Utilizing the enthusiastic energy of teens, Peter Edmunds is introducing a solar-powered school hot lunch program into an economically disadvantaged Mexican middle school. The dream that the dusty border town of Palomas will become "the most solar conscious town in Mexico" is closer to reality with four student-constructed solar ovens in place and in use.
Edmunds, 71, a New Mexican retiree, founded the nonprofit organization Border Partners to address poverty in the desolate US-Mexico border area of Columbus, NM and Palomas, Mexico last year.
Because jobs and resources are scarce, Border Partners utilizes alternative technologies to boost the area's standard of living. Desert sun is plentiful in the region, so last spring Edmunds began teaching the public middle school students how to use solar cookers.
"One of my students really got into solar energy. He began experimenting: cooking and heating lots of stuff," explains Edmunds. "He suggested that the school should have solar cookers, so the students could heat their lunches. Thus was born the solar hot lunch idea."
Edmunds and a team of volunteers from the town organized the students under their supervision to build and install four identical solar cookers during a series of five classes at school in early 2010. Students now can use solar ovens they built themselves during their three years at the middle school.
"After walking by solar cookers in use every day, solar cooking will become part of their consciousness," explains Edmunds.
While building the solar cookers from the ground up, the students also learned construction skills, power tool usage and safety precautions. "We only used three band aids in the whole class," Edmunds commented with a smile of satisfaction.
The students personalized the cookers, painting them bright colors in themes they designed themselves.
But that's only the beginning, says Edmunds. In cooperation with their science and math teachers, the students will use the cookers to conduct a series of research projects in the coming months.
"The data that the students' experiments will generate will help Border Partners' ongoing promotion of solar cookers," Edmunds stated.
Edmunds wants the students to investigate other solar possibilities: "If you can cook with the sun, can you heat your bath water? Can you purify drinking water? Heat your home?"
Edmunds is planning other Palomas workshops to promote generating electricity and heat from the sun and wind. All this is critical, not only for an impoverished border town, but for our very survival on Planet Earth.
"Solar and alternative technologies will become more important in all our lives with every passing year," declares Edmonds, "even without global warming. Who are we--this generation--to use up all of the oil in the world when, in reality, there will always be uses of oil that cannot be substituted? Add global warming...and we have to do something now."
Edmunds, Border Partners, and the middle school students in Palomas, Mexico are working for a better future for all of us--now.
About the photos: The students' energetic involvement in the solar cooker construction shines in the project photos. A short slideshow of the process is HERE. [For best results, click "VIEW SLIDESHOW" link on the page.]