MEH establishes self sustaining women’s cooperatives such as solar oven micro-bakery businesses in poverty strickened areas. The ovens save time and money spent on firewood, reduce diseases associated with smoke inhalation and help protect the environment. 

Establishing just one solar bakery involves networking with Honduran NGO’s, oven refurbishing, business and baking training seminars, bakery site construction, oven installation and several months of project monitoring. Funding and donations from government agencies, businesses, church groups and individuals make this possible

In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the Central American country of Honduras. The mountainous Honduran soil, stripped by decades of slash and burn farming, was unable to absorb days of torrential rain, causing widespread flooding and mudslides. Tens of thousands of homes were simply washed away, sometimes with families still inside. The death toll from Hurricane Mitch in Honduras alone was estimated to be near 11,000 lives with thousands more missing. More than 50,000 homes were demolished, 60% of Honduras’ transportation infrastructure was wiped out, and 1.5 million people were left unemployed – largely due to the destruction of Honduras’ farmland.

By summer of 2000, Honduras was still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Mitch. Homelessness and unemployment drove more and more women to earn their wages through prostitution. Needy and abandoned children lived on the streets of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, addicted to the high that comes from sniffing toxic glue – their only escape from the pain of life. This was the wounded Honduras to which Lorne Parsons, a volunteer from Newfoundland, Canada, journeyed in September of 2000 with his wife and two small children. The Parsons’ only agenda was to observe, identify, and begin to meet some of the needs of the people of Honduras.

Soon after moving to Honduras, it was brought to Lorne’s attention that twenty-one commercial sized solar oven systems (SOS) had been donated to the country in 1998-99 by an organization in the United States. He discovered that due to various obstacles, including minor design flaws which made the ovens incompatible to Honduran climate and insects, the ovens had not been utilized effectively and many had been moved from their original locations, making recuperation a challenge. Lorne then aligned himself and the solar ovens under the legal covering of an existing NGO called Manos Extendidas Honduras (MEH), also operated by volunteers. Equipped with minimal data, detective-like skills, and what many could only call serendipity, Lorne was able to track down all the ovens scattered throughout Honduras within a year.

Using limited resources in conjunction with financial assistance from individuals, groups, churches, and small businesses in Canada and the USA, Lorne began the arduous task of retrieving and refurbishing the solar ovens. The goal was to provide long-term maintenance free use coupled with a training and monitoring program to help groups of women in rural areas create solar micro-bakeries. Consequently, “SOS’s Tree Chatter” was born.

Although still in its beginning stages, the impact of Tree Chatter is extensive. To date, five of the twenty-one ovens have been successfully refurbished and established in rural communities in Honduras, providing environmentally sound, self-sustaining employment. The solar ovens utilize Honduras’ most plentiful resource – the sun – for a task that has previously been powered by wood, a resource that, through an alarmingly high rate of deforestation, is rapidly diminishing in Honduras. Tree Chatter encourages significant reduction in deforestation by linking needs to resources through the use of quality solar cooking appliances as an alternative to conventional methods, eradicating the need for approximately 60% of the fuel wood currently consumed. In addition, the solar bakeries pose less risk to workers, eliminating the health dangers of smoke inhalation and open flame. Thus, Tree Chatter protects the environment, improves health conditions, provides food for the hungry, and helps launch the poor into successful self-sustaining small businesses.

MEH’s immediate vision is to see the remaining 14 solar ovens refurbished and put to use across Honduras. Tree Chatter is committed to providing an alternative to cooking with wood and charcoal in deforested developing countries that have been blessed with an abundance of sunshine.

Using supervisory personnel from reputable organizations already resident in developing-world countries, Tree Chatter seeks to identify entrepreneurs from local villages to establish bakeries. Each bakery will utilize an oven to bake bread, cakes and pastries for sale in a specified geographic region. These entrepreneurs will be trained in basic business management skills and specific solar bakery management techniques. Tree Chatter’s training program works with each entrepreneur to:

  1. Develop a customized marketing and distribution plan for their region.
  2. Establish and monitor cash flow and profit objectives for their locatio(s).
  3. Outline a growth plan to allow an increase in sales and profits.
  4. Develop appropriate human resource policies that enable bakery
    employees to improve their standard of living.

Listen closely and hear our world’s forests sending out an SOS call for more Tree Chatter.