el sauce, nicaragua

I referred to solar ovens in the last post, and was quickly asked for a bit more of an explanation. The link to our website at New Energy Works Timber Frame Homes called earth:shared, has too little information on what is a pretty cool project.

The story goes like this: Maxine, Jake River and I were hiking on Ometepe, an island in Nicaragua,when we came upon a young boy who was chopping at wood with an old an dull machete. Here's a pic of the ferries that take the hour trip to the island and one of its two volcanoes off the bow.

he was upset to see us, because we were in a small preserve (looking for howler monkeys, and dang did they find us!) and he knew he shouldn't be there. The boy should have been in school, not stealing wood. Turns out he was collecting lena, or firewood. Turns out that the collection and use of firewood for cooking is a colossal mess of unreal proportions in the developing world. It's just nuts.

Lessee, where to begin: collecting firewood is the major cause of deforestation in many countries, and therefore the cause of habitat loss, groundwater recession, erosion, ozone depletion and... okay, forget the environment, let's talk about people: the children stay out of school to gather it, scarce family resources are used to buy it, people get sick breathing its smoke. Lung desease is the second largest woman killer, I've been told. and surprise, I didn't discover all this, but rather some amazing people have been on topic for a while. Solar Cookers International is great, with info and technology exchange going on from Calcutta to Equador. Then there two organizarions that are making and distributing: Sun Ovens Int'l, which make a personal size and the Villager (!) and the Solar Oven Society which makes a less expensive but still good little unit called the Sport. They're similar groups. You could say they are competitiors in the race to do good here. I've tried out both smaller units up here in temperate-ville, and they work wonderfully on a sunny day.

Poeple at work were excited. no one more than Karen Parkhurst, who was about to become the next local Rotary president. (That's her above with me, Jake and Esteban, our beloved Nica driver, overlooking Lake Managua.) She took the fundraising ball and ran. We now have a team on the project made up of New Energy Works and Pioneer Millworks, Rotary International, Rotary de Managua and UNAG, a Nicaraguan farmers' and ranchers' cooperative who will be the lead distributor. We're about to hire a staff member to coordinate all this in El Sauce, east of Leon, and hope to soon be supplying ovens and training people in their use. Thinking that it would be a cultural hurdle, I asked the Co-op president if he thought the ovens would get used. His answer surprised me: "My wife is aware that the open fire is making her sick. She will use it happily."

Now we really want to get moving, as the need is immediate. But as I told my friend Jeff recently, immediately takes longer in Nicaragua. Sandinistas don't talk to Conservatives who don't trust Sandinistas. There's a new mayor, and new papers to sign. etc. etc. and thus our decision to hire our own staff member, on the ground. This works too, and we should have thought of it months ago. Part of our goal was job creation, after all.

We chose El Sauce because it has a long history of being a sister city to Rochester. Cuidad Hermana is a program originally put together in solidarity with the Nicaraguan revolution. Now it's got a school, a clinic, a program for visiting college kids from the local State University of Geneseo, and more. They call their program Pregnant Cow, for good reason.

Our goal in the companies is to give 10% of pre-tax earnings back into our community or perhaps an environmental organization. This is an interesting tiger by its very needy tail. If you're interested in sponsoring an oven, contact Karen (karen@newenergyworks.com.) If you're interested in going to Nicaragua, contact me, if only for a rousing good chat about.