In a poor rural land where the only energy available to most people comes from burning wood, utilizing the sun has been the key to change.
Wood burning stoves have always been the way that residents of Villaseca have prepared their daily meals. But in a land where opportunity dwindles, so have the resources. People would resort to stealing firewood because there were no longer places where they could freely look. Things needed to change.
In 1989 Rojas, a local resident, agreed to become one of four women in the village to allow researchers of the University of Chile to put a solar oven in her home. The oven was a success and its use was invaluable. So when the university researchers came to take the solar equipment away, Rojas and the other women protested.
Organizing a group of local women, Rojas raised over $700 by selling pastries and clothing, which they used to fund a workshop on how to build solar ovens. They built over 33 and have been using them ever since.
While Villeseca remains a novelty of the nation, the mere 10,000 solar energy panels have efficiently utilizedChile’s average of 310 days of sunshine each year. The area is literally one of the most ideal places in the world to harness the power of the sun. And at the rate of Chile’s deforestation, the country’s old growth forests could disappear with 20 years, according to a 1995 Central Bank report.
With a $10,000 grant from the United Nations Development Program, 26 Villaseca families formed an organization known as the Association of Solar Artisans of Villaseca, which now runs under the name, Restaurant Solar.
Restaurant Solar’s kitchen looks more like a science fair than anything else, as wide flaps of inlaid and metallic sheets are assorted all around the area, drawing the sun’s warmth from the open sky. Because they are using solar power, Restaurant Solar’s cooks are unable to fry, thus making their food much healthier than that of other rural Chileans.
On weekends, the restaurant serves about 60 customers a day. It’s no easy task getting to the restaurant, as diners must travel over a bumpy dirt road in order to reach its hillside location. But it doesn’t stop people from venturing to Solar’s for a taste of the clean air prepared delicacies.
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