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United Methodist-supported program promotes solar cooking in Haiti

 


Feb. 23, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Shanta Bryant Gyan*

While baking, boiling and frying are easily accomplished by most families in developed nations, cooking a simple meal can be a daily challenge in impoverished countries such as Haiti. 

The island nation’s ongoing economic woes and massive environmental destruction have contributed to the pillaging of virtually all of Haiti’s trees, which often are used for charcoal and cooking fuel. The practical consequences of deforestation have been devastating for families. Obtaining cooking fuel is a daily struggle, and many women are forced to walk long distances to find firewood.

During numerous mission trips to Haiti, United Methodist missionary Rick Jost saw the problem firsthand. Thus, Solar Oven Partners was born.

With a solar oven – which taps the energy of the sun to prepare food – Haitians are introduced to a new way of cooking.

“Whenever there is sunshine in this land of abundant sun, Haitians can cook their food with no cost for fuel, and without cutting trees, which pollutes the air and water, exposes the land to erosion, and has tremendous health and economic fallout,” said Jost, a missionary from the Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference.

Solar Oven Partners, a non-profit organization partially funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, evolved from the Haitian experiences of United Methodist Volunteers-In-Mission construction teams and a local Rotary club. Mission teams of up to 12 volunteers from the Dakotas travel to Haiti three times a year to build and distribute ovens. So far, more than 1,000 ovens have been distributed to Haitian families.

“You can cook virtually anything in the solar oven, virtually any food you can cook by other means,” said Jost, director of Solar Oven Partners.

He says the benefits of solar cooking are tremendous. With the new ovens, Haitians can save up to 30 percent of their food and cooking fuel budget. And in a country where access to safe water is an important health issue, the ovens can be used to pasteurize drinking water.

“The sun comes in, these things get hot. You can boil water in them,” said Gene Bethke, a Solar Oven Partners volunteer, as he opens the oven. “See the steam rising off?”

And bread, which cannot be prepared over an open fire, can easily be baked in a solar oven, supplying families with bread that otherwise would come from wood-fired adobe ovens.

Because the oven only works on sunny days, Haitians can alternate between using the solar oven and charcoal. “They can use charcoal. We aren’t asking them to abandon that but to wisely use the sun when they can because it costs them nothing,” Jost said.

Each solar oven costs about $100 to produce. Through Solar Oven Partners, Haitians can get one for $5 by attending a three-day course led by Montas and Raymonde Joseph, a Haitian husband-and-wife team employed by the organization.

Montas has a background in education, and Raymonde was formally trained at a cooking school. Together, the Josephs recruit seminar participants and educate communities about the benefits of solar cooking. They demonstrate how to prepare Haitian cuisine using this new tool. And they offer tips about the care and maintenance of solar ovens.

The results have been both economical and tasty.

“It’s good, taste good,” said a Haitian man, sampling food cooked in a solar oven. “I think I will get one of these.”

For more information on Solar Oven Partners visit, www.gbgm-umc.org/solarovenshaiti/.

*Gyan is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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