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kakuma refugee solar cooking project--report #1

kakuma, kenya
january-february, 1995

overall, the first phase of introducing solar cooking to refugees in the kakuma camp has been a success. our original plan required only modest adjustments, and as february ends we have met or exceeded all of our phase-one objectives, and the basis is set for phases two and three.

we taught solar cooking skills to 100 women and trained 16 of them to teach others. i fully expect that by mid-year we will serve more than the 500 families we had originally estimated. 

speaking personally, work on this project has been thrilling. everything has gone much better than we had dared to hope. the excitment created in the camp by solar cooking, and the warm feelings shared with our kenyan counterparts and the trainees, were deeply moving. some very grateful women even kissed my hand--i was a little embarrassed. we send their thanks to all of you who helped put together this successful first phase.

specific objectives reached

  1. the new, ultra-simple "cookit" panel cooker works amazingly well, as the refugees quickly proved for themselves.

  2. in 6 short weeks, 100 refugee families have begun solar cooking. women were trained in small group sessions involving 6 to 12 at a time. the women were enthusiastic participants, speedy learners, and happy with the whole business. trainees included women from the sudan, rwanda, somalia, zaire, uganda and from the oromo and amharic groups of ethiopia.

    the women are using the cookers on virtually every sunny day to cook their basic rations of maize meal, wheat flour and beans. they also have adventurously branched out into a variety of new dishes, including vegetables, meat, fish and a variety of breads. the women were enthusiastic about the fuel savings, since their firewood ration is just a few sticks every two weeks; when that ration was used up, they had to scrounge as they could for anything burnable--or do without eating.

    women also noted other benefits: cleanliness, nutritional aspects, freedom from smoke inhalation, etc. one woman has already set up a small business solar-baking bread and selling it.

    the home visits and follow up meeting with each group were useful to correct misunderstandings and build confidence among the new solar cooks. already, the women see each other as sources of further cooking tips and adaptations.

  3. both interest in and use of solar cooking has spread throughout the community more rapidly than expected. from the first, our home visits to new solar cooks drew large crowds. as we moved from place to place, everyone came along until we were a great crowd of women, husbands, children, neighbors, etc. in a noisy, celebratory atmosphere. each home visit was a public demonstration of solar cooking--so much the better because the cooks doing the demonstrating were the people's own peers and neighbors. awareness is spreading daily, even when there are no home visits. many of our trainees tell of an endless stream of neighbors coming to taste solar-cooked food, so much that the cooks themselves had little left to eat. they were good spirited about that, if not well fed!

  4. we identified natural leaders from among the new solar cooks and recruited eight teams of teacher-trainees. they received extra training and worked alongside us to learn to lead their own workshops. each new leader plans to teach about one workshop per week. having solar cooking teachers from all the major ethnic groups here eliminates need for translators during workshops and will aid dissemination in general. with each workshop, there will be more solar cooks available to coach those starting out.

  5. jay worked with local craftspeople to design and construct solar cookers from a variety of local materials. some of the ethiopian refugees have already built several. we've arranged for a local company to produce cookits in kenya to meet the fast-growing demand now evident here in kakuma.

problems encountered

our problems in this initial phase has been logistics and language. the lack of predictable transportation in this remote area has made going anywhere or obtaining supplies an uncertain adventure. we suffered for a while from the lack of suitable pots with good lids. we think we have worked out a reliable supply for the next four months. we have found a good kenya source for the bags used for insulating the pots.

communication is always subject to misunderstanding; translating from one language to another merely multiplies the problems. we often worked with double translations in the same room--for example, from english to armahic to oromo. now there are trainers from among our first 100 students who speak each of the major languages.


we recognize the success of the overall project must be measured with follow-up surveys to determine ongoing use and spread of the solar cookers and clear benefits to the users. however, the initial introduction has been a complete success. there is great interest among various un and non-governmental agencies involved in managing the kakuma camp.

our success here has been largely thanks to the skillful, enthusiastic, hard work of our staff of kenyan solar cooking teachers, especially emily, soshima, faustine, gladys, and anna. their key role here also underscores the value of sci's long time strategy of empowering local people to disseminate solar cooking in their own countries.

by fall we think we will be ready to share what we've learned--and also share some of the new trainers--with some of the other refugee camps in east africa.


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