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Solar Ovens for El Carizal, Nicaragua, November 2009

Located roughly 6 km south of San Juan del Sur, out a long dirt road, El Carizal represents a community of about 55 families, totaling approximately 200 people. Most residents are subsistence farmers, spending their days tending to their crops and livestock.
After speaking with several community leaders, it was discovered that firewood has become increasingly scarce in the area immediately surrounding El Carizal. On average, families spend 1-3 hours 2-4 times a week searching for wood to fuel to their cooking fires. As one can imagine, time is valuable in such communities where livelihood rests on your ability to prepare, tend, harvest, and cook all of the family’s food. Not to mention that no one in the community seems to enjoy scouring the hills for firewood!

In addition to the time factor, many Nicaraguan women suffer from respiratory problems caused by cooking over indoor fires. Typically fires are started in the early morning and kept going most of the day in order to prepare meals. Since there are usually no chimneys, the smoke diffuses into the open kitchen space. Upon inspection of numerous homes, it appeared that every kitchen ceiling was coated with a thick layer of soot, sometimes to the point where it was impossible to see the original building material underneath.

Considering the issues of time and health, Collective Solutions decided to offer several workshops about the design, construction and benefits of using solar ovens. Our first workshop was held at the Carlos Guzman School and was attended by roughly 20 local children and several of their mothers. We went through simple concepts and designs with them and then set about constructing simple panel cookers using recycled cardboard and aluminum foil. The children were very excited about this project as gathering firewood is one of their primary chores. The day closed with a series of cookers built for them to take home as well as a big pot of soup cooked by the sun for everyone to enjoy.

Over the next couple of days, Collective Solutions and Casa Llanta led an additional workshop for the adults of El Carizal and the neighboring communities to construct several larger, more durable solar ovens for communal use. Over the 2 days, roughly 25 adults attended classroom sessions as well as participated in the hands-on construction of 4 large plywood ovens. To demonstrate the various materials options, the ovens were constructed with varying combinations of wood, glass, scrap metal, foil, recycled beer cans, and Styrofoam. These ovens will be distributed on a rotating lending program between families over the next few months. Based on the enthusiasm of some of the participants, we speculate that there will be more ovens built over the near future.

Collective Solutions and Casa Llanta will be working with the families of El Carizal to manage the follow up of this project.
For further information about Casa Llanta and El Carizal, please visit www.casallanta.com and www.carizal.com
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