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SCI’s Kenya Program: Sunny Solutions and Beyond

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By Karyn Ellis, Solar Cookers International's Director of International Program Development

Giving Solar Kits

Karyn giving solar kits to Orinie Masai group

Karyn Ellis (left) helped distribute solar cookers, pots, and “hay baskets” in Kajiado as part of a training program funded by SCI and the Lift Up Africa organization.

Solar Cookers International’s Sunny Solutions project began in the northern region of Nyakach, Kenya in 2003, and expanded in 2005 to Kadibo, near Lake Victoria, and just south of Nairobi in Kajiado. The project was initiated to introduce and market affordable solar cookers to people in rural areas. Each of these communities benefit from abundant sunshine, but what little vegetation is available is quickly taken and used for fuel, and — as in many areas of Africa — firewood collection is laborious, often requiring women and girls to walk several kilometers per day. Just about every part of Kenya could benefit from solar cooking and water pasteurization. We have our work cut out for us.

I made my inaugural trip to Kenya last October to meet the Solar Cookers International (SCI) eastern Africa staff and become familiar with our programs there. I was fortunate to not only observe our knowledgeable staff leading demonstrations in Nairobi, but to also experience solar cooking in our most remote project areas. We traveled via four wheel drive (a necessity!) to the three project regions, meeting local women, children, and even men who cook and pasteurize water with solar CooKits on a daily basis. It was inspiring to see our programs in action, and most of the people we met were extremely enthusiastic about the benefits Sunny Solutions has brought to them.

SCI advocates the use of solar cookers whenever feasible, but we are often asked, “How do I cook when the sun isn’t shining?”
Showing the Hay...

Rice cooked in a hay basket after brought to a boil on a stove.

At nighttime, or on inclement days, SCI suggests fuel-efficient stoves that use a minimal amount of firewood or other biomass fuel. Several types of these stoves are available in Kenya. SCI staff and solar cooker representatives in Kenya also produce and distribute insulated heat-retention devices (“hay baskets”) that allow food to continue to cook after being removed from a heat source. The combination of these complementary technologies will significantly reduce deforestation and indoor air pollution, while giving women additional time and resources they didn’t have before.

Well-insulated “hay baskets” maintain cooking temperatures long after pots have been removed from a heat source I was struck on these visits by the number of very modest homes that had photovoltaic panels. I couldn’t believe it: several families in these rural villages were converting solar power to electricity, while right next door families were struggling with sooty, smoky, hazardous paraffin lamps simply to see indoors. I am encouraged, after witnessing broad use of solar power in some of the poorest communities in Kenya, to look into other simple solar devices, such as flashlights and lanterns, that can benefit those in the Sunny Solutions areas. Modest photovoltaic panels are in use by some families in rural Kenya.

Panel on Roof

Solar panel on modest house in village in Kenya.

As noted in the November 2007 Solar Cooker Review, SCI has begun a safe water project in Kenya led by SCI founder and board president Dr. Bob Metcalf, a professor of Biological Sciences at California State University, Sacramento. Bob’s development of a Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML) will allow rural health workers and community members to test water quality in the field by assessing levels of Escherichia coli contamination. The revolutionary PML can be used anywhere by practically anyone, and it will liberate government ministries in charge of water analysis who have had difficulties gauging water quality in rural areas due to travel limitations and technical expenses.
Professor Metcalf teaching water testing methods

Professor Metcalf teaches simple scientific water testing methods in Kadibo, Kenya

Anticipated outcomes from the project include significant reductions in the incidence of waterborne diseases in over 20 communities, and broader community awareness of simple and effective water testing and water pasteurization techniques. A training is tentatively planned for this spring, with officials and representatives from the Kenya Water Resources Management Authority and the Kenya Ministry of Health. This is the first time that these two government ministries have collaborated on a project like this, and we are thrilled to have their participation and support. Major funding for this program has come from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, for which we are very grateful!

A new project in the works for western Kenya is the development of an SCI resource center that will offer consultations, trainings, and information resources for solar cookers and related technologies, project planning, and local environmental organizations. Unfortunately, these plans have been put on hold as a result of the political crisis that erupted in the wake of the recent presidential elections. This volatile situation, while showing light at the end of the tunnel, has disrupted current and future plans for countless organizations in Kenya, SCI included.

SCI is considering providing humanitarian assistance when things begin to settle down, similar to work we’ve done in refugee camps in Chad, Ethiopia, and elsewhere in Kenya. Over 300,000 people have been driven from their homes since the December 27 elections, and camps to house internally displaced persons (IDPs) are growing every day. As of the end of January there were over 350 spontaneous IDP camps reported in Nairobi and western Kenya alone. Organizations such as the Red Cross and United Nations have assisted by providing emergency shelter and household kits. If large numbers of people are forced to remain in these camps, SCI has the knowledge and experience to implement valuable relief through solar cooking and solar water treatment.

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