The “Solar Sisters” Mary Buchenic and Jennifer Gasser have taught solar cooking for more than 20 years in the US and abroad. In a small village in Haiti, they witnessed firsthand how people are changing their attitudes to solar cookers.
From park demonstrations in Youngstown to local projects in Haiti and Kenya, Buchenic and Gasser seize any opportunity to teach about solar cooking. In January 2017, they were invited to bring solar cookers to Chantal in Haiti, a small agricultural area in the southwestern part of the country. Here, more than 15 people attended their workshops every day despite hot sun. However, not everyone was convinced.
“As we began our workshops, one of the bystanders was the chief of police, who was there in his official capacity to monitor the medical clinic that was taking place at the convent. He was skeptical. Why would we bother with this oven when you can just put the food on a fire and it’s done in no time?
It didn’t help that the first day of the workshop was somewhat cloudy. The policeman told Buchenic and Gasser that he works many hours a day, and that he doesn’t have time to wait for his food. While a fire is quick, their oven was not, according to the policeman. On the second day, however, the policeman’s attitude started to change.
“He became much more interested”, Buchenic explains. “Now it was sunny and beautiful outside, and the local team had been to the market to purchase ingredients for a traditional Haitian style dish of beans and rice.”
“As people began to cook, the officer watched with some amazement as the water quickly came to a boil and the dish was completed in the same amount of time as it would have been over an open fire. He was first in line for the sample. The taste of the food would be the clincher. It was delicious!” Buchenic says.
The policeman was no longer a skeptic. Soon, he sampled the second Haitian meal cooked on the SolSource – spaghetti with smoked herring.
This story didn’t surprise Buchenic or Gasser, as they have seen the same skepticism turn into amusement and inspiration many times. To them, this is the essence of what is needed to spread solar cooking in local communities like Chantal.
The taste of the food would be the clincher. It was delicious!
Developing a local team
“This is the kind of story that must be recreated over and over again, one person at a time. If a team goes into a community and simply ‘drops off’ a solar cooker, then adoption of solar cooking is not likely to occur”, they state. “Our approach was to introduce the workshop participants to solar cooking technology and to find out together if it would work for their needs and their style of cooking.”
At the conclusion of their visit to Haiti, a local team had been formed to help people in the community get familiar with solar cooking. The team share solar cooking techniques with local women’s groups and teach preparedness for future natural disasters, showing how a solar cooker can help provide clean water. In addition, the local team discussed the opportunity to earn money by cooking with the SolSource and selling the food at the market. Finally, they intend to cook in the school courtyard to share solar cooked food with the 900 students there.
“People in Haiti are very resourceful and creative, and this technology can benefit them in many ways.”, Gasser says.
Communities working together
The workshop participants preferred to cook with parabolic solar cookers as they are the closest to the regular stoves people use in Chantal. However, these are not affordable for individual families. Instead, Buchenic explains, if communities go together, they may be able to set up central cooking stations.
“There is great interest in finding uses for the SolSource within the community including the potential for operating small food-based businesses with the solar cookers.”
To reach what Malcolm Gladwell has coined “the tipping point” of acceptance of solar cooking, Buchenic believes getting local people on board is crucial.
“We must depend on support from people who are respected in their communities and who will spend the time needed to share this technology with others.”
Looking forward, Buchenic and Gasser believe solar cookers have the potential to improve the quality of life in Chantal.
“Today, they use charcoal or wood to cook. By using solar cookers instead, women will not be gathering wood or tending to the stove as much.” Buchenic says. “I feel that we have just begun a process that could, with support and dedication, last for many years”.
Gasser agrees. “While we continue to spread the word through local demonstrations here in the US, we have offers to teach in India, Africa and other regions. The potential is unlimited.”
To support “The Solar Sisters” mission to build awareness about solar cooking, One Earth Designs has provided them with two SolSource stoves and project support.
If you want to help Buchenic and Gasser with a donation, checks can be made to Global Development Solutions, a 501(c)3 non-profit, and mailed to GDS, 318 North Main St. Hubbard, OH 44425, or donate by visiting gdsnonprofit.org.