Tibetan monks setting up their solar cookers

The team at Sustainable Table is excited to report that yet another of our overseas projects has just been successfully completed. Through our project partner the Pentok Institute, we’ve provided over 700 solar cookers to Tibetan people across three villages and two monasteries in Qinghai Provence, Western China. The solar cookers have benefited almost 3,500 Tibetans.

In this region, rural Tibetan villagers spend a large portion of their time sourcing yak dung and firewood as fuel for cooking and boiling water. But with decreasing livestock and deforestation, these sources are increasingly difficult to come by, making solar cookers a sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative.

The solar cookers, which can boil a kettle of water in 15 minutes, significantly reduce the burden of collecting fuel, as well as exposure to indoor pollution and money spent buying coal for fuel reserves. But it’s the gender aspect of this project that is of most importance.

In these marginalised communities, women are traditionally responsible for collecting fuel. Women and girls usually collect around 60-100kg of firewood and yak dung at a time, and walk long distances with this weight on their backs. It’s difficult and dangerous work, particularly in harsh winters. As Palmo Gya, a villager in her 50s explained:

“It’s a very tiring task and is dangerous most of the time as the mountain roads are slippery. My body is always in pain the next day. With the solar cookers, I have an opportunity to escape from this heavy work”.

This time-consuming and painstaking work also means that young girls have less time to study, or at worst, are prevented from attending school at all. The solar cookers significantly reduce their workload meaning they can spend more time in school or on other income-generating activities.

The project has also benefited the village elders who depend on others for fuel. Drolma Tso, a 61-year-old woman, said:

“We have very few livestock and there is no forest closeby, so we do not have enough fuel for us to cook or heat the rooms. My children live far away from us, and they cannot help collecting fuel for us either. So, solar cookers are very useful tools for us, especially for those who live alone without support”.

As for the Loguran Monestry, located in a mountainous area with difficult terrain and narrow roads, the solar cookers have increased the monks’ independence, and significantly reduced the burden on family members who have to negotiate the dangerous roads to deliver fuel.

“Since we do not have farm and income, our families always provide us with food and fuel. With the solar cookers, we can drink and use more hot water instead of cold water. We can also save fuel in the summer. Most importantly, we can reduce the family burden”, said the Monestry Leader Jamyang.

To ensure the sustainability and ongoing success of the program, the Pentok Institute ensured the best quality solar cookers were distributed, designed to last for at least 10 years. The program involved the local people in every step of decision-making and project implementation, and made sure they know how to repair and properly maintain the cookers. In addition, the project trained and gave firsthand experience to several Pentok interns and new staff members.

The solar cookers were funded by a grant Sustainable Table received by AusAid on behalf of the Pentok Institute. The Pentok Institute works to improve the lives of women and girls on the Tibetan Plateau through education and leadership initiatives.

This is the second solar cooker project Sustainable Table has been involved with, so it’s a pleasure again to hear such positive testaments from the recipients of the cookers and our project partner the Pentok Institute.

To find our more about our other funded projects, click here.