Solar Cooking
Last edited: 25 April 2017      
Karyn Ellis 2008.jpg

Karyn Ellis was the Director of International Program Development for Solar Cookers International (SCI) from 9/2007-1/2010. Karyn worked to collaborate and partner with fellow NGOs and indigenous government ministries to implement solar cooking, water pasteurization and safe water projects in developing countries. Karyn has a Masters of Science in International Development Technology from Humboldt State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a French minor from San Francisco State University. Before coming to SCI in the fall of 2007, Karyn worked for the Department of State in Washington, DC under a USAID contract processing Foreign Service Officers deploying to Provincial Reconstruction Units in Iraq. Karyn served in the Crisis Corps in Namibia, Southern Africa from 2004-2005, initiating an HIV/AIDS Teacher Training program with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education; and Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, West Africa from 1997-1999, teaching English and performing community development programs.

International Program Development Activities[]

Twitter feed[]

Summer 2009[]

Winter 2009[]

Program collaborations and growth in Eastern Africa

A child from Nairobi’s Kangemi slum looks on as SCI solar cooks an omelet, his first lunch in many months.

As Solar Cookers International (SCI) expanded its reach in eastern Africa and beyond, it strengthened its collaborations with community-based and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as governmental entities. SCI planned project expansion out of new offices in Kisumu, Kakamega and Machakos. There were two solar cooking demonstrations in January 2009: one in the Kangemi slum outside Nairobi, where children from the Hamomi Children’s Centre were served their first lunch in months, and can now have lunch every day thanks to solar cookers and the money saved buying fuel; and a women’s group in the newest SCI community of Machakos, where young, single mothers learned to use the sun to cook food and earn money for their young families with time saved looking for fuel-wood.

Opportunities for collaboration

Kawesa Mukasa of SCA and myself

Solar Connect Association (SCA) is the leading solar and integrated cooking organization in Uganda. SCI worked with SCA in 2008 on an integrated cooking workshop in Obia, and a follow-up workshop was planned for August, with assistance from organizing volunteers Mary Lou and Max Ozimek. SCI and SCA planned to collaborate on a safe water and integrated cooking workshop in 2010 for Uganda’s NGOs and government officials. In 2009, Peace Corps Uganda was 

CooKits @ Workshop.jpg

expanding its alternative energy programs for volunteer outreach in Uganda, where solar cooking and water pasteurization skills would be incorporated into a training program. Disabled Technicians of Uganda (DTU) has been implementing solar cooking and solar food drying projects for disabled and disadvantaged people for many years in Uganda. DTU’s 2009 initiative targeted displaced families, living in camps, who use bio-fuels as their primary source of energy. DTU is interested in program planning and project development collaborations with SCI. United Religions Initiative (URI) is a youth-based organization that has been working globally on environmental, community and conflict resolution issues since 2000; in 2009 URI was keen to incorporate solar cooking into its community and environmental programs, and offered to facilitate contacts between SCI and local environmental and governmental organizations. World Concern is a global organization that works to eradicate poverty and hunger, promote community development, dig wells and provide clean drinking water; Dr. Valery Shean developed an influential resettlement project in the disrupted village of Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda, and will incorporate solar cooking and water pasteurization into reformatory programs with the Karamojan tribe. TanzSolar’s

Marianne Walpert of TanzSolar

Marianne Walpert demonstrates solar lights from D.light (left), and sells small, durable solar lights (complete with photovoltaic panel) for about $30 (2009 price), making it the most inexpensive solar lighting system of its kind. One of D.Light's founders and two representatives from its distribution office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, expressed a desire to facilitate shipping and distribution of lights to SCI’s Kenya offices. TanzSolar, an organization that SCI collaborates with regularly, is the leading D.light distributor in northern Tanzania, making access convenient and affordable for our eastern Africa staff and for future projects. Water for Sudan, Inc. is a US-based NGO that builds wells for rural villages in southern Sudan, founded by Salva Dut, one of the well-known Lost Boys from the horrific, decades-long war and genocide in Sudan. After attending school and living in North America for many years, Dut founded Water for Sudan in 2004, in an attempt to bring badly-needed safe water to the land and people he was forced to leave as a child. Since

Lion of Water for Sudan

Water for Sudan lacks the ability to adequately test well water, SCI staffer Karyn Ellis taught Dut and his small staff how to test water using SCI’s Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML), and supplied them with necessary materials to begin incorporating the PML into their programs.

Tanzania workshop

Solar Cooking Workshop in Tanzania

While in Musoma, Tanzania, SCI employee Karyn Ellis and two of SCI’s lead trainers, Faustine and John, gave a solar and integrated cooking workshop for 35 participants from nearby Lake Victoria communities. Attendees of the workshop included members of Women in Development (WID) and Gender and Development (GAD) groups, local health workers, fishing and farming professionals, energy conservation specialists, and secondary school teachers and students. The four-day training incorporated solar cooking and water pasteurization procedures and techniques, practical use and manufacture of solar

Instructing the workshop on water testing with the PML

cookers and heat-retention cooking, energy conservation, promotional activities, and solar lighting and water testing concepts. Ms. Ellis organized an informal testing of water samples collected by participants from their homes, giving them hands-on experience with the PML’s Colilert® and Petrifilm™ tests, and instruction on how to interpret test results, allowing participants to determine which water sources required treatment in order to make their water safe to drink. Workshop participants anticipated using and teaching their new skills in neighboring villages and communities. A follow-up on this training was planned for August 2009, to include collaboration with TanzSolar, Global Resource Alliance (GRA) and SCI’s East Africa Office (closed in 2012) to gather feedback and monitor progress to ensure a successful, sustainable outcome.

Summer 2008[]

  • August 2008:

    Safe Water Workshop in Kisumu, Kenya

    With support from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the long anticipated “training of trainers” water testing and solar pasteurization workshop was held in June at Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu, Kenya. Participants included 20 top staff members each from the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation (MPHS). Solar Cookers International (SCI) staff members Margaret Owino, Faustine Odaba, Elijah Achola, Dinah Chienjo, Simon Ogutu, John Amayo and Karyn Ellis were instrumental in the success of this workshop, as was John Rimberia from Embu. Microbiologist and SCI Board President Dr. Bob Metcalf led the workshop. Topics included a review of bacterial properties and growth, pasteurization principles, use of the bacterium Escherichia coli as a contamination indicator, properties of the Colilert® and Petrifilm™ tests for E. coli, and solar pasteurization using the CooKit solar cooker and SCI’s wax-based, reusable Water Pasteurization Indicator (WAPI).
  • June 2008

    Gathering H2O Samples

    Two new projects were started this summer in Uganda and Tanzania. A 5-day Integrated Workshop in the small village of Obia, UG was initiated by a young boy, Max Ozimek, from Ohio who won a science fair award by demonstrating the effectiveness of the solar panel cooker, fashioned after the CooKit manufactured by SCI. With the help of Max's mother, Mary Lou, and priest and family friend, Father Alexander Inke, we assisted Uganda-based Solar Connect Association (SCA) in a 5-day training for 36 women in Father Inke's home village of Obia. SCA instructed participants on solar cooking techniques, use of a hay basket, and solar water pasteurization with a CooKit. Colleagues from nearby Aid Africa [1] introduced the 6-Brick Rocket Stove and educated the group on it's construction with local materials, and the importance of using as little wood as possible to help preserve local environments. I was able to to test 6 local water sources in Obia with the Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML) and present the results to the workshop, explaining the importance of hygiene practices and keeping water sources free from fecal matter, providing a nice segue into water pasteurization techniques with the CooKit and use of the WAPI.

Checking food in CooKits @ TanzSolar

In nearby Tanzania collaborations began in earnest with the recently founded nonprofit TanzSolar [2], led by Marianne Walpert of Auburn, CA with the mission of providing affordable photovoltaic (PV) panels to local internet organizations, small businesses and individuals in the Musoma region, near Lake Victoria. With the help of Marianne and her local colleagues, we put on a large demonstration on the TanzSolar compound, focusing on the importance of preserving the environment and promoting income generation through more effective and sustainable cooking and water treatment techniques. Integrated cooking method techniques were illustrated, as was the simplicity of pasteurizing water with the Water Pasteurization Indicator (WAPI), and 9 local dishes were served in the sunny courtyard. The group was amazed and impressed by how well Pilau Masala, Sukoma Wiki and Ugali cooked in the solar cookers. TanzSolar and colleague Sergio Velasquez are identifying participants for a 5-day training that will be provided by SCI's East Africa Regional Office later in the year.

Spring 2008[]

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SCI International Development Activities[]

In late 2007 I made my inaugural visit to Kenya to meet the East Africa Regional Office (EARO) staff, observe the Sunny Solutions and other active solar cooking and water projects, and assist Bob Metcalf in initiating the Safe Water Project. (See March 2008 Solar Cooker Review Article: SCI’s Kenya Program: Sunny Solutions and Beyond for Kenya project update).

Since then I have been working towards the expansion of international projects in a number of countries on a variety of levels, and they are moving along well:

East Africa[]

A close collaboration is being cultivated with TanzSolar, a California originated nonprofit based in the town of Musoma, located in the northern region of Tanzania near Lake Victoria. TanzSolar is a solar electric company providing photovoltaic (PV) panels to local individuals, organizations and rural internet businesses, which also markets an affordable solar powered lantern and would like to incorporate solar cooking and water pasteurization into their innovative program, which I will spearhead with a visit this summer. A pilot project has also been initiated in the village of Obia, Uganda, under the collaborations of a US based priest from Obia and an enterprising mother and son team from Ohio. This project will include the introduction of solar cookers into the community, training on solar cooking and water pasteurization, local production of materials, and a small team of employees with the goal of educating local schools and orphanages on environmental problems and the benefits of solar cooking. I will be launching this project with a site visit this summer.

West Africa[]

West Africa holds a place dear to my heart, which I already know is an ideal location for solar cooking projects due to experiencing its unforgiving sun for two years watching women walk by with wood on their heads (which was, incidentally, my inspiration to enter the solar field). SCI has been introduced to a Humphrey Fellow at UC Davis who is a member of the Ministry of Health in Benin, as well as founder of the nonprofit Environmental Engineering Group (EEG). Gabriel Kpadonou has sent CooKits to a handful of his colleagues in Benin, who have responded with enthusiasm. Partnering with an established nonprofit and government ministries gives this project great potential, as well as an opportunity to replicate SCI's Safe Water Project with health and water ministries in Benin.

In addition to this promising project in Benin, I still have a number of connections in West Africa from when I served in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso. I have a former colleague who now works in Senegal for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) whom we would like to see integrate solar cookers into their disaster relief and preparedness programs. I have been in contact with the Vice President of the NGO Love in Motion-Global who would like to incorporate solar cookers into the sustainable village they are creating in Liberia later this year. I recently met with Freedom From Hunger in Davis who expressed an interest in involving SCI in their village-based MicroBusiness for Health program, which involves educational and health-oriented self-help projects for women’s groups in Ghana. Heifer International also has interesting and diverse programs in Ghana and Burkina Faso that would fit with our mission nicely. It is my opinion that West Africa is a sensible target for future programs, and I have some interesting and solid leads that I intend to seriously pursue in the upcoming year.

Organizational Outreach[]

I am fostering contact with the following organizations in hopes of developing partnerships and/or establishing informational collaborations:

Fall 2007[]

I couldn't be more thrilled to be one of the newest members of the Solar Cookers International staff at such an exciting time. Having both a professional and educational background in sustainable development and environmental systems, as well as a focus on simple solar technologies for women in rural Africa for my MS in International Development Technology, I could not have asked for a position that is a better fit! I've never felt more suited to an organization and its goals and aspirations.

SCI has so much potential in the ever-growing field of international development, and I look forward to being an integral part of its expansion in developing countries across the world. With Sunny Solutions as a successful model in various regions in Kenya, the International Program Development segment of SCI looks to broaden its horizons to other countries in need of alternative methods of obtaining clean drinking water and fuel for cooking. I am very much looking forward my trip to Kenya next month to meet Margaret Owino and the rest of the Sunny Solutions team and see for myself the inspiring work going on in our East Africa Program.

In regards to humanitarian assistance, SCI will continue its partnerships with other relief agencies to assist refugees in Africa, integrating training and follow-up services to ensure effective and appropriate assistance and a sustainable outcome.

In future collaborations, it is my hope that SCI will be able to work with existing volunteers in government organizations overseas, such as Peace Corps, Crisis Corps and the Red Cross, in order to give solar technology reliable exposure in areas where there is an established need for improved water quality and a reduction of resource expenditure.

In all upcoming projects, it is SCI's hope that solar water pasteurization and cooking technologies will work hand in hand to achieve a better quality of life for people in rural communities, by significantly reducing deforestation and contaminated water, and by giving women and girls more time to generate income and be happy and productive in their societies.


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