Rural Women Partner with Universities to Advance Sustainability - Nicaragua
The Grupo Fenix consortium is fostering exchange between
academic partners and a village in Nicaragua’s countryside, advancing solar technology and
empowering women. The “edutourism” model helps rural communities, creates awareness of
sustainable lifestyles through technical and cultural exchange, and promotes renewable energy
- 7 international courses offered yearly
- Students from 6 educational institutions visiting rural Nicaragua community
- 20 volunteers stay for up to 6 months annually
Ten years of civil war followed by an economic crisis have contributed to making Nicaragua the
second-poorest country in Latin America. Natural disasters have made life more difficult for the
country’s poor, who live largely in the countryside where they lack educational and work
opportunities, as well as access to electrical grids and other basic infrastructure.
Nicaragua’s rural poor, many of whom are indigenous, survive off the land as small-scale farmers or
landless farm workers. Women in these areas are even more marginalized – traditionally, women were
isolated in their poorly lit kitchens where they cooked on open-air fires. Women’s kitchens filled
with smoke, harming their health, and they also bore the arduous and dangerous task of collecting firewood.
The Grupo Fenix consortium began in 1999 to connect rural Nicaraguan landmine victims to solar energy jobs.
Women in the community of Sabana Grande warmed to solar cookers, which harness the sun’s rays instead
of firewood, and organized a collective to produce such cookers. Grupo Fenix began facilitating technical
and cultural exchanges among university professors, students, professionals, and female-led rural
The exchange allows Nicaraguan cooperatives, in conjunction with several United States universities
including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to co-develop solar ovens, photovoltaic panels,
improved wood-burning stoves, bicycle-powered blenders, and charcoal from agricultural waste. In 2011,
Sabana Grande women completed construction of a “solar restaurant” to feed study and volunteer
participants, who stay in the community for up to six months at a time.
Helping the planet
Sabana Grande’s production of solar products reduces carbon emissions, thus preventing climate
change. Local use of solar technology not only reduces dependency on fossil fuel power sources, it also
contributes to more sustainable management of the region’s natural resources, as for example women
don’t need to gather as much wood to burn for fuel. One of the groups has focused on agro-ecological
methods to restore and preserve water, soil, and forests in the community. Their “Solar
Mountain” site models these practices, both for community education and edutourism.
Production of solar products generates much-needed income for rural communities, helping reduce poverty.
Use of the products enhances quality of life, especially for women who no longer suffer in smoky kitchens
or spend hours each day gathering firewood. Part of the income earned through edutourism is put toward
getting women an education. Since edutourism has become an integral part of the community’s fabric
over the years, it is building social capital that will continue to generate yields as the community
transforms in the long-term.
The edutourism concept creates a feedback loop as an ever-widening array of education institutions and
non-governmental organizations take part. The project has steadily grown, into offering a range of courses
related to renewable energy, sustainable practices, and natural building. It has a burgeoning volunteer
program, an average of seven study groups visiting each year, and more groups currently arranging long-term
Edutourism’s emphasis on exchange and empowerment of women has led to both national and international
recognition – the model is being replicated in its home country of Nicaragua, and women’s
groups have also visited Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic to teach solar cooker construction to
locally formed groups there.
Images owned by the activity partners, all rights reserved.