Afghanistan Solar Success

This incredible story of our fight to get solar cookers to families living in extreme poverty in Afghanistan will surely take you through a full range of emotions as Jeff Latsa details his recent journey.

 

*Sheldon Village, Afghanistan

It’s been a long time coming.

This solar cooker project started more than four years ago when we ordered some reasonably priced solar cookers from China. The cookers spent more than two years in Pakistani customs, accruing incredible “demurrage” charges, and then another six months at the Pakistani/Afghani border. The two countries aren't really on friendly terms. Once they arrived in Kabul, they spent the last nine months in the basement of our GHNI office. Because of security concerns, they just sat there.

Once I arrived in Kabul a few weeks ago, one of the first things I asked was, “Is there any reason why we can’t ship the solar cookers to our project location?” To my surprise our staff answered, “No.” Since I was heading there the following week, we started the ball rolling.

Next our staff came up with an ingenious plan. Instead of shipping the solar cookers by truck, and be subject to attacks and hijacking by groups like the Taliban, our staff decided to rent an entire bus and cram it full with 300 solar cookers. And it worked. About 12 hours after leaving Kabul, the bus load of solar cookers pulled into the town where we planned on distributing the cookers.

Why are solar cookers so important?

For vulnerability, environmental, and economic issues.

First of all, if you have ever seen a news report from Afghanistan, there are no trees anywhere. Families are unable to find firewood or afford to buy the scarce commodity. What Afghanistan lacks in trees it makes up in abundant cloudless days.

Next, since women are most frequently sent to scavenge wood, the further and further they wander from their village, the more likely they are subject to sexual assault, rape, and kidnapping. By having a solar cooker, not only does it make the women’s lives easier, it also helps protect them in a very unsafe environment.

Please don't think bad of me, but we are not giving these solar cookers away for free. If someone asked you, “Do you want a solar cooker?” you’d be a fool to say no, even if you didn't know how to use one. Instead, people value what they spend their own money on. We are selling these solar cookers at a very reasonable price that even poor people can afford. Even though it’s below our costs, it is helping us recoup some of our losses from the past four years.

Is it Working?

Yeah, you bet ya’ – as they say in Wisconsin. These things are such a hot commodity, they practically sell themselves. Even before the bus was unloaded, we sold seven of them. Another 25 were sold the next day. Before I left the country, 125 went to families looking to improve their lives. Now two weeks out, all 300 of the solar cookers shipped to this location have been sold. One great thing about this is that I don't have to be there. Our wonderful Afghan staff, who I left in charge and a small businessman working on commission alone, has liquidated the entire stock. And the nearly $20,000 we have received from the sales will be spent to help communities through water and school projects, right in their own villages.

What once looked lost and hopeless, through our persistent partnership together is resulting in a double blessing to the people of this region. Thanks for helping to make this happen.

 

*For purposes of security and well-being, “Sheldon Village” is a pseudonym of the village being helped by this project.