to promote energy production in areas with no traditional source of electricity. Early emphasis was primarily with photo voltaic solar panel installation. After some time, the women agreed that they thought the solar ovens were more a priority, as even with electricity, they were still cooking with wood stoves. Saving the forested areas and smoke elimination while cooking were deemed more important for community health. More Information...
- April 2010: Grupo Fenix was founded in 1995 by a group of engineering students and professor Susan Kinne at the National Engineering University (Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería) in Managua, Nicaragua. The mission of Grupo Fenix is to contribute to the wellbeing of rural communities, creating an awareness of sustainable lifestyles through technical and cultural exchange, promotion, and research in the field of renewable energy. A 1999 Grupo Fenix project to reintegrate landmine victims into society through renewable energy technology jobs gave birth to the Solar Women of Totogalpa — a group of nearly two dozen women, mostly single mothers with little time or money, that recognized the potential benefits solar cookers and solar food dryers could bring to themselves and their community. The Solar Women have been learning about and teaching solar cooking and drying for several years. A 2008 survey of 18 Solar Women, predominantly living in Sabana Grande, revealed that they use their solar cookers daily or almost daily, usually in conjunction with a more traditional wood or gas stove. They frequently use solar cookers to roast coffee, as well as to cook meat, rice, eggs, beans, and bananas. Twelve of the surveyed women say they are now able to bake and roast foods that they could not do easily over fire, while 11 of them use the solar cookers to produce items for sale, such as baked goods, candies, and roast coffee. According to Grupo Fenix volunteer Charlotte Ross, the Solar Women are committed to working together to create job opportunities for themselves and future generations. “Women that have been generally shy and passive for generations are now taking a vested interest in bettering their community and environment, making and voting on decisions about their future, listening to themselves and one another, and feeling proud about what they have to say.” The Solar Women not only teach others to make solar cookers from simple materials like scrap cardboard and aluminum foil, but also manufacture and sell solar box cookers made from durable materials like metal and wood. These cookers are fairly large, and accommodate multiple cooking pots. Through service-learning partnerships with university groups like Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service-learning (ETHOS) and Engineers for a Sustainable World, the Solar Women have been able to improve upon their solar cooker designs while giving real-world development experience to students. The planned sustainable community in Sabana Grande recently passed its first milestone with the construction of a solar center Grupo Fenix and the Solar Women hope to create a model sustainable community in Sabana Grande that creates jobs and is replicable. Recently, the Solar Women took a huge step forward by planning and constructing a solar center on three acres of land situated on the main highway to Honduras. They hand made the nearly 6,000 adobe bricks used in the structure, and collectively volunteered over 8,000 hours in one year to build the center. This first building houses a small office, a shop for building solar cookers and photovoltaic panels, and a small warehouse. Grupo Fenix and the Solar Women hope to further develop the land to include a research center, market, and solar restaurant. Recent grants from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS) will be used to get the solar restaurant up and running. In late 2007, the Solar Women fulfilled their first significant order for solar box cookers. They won a solar cooker competition hosted by the Mayor of Esteli, which led to funding to build and deliver 22 solar cookers to select families in Esteli. This was followed by workshops on how to use and care for the solar cookers, and tips for assimilating the solar cookers into daily routines. Grupo Fenix and 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. Most recently, the Solar Women were one of five Supporting Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development (SEED) award winners. SEED is a global network founded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and UNDP. SEED awards support local start-up enterprises working in developing countries to improve livelihoods, reduce poverty, and manage natural resources. The specific project submitted by the Solar Women — Lighting up Hope and Communities — includes the production and sale of solar cookers and solar food dryers, solar roasted coffee, solar-baked cookies, and solar-produced jams, jellies, and pickles. “This award recognizes [the Solar Women’s] innovation and entrepreneurship, and their likely contribution to promote economic growth, social development, and environmental management in Nicaragua,” noted SEED Executive Director Helen Marquard.
- December 2009: Las Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa were recently awarded a grant from the GEF Small Grants Programme to built a restaurant which will promote solar cooking and solar drying as clean and appropriate technologies. For more information...
Map of the Centro Solar [http://www.openstreetmap.org/?lat=13.5265&lon=-86.48956&zoom=17&layers=M
- The Sabor Solar Cookbook shows how to cook Nicaraguan foods in a solar cooker: (English version or Spanish version)
- Grupo Fenix
- Colativo Solar Cooker
- Income generation
Articles in the media
- June 2013: Turismo más sostenible con energía solar fotovoltaica en Latinoamérica. - Suelo Solar (English version)
- Nicaraguans Swap Firewood and Fossil Fuels for Solar Energy
Audio and video
- April 2011: Local television video of the Las Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa complex.
The Solar Women of Totogalpa
Kilómetro 212, Careterra Managua to Ocotol
Centro Solar: Telephone: 00-505-915-5722
Cell, Antonina Ortega: 00-505-664 9047
Cell, Nimia Lopez: 00-505-434 0329