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Last edited: 27 September 2013      

Karyn Ellis giving solar kits to Orinie Masai group

Karyn Ellis helped distribute solar cookers, pots, and “hay baskets” in Kajiado as part of a training program funded by Solar Cookers International (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 that 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. Almost every part of Kenya could benefit from solar cooking and water pasteurization. 

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

Karen made her inaugural trip to Kenya in October, 2008 to meet the Solar Cookers International (SCI) eastern Africa staff and become familiar with the programs currently in progress. She was able to not only observe SCI's knowledgeable staff leading demonstrations in Nairobi, but also experience solar cooking in SCI's most remote project areas. They traveled rough terain to the three project regions, meeting local women, children, and even men who cook and pasteurize water with solar CooKits on a daily basis. Karen and the SCI team felt a high level of enthusiasm about the benefits Sunny Solutions has brought to them.

SCI advocates the use of solar cookers whenever feasible, but are often asked, “how do I cook when the sun isn’t shining?” 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. Well-insulated “hay baskets” can maintain cooking temperatures long after pots have been removed from a heat source. The combination of these complementary technologies will significantly reduce deforestation and indoor air pollution, a common cause of respriratory disease, while giving women additional time and resources they didn’t have before.

Solar panel on modest house in village in Kenya.

During her visit, Karen made another solar-related observation; she noted the number of very modest homes that had photovoltaic panels. She was struck that several families in rural villages were converting solar power to electricity, while next door, families were struggling with sooty, smoky, hazardous paraffin lamps simply to see indoors. Inspired by witnessing broad use of photovoltaic panels in some of the poorest communities in Kenya, Karen intends to look into other simple solar devices, such as flashlights and lanterns, that can benefit those in the Sunny Solutions areas. 

As noted in the November 2007 Solar Cooker Review, SCI began 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) has given rural health workers and community members the ability 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 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!

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