F&M Student Group Provides Solar Ovens to Guatemalan Families

  • Junior Anna Folz stands in front of a display of her photos from Guatemala, taken during her gap year in Guatemala, where she worked for a volunteer clinic that treats malnourished children. Folz founded and directs a student group that is working to provide solar stoves to families as an alternative to wood-burning ovens. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

By Warren Glynn '15

While visiting the rural highlands of Guatemala during a gap year between high school and college in 2010, Franklin & Marshall College junior Anna Folz observed that indigenous women and children walked miles each day from their villages, often into unsafe territory, to find firewood for cooking. The families then spent hours preparing meals indoors, breathing in dangerous levels of smoke.

Folz traveled to Guatemala to work for a volunteer clinic that treats malnourished children. During her stay, she learned about a solar stove initiative that was taking root in neighboring Nicaragua, providing local families with a less expensive, healthier way to cook food. 

Folz, now a public health major with a minor in international studies, brought the idea to F&M when she arrived on campus in 2011. She formed and directs the student-run group Impulso, with the goal of providing as many as 500 solar stoves to Guatemalan families so they can cook food with the heat of the sun instead of using firewood. Impulso, which is Spanish for momentum, is part of F&M's Human Rights Initiative, a College organization that works to raise awareness of and identify solutions for challenges facing underrepresented groups.

"Something as little as a box with solar panels can really affect a whole family," Folz said.

Each solar stove consists of a reflecting mirror that attracts and focuses sunlight into a box where the food is stored. The box is capped with glass or plastic, trapping the heat of the sun's rays. This heat increases over the course of the day and cooks the food inside without producing harmful emissions. Families can place food in the ovens in the morning and let it cook as they work throughout the day, Folz explained. They also can use the cookers to boil and purify drinking water. 

Furthermore, because the stoves require no firewood, families no longer must forage for wood in dangerous lands far from home. 

Assistant Dean of the College and New College House Dean Suzanna Richter, who advised Folz in her independent study on educating Guatemalan families last year at F&M, said many indigenous families do not know about or have access to other forms of fuel, including solar power for cooking and other needs.

"There are no alternative resources," Richter said, noting that the lack of resources has ripple effects. "The families are definitely more vulnerable in that sense."

In addition, the solar ovens' use promotes safety. Because the stoves require no firewood, their prevalence reduces the demand for wood in a place that is rapidly becoming deforested. Families that use the ovens also no longer have to take their children out of school and put them at risk as they travel to the receding forest line. These areas are considered unsafe, with higher incidents of murder and sexual assault.

  • A woman with her children in Guatemala cooks over a wood-fire stove. Using solar stoves would minimize exposure to unhealthy gases and particulates that can accumulate when cooking with firewood indoors. (Photo courtesy of Anna Folz)

As part of their efforts, members of Impulso recently held a benefit dinner to raise awareness and funds to provide solar stoves to Guatemalan families. The event featured traditional Guatemalan dishes and live performances from student groups.

Folz said she hopes to educate students about becoming involved in similar issues in different parts of the world.

"F&M provides a lot of opportunity, and I think it's great to have organizations that branch into these kinds of communities," Folz said. " We want to keep the momentum going."

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