SUNSPOTS December Solstice 2007
Special Kenya update: We want to thank everyone who has contacted us to express their concern for the well-being of our staff in Kenya, given the ongoing violence that has erupted in the country. We have been in regular contact with Margaret Owino, Director, SCI Eastern Africa Region, who confirms that all SCI employees there are accounted for and safe.
Unfortunately, the violence has significantly impacted two large SCI projects. Staff are not able to travel freely to visit the Sunny Solutions project, and training for the Safe Water project has been delayed until March or April.
We are currently working with our Kenya staff to determine how SCI might help address the growing humanitarian crisis. As the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) grows and the need for camps increases, it might be appropriate for SCI to partner with other international NGOs or country-based organizations to provide training in CooKit use and the water pasteurization process throughout the IDP camps.
The ability of SCI to offer assistance during this crisis, while continuing to operate our established programs will require support from our friends and donors. Funds are needed to support any relief activity we undertake and also to help offset steep price increases on virtually every good and service that SCI uses in Kenya.
To help SCI navigate through this crisis, you can make a donation on-line by visiting www.solarcookers.org/support/donations.html. For additional information, please contact Michael Hayes, Resource Development Coordinator (916-455-4499 or
Message from the Board
On behalf of the SCI Board of Directors, I extend a hearty "thanks" to you, our volunteers, donors and staff, for the time and tireless effort that everyone gave to SCI last year. Such dedication sustains our organization and its ongoing mission to promote solar cooking and water pasteurization throughout the world, particularly among populations in need.
I was asked to prepare the "Message" for this fourth issue of SunSpots, because of its focus on our work in Humanitarian Assistance, one of SCI's four program areas. I chair the board's humanitarian committee, which began as an ad hoc group to assist with efforts for Darfur refugees in Chad. The committee was given a full standing at our September 2007 board meeting.
By approving the committee's change in status, the board recognizes the potential of increased SCI involvement within the humanitarian assistance realm of the international aid arena. Up to now, SCI efforts in international aid have focused on serving refugee populations in eastern Africa.
The goal of the humanitarian committee is to help define and guide SCI's initiatives in this area as we move forward in 2008. For more details, please read SCI Executive Director, Patrick Widner's discussion about the process in this SunSpots issue.
With another year gone by, our heartfelt thanks go to three dedicated board members whose terms ended at the close of 2007 Dick Cochran, John Collentine, and Joyce Hightower. And with the New Year upon us, the SCI board welcomes two new members, A.J. Lederman and James Moose, who were introduced in the November issue of the Solar Cooker Review.
Again, on behalf of the board, I look forward the coming year and the ongoing participation of you, our friends and key stakeholders. We anticipate several exciting opportunities for SCI as we continue to grow our partnership with the NGO community, which seeks to address some of the world's most pressing health, economic, and social challenges.
Program Highlight: Humanitarian Assistance
Women residing in
Kakuma refugee camp
gather around a
By Patrick Widner, SCI Executive Director
Founded some 20 years ago, Solar Cookers International has pursued its mission to spread solar cooking and water pasteurization around the world in several different ways, each of which can be attributed to one of the four program areas around which we operate today.
Two of our programs Education Resources and Advocacy focus primarily on the development and dissemination of solar cooking information, and involve activities such as communications, technology, networking, teaching, policymaking and more.
International Program Development and Humanitarian Assistance are the other two areas around which SCI organizes its work. Together these two categories comprise the majority of what the NGO community defines as foreign aid, that being assistance provided to communities or countries to achieve a socioeconomic objective or in response to a humanitarian crisis, be it man-made or an act of nature. Humanitarian aid typically provides emergency relief, while development assistance aims to create long-term sustainable growth.
To date, SCI has conducted or been involved with four large-scale humanitarian aid projects, all involving refugee populations. The first and largest of these began in January 1995 in the Kakuma refugee camp, which housed 28,000 refugees, who were primarily Sudanese and Somali. Despite a number of challenges, SCI served over 15,000 families upon the project's conclusion in 2004.
Based on the early success of the Kakuma project, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asked SCI to conduct solar cooking training in two more refugee camps. First from 1995 to 1998 in Dadaab, a cluster of refugee camps located in Kenya and then from 1997 to 2004 in Aisha, a camp located in Ethiopia that housed 2,000 Somali families.
Since 2005, SCI has been associated with the KoZon Foundation and Jewish World Watch on a solar cooking project that serves 17,000 refugees from Darfur now living in Iridimi camp, located in Chad. In early December, while attending a series of meetings at the United Nations in Geneva, UNHCR indicated that they would like to see similar solar cooking projects in a total of 12 camps housing refugees from Darfur.
Decisions about how SCI might best undertake work that qualifies as humanitarian assistance are sure to be helped by the Board of Directors newest standing committee, which provides counsel in this program area. By establishing this committee, the board not only validates the importance of engaging in humanitarian efforts, but also acknowledges that SCI has a valuable role to play in conducting this type of work.
As with all our programs, any humanitarian assistance project in which we participate must reflect SCI's core mission and make effective use of our resources.
Finding the right humanitarian assistance project offers an exciting challenge to SCI. I look forward to working with chair Sue Corbett, the committee's other members (Jack Blanks, John Collentine, Lou Grivetti, Pat McArdle and Gabriele Simbriger-Williams), and Karyn Ellis, our Director of International Program Development, in determining our next steps to move the organization forward in this program area.
Volunteer Spotlight: Gabriele Simbriger-Williams
Women refugees from
Darfur building CooKits
for Iridimi camp
Gabriele Simbriger-Williams serves on the SCI Board of Directors and is the At-Large member of the Executive Committee. She began working in Africa more than 20 years ago, living in Mali from 1985 to 1992, where she worked to introduce fuel-efficient stoves. Since moving to the U.S. in the early 1990s, Gabriele has returned to Africa countless times and visited Burkina Faso, Madagascar and Senegal.
The following is a synopsis of a trip I took last October on behalf of Solar Cookers International. My destination was the African nation of Chad, where I participated in the evaluation of the solar cooker project in Iridimi refugee camp, home to 17,000 of those who fled from Darfur. Starting in 2005, the project began CooKit production in Iridimi, giving out over 10,000 CooKits and training about 4,500 women in their use.
My journey began on October 13, 2007 with a flight to Paris, where I met with some of the other members of the evaluation team, including representatives from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR); KoZon, the Dutch NGO implementing the project; and Jewish World Watch, the major project funder.
From Paris we flew to the Chadian capital of Ndjamena, where we met with people at UNHCR and got everything in order for our trip to the eastern part of the country and Iridimi. The security situation in Chad is somewhat tenuous, especially near the Sudanese border, where more than 230,000 refugees from Darfur live in twelve camps. A day after we left Ndjamena, a state of emergency and 6:30 p.m. curfew were declared by the Chadian government. I felt relatively safe, though, in the UNHCR guesthouse in Iriba, the nearest town to Iridimi.
There, the entire evaluation team, including representatives from three Chadian organizations and CARE, the NGO managing the camp, convened on October 17th to discuss what our goals were and determine a process for achieving them. The team divided into four groups, each of which was to conduct interviews of women residing in the camp, asking them a set of 10 agreed upon questions. The next day, we headed to Iridimi via convoy with an armed escort of the Chadian gendarmes, as carjackings are frequent.
After visiting the workshop where CooKits are assembled by refugee women and meeting with the chiefs who represent the refugees, the four groups of evaluators fanned out across the camp's 10 zones, to begin the random interview process. In total, 128 women were interviewed during five days. As the official evaluation report has not been released yet, the following results are preliminary and based on data from my group only:
- All women visited had CooKits and all but one were using them during our visit. All women said they use CooKits every day, weather permitting.
- The CooKits are used once a day on a daily basis for the midday meal by the majority in our sample, and to make tea. They use improved wood stoves for the morning meal. The wider use of solar cooking for the night meal is still hampered by a delay in the fabrication of heat-retaining baskets.
- Solar cooking has resulted in considerable wood savings as evidenced by women taking 33-75% fewer wood gathering trips, which in turn has improved their security.
- Solar cooking enjoys a high degree of acceptance, including an understanding that the cooking time involved represents "free time gained" rather than "time lost." There is also an appreciation for the absence of smoke and fire danger when solar cooking.
Apart from the interviews in Iridimi, I also had the opportunity to meet with about 20 women in the neighboring refugee camp of Touloum, where the solar cooker project expanded to in July 2007. Initially disinclined to speak about their experiences in Sudan and flight to safety in the camps, the women opened up after the word "airplane" was mentioned in another context. The word triggered memories of being bombed by Sudanese army airplanes, which they described as among the most terrifying of their experiences.
My two-week trek to Chad is one that I will not soon forget. It was at times challenging, both physically and emotionally. However, overall it was an amazing experience. One cannot help but be affected by the resilience of the refugees and their unimaginable plight. It was very heartening to wander through the vast camp and see CooKits everywhere, serving as tangible confirmation that the work we do at Solar Cookers International is valuable and making a real difference in the lives of those whose needs are great. To somebody who has been involved in promoting improved ways of cooking in general, and solar cooking in particular, for many years this was particularly gratifying.
SCI in the News
The Washington Post | September 2007
"Security through solar"
Associated Press | October 2007
"Here comes the sun chef"
Monterey County Herald | November 2007
"Cooking in Darfur"