Harnessing the sun's power to cook
Top: Allart Ligtenberg shows how to prepare lunch in a backpack solar cooker of his own invention at Everest North Base Camp. Bottom: Ligtenberg meets with women in the Kathmandu Valley village of Balambu, Nepal. Photos courtesy of Ligtenberg
Rotarian Allart Ligtenberg spends three months abroad every year, telling anyone who will listen about solar cooking.
Solar cookers use reflective materials such as glass, mirrors, or aluminum foil to concentrate sunlight and convert it into heat for cooking.
Ligtenberg, a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos, California, USA, was sold on the virtues of the devices more than three decades ago after his company, Hewlett-Packard, sent him to India in 1979. An avid hiker, he spent time trekking through the mountains of Nepal and was spellbound by the country’s beauty, but also troubled by its poverty.
Back home, he saw a newspaper ad for solar cooker blueprints. He sent the company a US$10 check and built the cooker, which he still uses in the yard of his California home.
Power for good
Ligtenberg realized that if the people of Nepal could harness the sun’s power for cooking and water purification, they might be able to alleviate some of their health, environmental, and energy problems. Women wouldn’t have to walk far from home, spending valuable time and risking attack, to find wood for fuel. Deforestation would decrease. Vegetables and fruits could be dried, reducing spoilage. Water could be pasteurized, killing bacteria.
After retiring in 1992, he devoted himself to the cause. Chair of the District 5170 Water, Hunger, and Solar Resource Group, he has met with dozens of service groups, media outlets, universities, and tourism industry representatives.
“You have to find local champions for your cause,” he says. “I can’t be there all year. I’m like a farmer. I plant seeds and hope they blossom into something big. ”
Ligtenberg doesn’t show up to the meetings empty-handed: He always carries along a solar cooker of his own design so he can demonstrate how one works.
“In 20 minutes, I can make soup,” he says.
He then shows pictures of larger cookers and tells people how they can get help with assembly and maintenance after he leaves. He works with local nongovernmental organizations, many of whom he connected with after joining Rotary.
“Some NGOs have timelines or don’t want to try something new,” says Ligtenberg, reflecting on the challenges he’s faced. “Some of them want money under the table. And it’s hard to get governments officially involved.”
During the nine months he spends back home, Ligtenberg works to secure funding for projects, including Rotary Foundation Matching Grants, and to develop other efforts, such as starting carpentry and metalworking classes in Nepal, distributing devices that can purify water without boiling, and getting solar cookers into developing nations like Afghanistan, Indonesia, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Mongolia, and Haiti.
“This simple technology solves problems,” he says, "one village at a time."
Editor's Note: This piece was adapted for the web. See the original version by subscribing to The Rotarian digital edition, or read a selection of other stories from the magazine. Learn more about solar cookers on Ligtenberg's Wikia site. Help support Rotary Foundation grants for projects, such as those promoting solar cookers, by making a contribution today.