Solar Kitchens Sustainable Solution Solar kitchens ‘a sweet surprise’ and sustained energy solution for the refugee women
Twenty-seven year-old Foibe Valetti left the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2017 due to the ravaging war. Devastated by the death of her elder brother and his wife, she was suddenly burdened with the big responsibility to take care of five children inclusive of her brother’s son. They packed and resettled in Kavule village, Kyangwali Refugee settlement where Foibe became fully dependent on food distributed by aid agencies and firewood from the forest reserves.
Unable to afford charcoal, Foibe like other women, would walk 5-10 kilometers to fetch firewood from Bugoma forest once a week as allocated by authorities. According to her, the amount collected is never enough to complete an entire week forcing her to buy charcoal which is expensive.
Foibe sorts beans before cooking
Esperance checks her food as it
cooks on the solar powered stove
“I got to know about the Community Solar Kitchens through a friend in May this year. She told me CARE had constructed stoves that use the sun and not charcoal meant for the refugees. When I went to see it, it was large and I started cooking from there. I am happy that I do not have to spend so much on charcoal anymore and when I am there I get time to interact with other women, make new friends, learn how to make different dishes and rest as we wait for food to get ready. I only wish the cooking pots can be larger because the ones that are in there are small and my family is big and yet I have to cook both lunch and supper at once,” she says.
Smilarly, 40-year-old Esperanc Buswaze managed to flee and resettle in Kavule Village, Kyangwali refugee settlement with her husband and three children. Tucking depression aside, Esperance fully threw herself into household duties but her biggest responsibility was to collect firewood once a week from the forest.
“I was very happy when I got to know about the solar kitchens through a Community Based Facilitator that volunteers with CARE. I have seen solar before but when I went to visit the kitchen, I was surprised that even cooking can be done with the sun. We were taught how to use the stoves by CARE’s facilitators and I found it very easy and clean to use compared to firewood and charcoal which is dirty and produces so much smoke that hurt the eyes. I cook enough food that can take my family through the day at once and it has helped me save some firewood for days when I do not use the kitchen. I wish more can be added so every woman can be able to cook from here because it is fast and tidy,”
CARE International in Uganda in partnership with Innovation Norway and DANIDA recently launched a plastic recycling plant and three community solar kitchens expected to serve about 50 households per village in Kyangwali refugee settlement in Kikuube District. The kitchens installed at the different women’s safe spaces will reduce both deforestation and female exposure to gender-based violence experienced during collection of firewood.
The launch of the community kitchens is a ray of hope to hundreds of vulnerable refugee women who have been trekking for over 5kms to the surrounding forests in Kyangwali in pursuit of firewood.
Chata Borive utilizing the cooking stoves in Kavule
“Women are only allowed one day a week by the authorities to collect firewood from the forest. Since this is usually not enough to last an entire week, they are forced to go along with their young children to carry as much firewood as they can. During this process, some get hurt; sometimes they are raped, get wet on rainy days and are beaten on other days by rangers for trying to sneak in during non-designated days. I suggest that two more kitchens are added for our good”. Says Irumba Umirambe, Chairman block 112, Kilima Village Kyangwali.
Kasemire Therese, a 35-year-old mother of seven is a regular user of the solar kitchen in Kavule trading center. “I have used this kitchen 15 times since it was opened up for us in May 2021, and it has made me and other women very happy. It has reduced the burden of buying charcoal and moving to the forest which is so far to get firewood. I used to use charcoal worth UGX 35,000 per month, but ever since I started using this kitchen, I have only used UGX 2000.,” Reports Therese.
Presiding over the launch, Abitekaniza Kiiva Francis Adyeri on behalf of the Kikuube Chief Administrative Officer applauded the project dubbing it a “sweet surprise” and called upon everyone in attendance to take environment’s well-being as personal responsibility.
The CAO officially declares the kitchens open
“Our arrogance as human beings has destroyed the environment. This project brings a message of hope that if we mean it, we can still fight and surely recover. As Kikuube government, we pledge our continued cooperation with CARE within our mandate to see that we serve our community and we will show our partners more courtyards to dance in and doors to open,” he said.
The Assistant Settlement Commandant, Millicent Abishaba appreciated CARE’s work despite her earlier assumptions. “At first I told my boss the project would not work out but she insisted that we give it a try and here I am today officiating the launch of the same project. I appreciate the brains behind it and believe it will work. I thank CARE staff for the good relationship they have with the Office of the Prime Minister(OPM).”
Speaking at the launch, Morten F. Thomsen, CARE Denmark Program Manager, said Denmark in partnership with stakeholders came up with the use of free energy from the sun as one solution to deal with the rising need for firewood in the settlement. ” I am happy to be here and this shows that now we are starting the real change “, Said Morten.
Six community kitchens have so far been established in Kyangwali, two in Kavule trading center, three in Kagoma reception center and one at Maratatu B Health Centre III.
The launch that lasted about two hours saw the attendees like the Representatives from Office of the Prime Minister and the Refugee Council, project partners and stakeholders, block leaders within the villages, taste food prepared from the kitchen.
How The Community Solar Kitchens Work
Above, women cook at a community solar kitchen in Kavule
The community solar kitchens constructed in cemented dome shapes, painted with CARE’s orange theme color has two points of entrance beautifully sealed off with wire mesh and bamboo for good aeration. Each Community Solar Kitchen has 10 stoves enough for about 50 households per village in the settlement and are designed to cook all sorts of food between one to four hour depending on the food such as beans, rice, cassava, maize, sombe (a Congolese delicacy consisting of pounded cassava leaves mixed with fish), fried eggs and so much more.as well as charge phones.
“The kitchens were opened up to people in mid-April and saw about 70 people coming in to cook their food as a way to address the issue of firewood,” explains Cotilda Nakyeyune, Project manager, Climate Justice.
CARE has established management community members picked from the community according to their responsibilities as well as security personnel to ensure harmonious, safe co-existence and coordination among the women as they prepare their meals until departure. They ensure that the kitchens are kept clean and organized, the women have registered and the cooking pots are washed and accounted for by the cooks at the end of the day.
Jonathan and Martin share a light moment in the kitchen
Meanwhile In Maratatu Health Centre III the kitchen caters for about 40 residential health workers only which is mostly used by male staff compared to their female counterparts since it opened in April 2021.
“I guess our female colleagues prefer cooking indoors at the quarters instead of this kitchen. Since we are few, we are free to carry the cooking pots to our residential premises and return them because it is upon every individual’s morals to keep them safe. We also do not have any specific schedules. People can come in when they are free, register and start to cook,” says Jonathan Okware, a Clinical Officer.
According to Martin Bwemage, Nutritionist, at Maratatu HCIII, the health workers have positively optimized their time during cooking hours and named it “social hour” as they get to interact after duty.
“We used to use charcoal for cooking which in the long run has an impact on the environment and economic status. This facility has improved our human capital during cooking interactions and also improved on the efficiency of our work because food gets ready fast.”
Aiming to create the world’s most sustainable refugee settlement by implementing solar based cooking as a substitute for wood, recycling plastics and teaching practices for land optimization to support sustainable and nutritious food production, CAMP+, was initially implemented in 2019 following Community Development Resource Network’s (CDRN) identification of the immense need for energy in the settlement as an innovative approach to tackle climate change in response to a challenge put out by CARE in Denmark to its partners.
CAMP+ with support from the partners as CDRN, Pesitho, Lendanger, Mottleson Consultants, LLa-Bio economy, CARE Denmark hopes to expand the community kitchens to institutions and self- sustaining businesses which can generate income to meet staff and maintenance costs through business services such as phone charging, refrigeration and many others.