Last updated: June 15, 2013Tanzania. Living in one of the poorest countries in the world, Tanzanians earn an average annual income per capita of less than $500. Our project was born to address high rates of deforestation and serious respiratory disease caused by the regular use of wood as cooking fuel. These issues can be diminished by free and abundant solar energy, used to cook in Solar Circle's ovens.
News and recent developments.
- January 2013: Solar Circle shares insights they have learned in Tanzania - The NGO Solar Circle has learned many things from their solar cooking program in Masasi, southern Tanzania. People will use solar cookers if they are efficient and affordable, which is often a problem for subsistence farmers who are most in need of the cookers. Even when the cookers are heavily subsidized. However, they have also learned that people will work hard to earn a solar cooker. The group has created a bartering system with community leaders. The community chooses a service project and the beneficiaries organize and oversee the effort. Participants earn an solar oven for their involvement. So far, the program has distributed more than 3000 solar ovens, and built 40 houses for people who are sick, elderly, widowed, or disabled. Because the community chooses the project and beneficiary, there’s an eagerness to work together. Surrounding villages have heard of the cookers and the program, so spreading the word has been easy. They cannot keep up with demand. The barter program relies on external help with finances, but community service represents the same effort that of money earned in outside employment. Solar Circle values that effort, and raises what money it can from friends to expand the program.
- March 2008: The Okemos, Michigan (USA) nonprofit organization Solar Circle continues its efforts to make solar cooking an option for women in Tanzania. Solar Circle works with local artisans to manufacture solar box cookers from Cyprus wood, aluminum printing plates, glass, used rubber, and other materials available in Tanzania. However, these cookers cost $70 or more to build, and are heavily subsidized to be affordable. Solar Circle has partnered with engineering students at Michigan State University (MSU) to design lighter, less expensive models that can still be made with local materials. Last year, professor Craig Somerton took nine of the students to Masasi, Tanzania to work with Brother Yohannes Mango and his team of artisans at the Benedictine Abbey in Ndanda. According to the Solar Circle Web site, the “students came armed with sound scientific theories on the behavior of light and heat, and met up with artisans experienced in constructing solar ovens. They worked together to test and improve the ovens. The artisans learned some theory, the students learned some practicalities of building without power tools and computer enhancements.” The students also spent time teaching the local population how to use the solar cookers. The on-line journal MSU Today International reported that, while the students were in Masasi, professor Brian Thompson spent time in Dar es Salaam and Morogoro working “to make the use of solar ovens a nationwide reality by networking with numerous agencies before formulating a broad initiative” involving businesses, governmental entities, and schools. The Shell foundation, for example, has since funded a solar cooking workshop in Morogoro at Sokoine University. As noted on the Solar Circle Web site, many agency representatives, entrepreneurs and policy makers attended and “gathered to learn about solar cooking and brainstorm best ways to promulgate solar cooking in Tanzania.” A number of solar cookers were on display, including models from South Africa, Netherlands, and the United States.
- April 2007: The Web site of Solar Circle tells an inspiring story of how a few people can make a big difference by working together. Solar Circle is a US-based nonprofit organization made up of a network of friends, mostly women. A few years ago, Solar Circle took two dozen American-made Global Sun Ovens® to Masasi, Tanzania, where they were enthusiastically received. However, people quickly saw the impossibility of importing enough ovens to overcome high purchase and transport costs. Consequently, Solar Circle has started a small industry in Tanzania to build solar box cookers. Several Tanzanian craftspeople have joined in the effort. They make the outer box from cypress wood, which is treated with cashew nut oil to repel insects. Reflective surfaces are made by collecting and cleaning discarded lithographic plates, and crafting them into the proper shapes. Gaskets are made from used tires or shoe leather. Students from the Mechanical Engineering Design Program at Michigan State University (USA) are collaborating to develop a model that is lighter, cheaper and more efficient, using only domestic Tanzanian materials and manufacturing processes. Mlelwa, one Tanzanian who built a solar oven, coined a new proverb: “People say 'Jua kali,' but we know 'Jua ni mali.'” ("People say the sun is hot today, but we know the hot sun is wealth").
Articles in the media
- January 2010: Local residents trade labor for solar cookers. - Lansing State Journal
- May 2007: Solar Circle provides impetus for change - Lansing State Journal
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