Saturday, July 1, 2006
By: Susan Budig
Eighteen years ago, people on the cutting edge of technology were still cooking in cardboard boxes. Then Mike and Martha Port began to prayerfully consider more durable, effective methods of solar ovens. Nearly two decades later, after years of research, trial and error, and plenty of obstacles, the Ports now advocate the use of solar ovens throughout the world.
The Ports began working with Solar Oven Society (SOS) as a response to the damaging effects of traditional fire pit cooking. Mike Port happened upon an article detailing the huge costs involved in cooking by conventional method, over an open flame, fueled by firewood. "It’s worked for thousands of years, but there are more people and less trees," Mike Port says, explaining the need for an alternative method of cooking in developing countries where there is plenty of sun-power, but no longer plenty of trees.
With a solar oven, there is no smoke to inhale, which women who cook over a pit do for several hours each day, resulting in lung disease and lung cancer. There are no hours lost to gathering firewood, thereby freeing children to attend school or other productive activity. And trees currently chopped down for fuel, 50% of all trees harvested, might be allowed to grow into dense forests, creating a more ecological environment worldwide.
"But how do you tell a person not to cut down trees when the alternative is starving?" says Port, Executive Director of SOS, highlighting the situation often confronting people whose sole means of cooking food is a fire.
The ovens that SOS produces features recycled plastic soda bottles, thereby avoiding soggy cardboard boxes frequent in countries such as Haiti with sudden downpours. It’s also so lightweight that a child can cart it around. It can be placed in a southerly direction and left for the day unattended.
Ten years ago Linus Nyambu, along with his wife, Domitila Nyambu, arrived in the United States from Kenya as missionaries. They started Ascending Praise church in Bloomington, Minnesota. Earlier this year, they first heard about SOS. "We fell in love with the idea," says Nyambu. "Because of our village experience and the current situation in Kenya where firewood and charcoal are the major fuel, I became very interested in this product. I accepted the position for Director of African Development to create awareness in African communities in the Twin Cities and help introduce the product to African nations," Nyambu tells me at his office in Minneapolis.
"My grandmother has asthma; I wish we didn’t have her there (in Kenya). The inside of the house is all black .Nobody painted it black; it’s smoke. So the people have a lot of exposure to carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide kills you very comfortably. Every year people die," Nyambu solemnly says.
With the solar cooker, there is no danger of carbon monoxide. Food can be cooked more healthfully and water can be pasteurized. A solar oven can help to avoid factors that lead to asthma, allergies, and lung disease, Nyambu predicts.
Mike Port made the decision to only go where invited. "We’ve been busy working with the immigrant communities here (in Minnesota), that’s how a lot of this (SOS awareness) gets started," Port says. Besides which, they haven’t any budget for advertising. Funding for SOS depends heavily on a Minneapolis based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Persons Helping People. "It’s all about money," says Port.
Lack of money is the key reason they don’t splash photos of the box oven in magazines and newspapers.
Still, word of mouth carries the SOS Sport, as the oven’s called, a long way. Now with the help of Nyambu presenting cooking demonstrations to immigrant communities here in Minnesota as well as traveling to African embassies, SOS makes a stronger presence where it’s needed most. Back in 1988, a prayer between two people has grown today to thousands of Sport cookers functioning in dozens of countries.