While working with Maasai families in Kenya, Niccolo, Madison, and Adam–students from the University of San Diego–realized open fire cooking inside homes was causing high rates of respiratory illnesses among women and children (approximately 25 out of 1,000 children die in Maasai communities before the age of 5 due to cookstove smoke).
They wanted to take concrete action towards positive change so they called us and we worked together to bring SolSource to the Maasai communities where they were working in order to improve health, increase energy access, and lower fuel costs.
Supported by the Maasai Association, a community-based, non-profit organization located in Bellevue, Washington and Kenya, the team brought SolSource to the Merrueshi community to seek the community’s feedback and test it for cooking local foods.
The team showed SolSource to a local Maasai women’s cooperative that empowers women by creating a formal distribution center, the Maasai Cultural Center, to sell their hand-made products. Eight members of the Maasai women’s cooperative were present during the demo and were interested in improving their households by removing the smoke in their homes. The team explained the benefits of the solar stove for their health and protecting the environment. The women were also impressed with the speed at which SolSource can boil water while remaining safe as the reflective dish panels stay cool.
During their visit, Niccolo, Madison, and Adam demonstrated the solar cooker to many members of the community, and conducted experiments. This included boiling experiments and testing how long it took to cook Ugali, the local food staple made from maize flour into a porridge-like consistency.
One of the team’s highlights of the trip was a visit to the local high school, where they explained the fun and science of SolSource and parabolic solar cooking to two groups of fifty students. Fascinated by the concept of concentrating a large amount of the sun’s energy into a small focal point to provide heat for cooking, the students also had fun playing with the power of the sun to set dried grass on fire!
Niccolo, Madison, and Adam also wanted to encourage a do-it-yourself and hands-on approach to problem solving by introducing the concept of creating a solar cooker using locally-available materials. The Maasai have an amazing traditional culture and helping people to continue to feel pride and confidence in their own abilities is an important aspect when considering the adoption of any technology or influence from the outside. It’s important for people to feel ownership over their own future, and just as the SolSource was first created through community inspiration in the Himalayas, we’re interested to see what the Maasai would do to adapt and improve SolSource for their needs and lifestyle.
The team also invited the local students to think about ways similar cooking technology could be used to reduce illnesses from household smoke pollution and reduce deforestation. Using SolSource as a demonstration, they encouraged local students to take action to promote a healthy and sustainable living environment. Seeing his students inspired in this way, the principle of the school remarked, “This is the best day of my life”.
We thank Niccolo, Madison, Adam and the Maasai community for sharing their experiences with us. It is humbling to see SolSource reaching so many different cultures and age groups, and we look forward to learning from these experiences to expand the impact of our work. As a next step, the team is compiling a report on their trip to Kenya and recommendations for next steps. Ideally, One Earth Designs wants to see experiments in new communities result in learnings that we share with the public (regardless of positive or negative outcome) and that we take steps to improve the health and environment of people around the world, with whatever solution is identified as most appropriate.
If you know of a community that may benefit from SolSource, please contact us to discuss how we can work together to bring clean air to more people around the world.
ABOUT THE TEAM: Niccoló Piacentini, Adam Zeman and Madison Browning are students from the University of San Diego in USA. They come from different disciplines but share the same goal of bringing sustainable technologies to developing communities. You can follow their work in Kenya on their Facebook page A Breath of Fresh Air for Maasai Women. Photos by Kakuta Ole Maimai and Madison Browning.