Five months without sales would have put most companies out of business. Luckily our overheads are minimal since we are Section 21 Non-profit. However, it was with great relief that we did eventually manage to persuade another moulder to make the cases.... but here lies the best bit of the story.


Margaret Bennett

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
Five months without sales would have put most companies out of business. Luckily our overheads are minimal since we are Section 21 Non-profit. However, it was with great relief that we did eventually manage to persuade another moulder to make the cases.... but here lies the best bit of the story.
Sunstove Organisation - how we nearly went under... !

By Margaret Bennett, SunStove Organization

For more than 15 years now the Sunstove solar cooker has been made locally here in Gauteng. The same blow-moulder made the cases, the same dear man put the whole thing together and this same little old lady ran the business.... such as it was. We were selling around 100 Sunstoves a month - not world-shattering but more, I venture to suggest, than any other solar cooker anywhere. Ever.

Then last year we ran into problems. The blow-moulder was evasive/didn't return my calls/kept making promises..... etc. etc. But no more Sunstove cases did he make. Turned out he had an order for little black plastic motor bikes that was giving him headaches so our cases were the least of his worries. But instead of levelling with us, he left us in the lurch. From September '08 until Feb. '09 we did not have one Sunstove to sell. Five months without sales would have put most companies out of business. Luckily our overheads are minimal since we are Section 21 Non-profit. However, it was with great relief that we did eventually manage to persuade another moulder to make the cases.... but here lies the best bit of the story.

Solar Cooker

This new Company was also busy making HtH bottles and jerricans and other useful things like that. Their costs and the price of PET had escalated to the place where we could only afford to order 500 cases and they thought this was really laughable and quoted us a huge premium for something called "mould down time" Plus - we were way, way down at the bottom of their list of things to do. In fact if I had gone away and never come back they would have been happier.

Enter the "Raging Grannies" This organisation is really big in Canada. They have raised a lot of money over the years and sent people over to Africa to help Grannies who are looking after orphaned children. Their focus in on Lesotho and they have had much success in training elderly ladies in using Sunstoves - in fact more than 200 have been placed there and are in use in the far-flung villages in the mountains. So when 2 of these Canadian Grannies announced their imminent arrival to collect Sunstoves for Lesotho...... and I didn't have a single one for them.- I put them in touch with the moulder. Well, I tell you, it was like a miracle. Suddenly we had cases, the ladies from Ottowa arrived, plans were made to transport 42 Sunstoves and pots to Lesotho and they were off !

I take my hat off to them.... In a hired car that was more suited to urban areas than the hills of Lesotho, they travelled around for a month and managed to get 42 grannies trained to cook all the basic foods, including bread, in their donated Sunstoves. This despite weather conditions that were quite appalling - the rain was washing the hillsides into the valleys - and a severe attack of the local bacteria that left them flattened for a couple of days.

They say they are coming back with more funding later this year. So I guess Sunstove Organisation had better keep going somehow - because there are people out there who don't give up easily and who will want to find us still in business when they return.

The following is some follow up info from a "Raging Granny", with info about their organization:

I hope you find this story to be of interest to your readers. The sunstoves are a great alternative for grandmothers who are exhausted from the daily task of finding and hauling firewood or who cannot provide food on a daily basis for their grandchildren because they cannot afford the price of fuel.

SolarCooks and Carpenters is supported financially by a group of social activists on Canada's west coast called "The Raging Grannies of Salt Spring Island" and by our friends and family. In 2006, this was a pilot project with the intent to improve the health and lower the expenses of poor grandmothers in Lesotho and their dependent grandchildren.

My husband, Ray Fine, found Sunstove's Margaret Bennett on the internet. She has been an advisor and inspiration in our sunstove activities ever since. Margaret was helpful to us because of her ability and willingness to share her vast experience and knowledge, providing us with information on the how-to of sunstoves. Best of all, she shared her experiences where projects did not work, giving us a clear understanding of the pitfalls we should avoid.

With this advice and her lightweight and durable sunstoves and the love and support of our Basotho friends, we set up a game plan that has served us well over the last 3 years.

The first year, we practiced making papa, bread and rice and experimented with cooking vegetables in a black cloth. Our Basotho food testers warned us about the overuse of salt and shook there heads at our first attempts at papa and bread.

We painted the pots and ceramic tiles black, bought foodstuffs and went off to the Maluti mountains to meet with six Grannies from Pitseng district.

The first grannies were chosen by a young man who became our translator and true friend. He made his choices carefully, based on financial need, leaving out his own grandmother who reminds him of this oversight to this day.

Our program was (and still is) based on 3 days of hands-on training full of fun and laughter with a different recipe each day. We supply the food & sunstoves and the grandmothers supply the laughter.
The first day we cooked maize meal that is called papa once it is cooked. This is the staple diet of Basotho so it was critical that this cooking day be successful if the grandmothers were to see the value in using their sunstoves. It turned out to be a cinch, the grandmothers were hooked. While we waited for the sun to do its job, we sat in the shade and talked about their lives growing up in Lesotho. We also read letters from the Canadian sponsors, one for each grandmother.

The second day we made bread. All of the grandmothers know how to make bread, but were unaware of the gentle approach needed for mixing the suntove-rising bread. These elderly women were smart and flexible in their approach to learning. The bread rose beautifully, lifting the lid on the Zimbabwe-made food dish, but we left without seeing the grannies delighted faces because Ray had a serious bout of gastroenteritis. We heard all about it on our return.

The third cooking day we made soya mince with chopped vegetables and attempted baking potatoes wrapped in black cloth. The mince (they called it “soupa”) was delicious but the potatoes were still a bit underdone. The grannies didn’t mind in the least, they found the idea was useful and they could ‘finish’ the cooking at home. The best part was that the grannies were thrilled at the idea of not peeling the potatoes. This was a very new concept that they quickly adopted as their own. Being informed of the nutritional value of the skins gave them additional ammunition to sell this idea at home.
Each year I have met with the Pitseng grandmothers and have learned new recipes to share with the 52 additional grandmothers to whom we have introduced solar cooking. One grandmother said that in the very cold winter days when she cannot cook with the sunstove, she can still use it to warm her water for bathing. Another told us how she uses the sunstove to dry peaches, turning a 3 day ordeal into an afternoon of clean, dried fruit. The grandmothers also told us they can make ‘moroho’, the staple vegetable leaf mixture (mostly pumpkin or spinach) very easily in the sunstove. This year, they have prepared the makings of grape jam and canned vegetables in the sunstove, only using the fire to ‘finish’ the canning and jarring process.

Our project approach, in short, is this:

1. A respected community member selects the needy grandmothers and provides the location for the gathering;

2. Local translator provides all the communication and assists with preparation and training;,

3. Three (3) days hands-on training with food provided by the project; (grandmothers love to call it "cooking school")

4. A different local recipe is cooked each day that grandmothers take home;

5. A Q & A and discussion session is held each day about life, love, Canada, Lesotho and of course, sunstove use and recipes from other grandmothers;
6. Grandmothers are provided with a sunstove, black pots, food, a personal letter from a sponsor in Canada & a graduation "hat pin" made by Bea Brewer of the Raging Grannies.
The 58 grandmothers have made the sunstove their own, finding ways to make it useful to them in their daily lives. When asked how it could be improved, they said simply, “This brings so much good into our lives and to our families. We can offer no advice on how to change it.” This is the polite version of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
May the sun always shine in your direction!

Carol Pritchard & Ray Fine
SolarCooks and Carpenters

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