Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya
Solar Cookers International’s first and largest refugee project began in January 1995 in Kakuma refugee camp, then housing 28,000 refugees, primarily Sudanese and Somali. The camp also housed refugees from Ethiopia, Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda and Uganda. Kakuma had considerable refugee turnover, but by 2004, when Solar Cookers International (SCI) concluded the project, the camp had tripled in size to nearly 90,000 refugees. Though rapid growth posed problems for assisting all those who wanted to solar cook, SCI ultimately served over 15,000 families.
The Kakuma project started as a field test to determine the usefulness of SCI’s simple, then-new solar cooker the CooKit among these families of various cultures. The CooKit proved useful, and SCI was urged to expand to additional refugee camps.
Refugee-defined solar cooking benefits included money savings, improved lifestyle, and increased safety for children (compared to dangerous cooking fires). Households that solar cooked whenever possible could cut their monthly fuel expenditure in half. Orphans, elderly, and the disabled especially benefited from solar cooking, as did over 25 refugees who earned income as trainers and helpers.
During most of the project’s lifecycle, it operated with minimal intervention by SCI volunteers and staff, relying on the experience, dedication and enthusiasm of refugees who had experienced for themselves the life-sustaining benefits of solar cooking.
SCI’s refugee trainers formed a cooperative during the latter years of the project that, to this day, prepares solar-cooked meals for sale to refugees and locals, and occasionally coordinates distribution of CooKits to particularly needy families.
Project partners included the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Lutheran World Federation, the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Don Bosco, and World Vision.
Kakuma showed that large-scale solar cooking projects are possible. Despite numerous setbacks, solar cooks conserved fuel, made their food rations last longer, and saved money for other essentials. Refugee trainers provided follow-up services such as home visits, spot checks, group meetings, and refresher trainings that were instrumental in the project’s longevity and success.
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