As if to make a point, the sweltering sun beat down on me as I prepared for our first solar energy workshop in the Barracão on Sunday. The workshop didn’t have a big turn out in comparison to the amount of people that signed up for the course, but it actually ended up working out well with smaller group. Our objectives for this workshop were to 1.) sensitize people about the energy potential of the sun in the Amazon, 2.) stimulate debate and collective action to inform others and advocate solar energy, and 3.) initiate conversations about how and where to install a solar energy panel in Cabelo Seco.
The main activity of the workshop was based on an idea I came up with a few weeks ago. I wanted the first workshop to incorporate an activity that was somewhat interactive. Since last week was filled with conversations and the dissemination of pamphlets and reading materials, I thought it would be useful to do something with our hands. It needed to be a simple activity able to demonstrate the power of the sun here in the Amazon. After toying with the possibility of constructing a plastic water bottle structure to heat/purify water, I landed on the idea of a solar oven. It was perfect. The solar oven incorporates all three dimensions of the Gira-Sol project: solar energy, healthy alimentation and artistic performance. Solar energy is used to cook the food inside the oven and illustrates the power of the sun in Marabá. The foods are cooked in a simple manner without oil or additives and recipe options generally revolve around dried fruits or vegetables. Please don’t be misled by the title of this post and try to cook meat in a solar oven. Finally, cooking is a form of artistic expression. Given this perfect alignment of themes, I spent last week gathering supplies so I could construct an experimental oven before the workshop. The solar oven would be simple, constructed out of cardboard boxes, aluminum foil and saran wrap. Collecting the supplies was an experience within itself. I needed two cardboard boxes per solar oven as one would be placed inside of the other. This meant that I needed to run around the city gathering cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes to find sets of two that would fit well together. I was also on a mission to find old newspaper or Styrofoam, which would be used to fill the space between the two boxes and act as insulation. Basically, I ended up rooting through piles of cardboard boxes dumped outside of stores and grocery markets. At one point I found myself competing with a man who came along to join me in his own search for sturdy boxes (just kidding, I obviously let him take the good ones).
I experimented for two days before the workshop by attempting to make manioc (a type of potato), banana and plantain chips in my oven. It took a lot of babysitting- every hour I was outside rotating the oven and moving the reflector panel to make sure I had optimal sunlight entrance into the box. The temperature inside the oven was pretty high when I stuck my hand in to check on the food. If I had another day or two I definitely could’ve opened a business. The greatest part about this experiment period was the amount of publicity it received in the community just by sitting out in the street. People were very curious as to why I was using a wooden skewer to prop open the aluminum foil covered flap of a cardboard box. When I taped a sign reading “Energia Solar” onto the front of the box, they were even more inquisitive. Everyone would just stand at a distance with an expression on their faces similar to that of the people who watched me dig through garbage piles. So I invited them over to take a look inside and explained my intentions.
In the workshop everyone divided into groups to construct the boxes, which they brought home to experiment with throughout the week. Given my experience with the community during my own experimentation period, this activity promotes a kind of advocacy. Everyone who brings home a solar oven will, at some point, have to inform their family, friends or strangers about this way of utilizing solar energy. In addition to the box constructions, we presented information about solar energy developments that are taking place on a local/national and international level. I think the idea of incorporating current events surrounding solar energy is an essential element to the workshops. It will give people the ability to localize solar energy on a grander scale and offer them significant information they can pass on to others. At the end of the workshop, we opened the discussion to a period of reflection and assigned a question for each group to research for the following meeting. I was pleased with how this first workshop went. It was a lot of work to organize the activity but a valuable experience- for me and those who attended the workshop. Now I’m off to see if people have actually been experimenting over the last few days…