Blog of Lorin Symington

Grilled Cheese in the Freezing Cold!

Posted Tuesday 3 February 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Saturday was freezing cold (-10°C / 14°F) but Lorin & co. were cooking up a storm at the Staten Island Makerspace in New York.
Want to check out the most powerful solar cooker in New York City? Let us know!


Mackenson and Guerline baking at Haiti Communitere

Posted Friday 16 January 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Yesterday Mackenson and Guerline baked up some delicious goodies for the fine people at Haiti Communitere.

Mackenson has been experimenting and making improvements to the oven and now it maxes out the thermometer at 200°C after an hour of operation starting at 10am.

We’re really excited to see what sort of products our technician and bakers come up with and how people will react to knowing that they are eating charcoal-free treats!


Lorin’s Update from NYC

Posted Monday 12 January 2015 by Lorin Symington.

Here’s a quick update from our technologist in the field, Lorin, who is in NYC spreading the GoSol.org goodness.

Today marks an important day for Haiti; it is now 5 years since the earthquake that destroyed so many lives.
Our thoughts are with Haiti and all the survivors of the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

Meet Mackenson, the first GoSol.org Technician in Haiti

Posted Tuesday 6 January 2015 by Lorin Symington.

It’s through Haiti Communitere that I met Mackenson. This was back in 2012 when I was checking out Haiti for a solar energy mission. He was hard at work building a trash collection vehicle for his neighbourhood in Cité Soleil. Cité Soleil is notorious for its poverty and gang warfare. Most NGOs have it as a no-go zone on their map of Port-au-Prince, and that is precisely why Haiti Communitere works closely with them, because no one else will. Showing up on the back of a moto with someone from Haiti Communitere, smile and bro down in whatever little Creole you have it is a whole other story and the community welcomes you.

The first time I visited Cité Soleil in 2012 I was in the neighbourhood called Paris. The streets, to my surprise, were cleaner than any other street I had seen in Port-au-Prince. This is largely due to the influence of Konbit Soley Leve (The Rising Sun Collective). Their self description: “Community-driven development in Cité Soleil. Local people, local resources, local solutions. A movement in the making.” It was in this spirit that Mackenson was building a trash collection cart. I taught him how to weld, he taught me some Creole. Eventually we worked together on building a waste-paper briquette press . He’s a warm hearted and hardworking man. At 34 he is taking care of 5 kids, only one of which is biologically his. The other 3 belong to his dead brother, and one to his sister who just up and gave him hers. Midway through the briquette press, I helped him build a plywood coffin for his little brother. He came in to work the next day because ‘we have to finish the machine before you go’. It was then I swore I would do what I could to make sure he has a good job and a sustainable future. Now, thanks to Haiti Communitere and GoSol.org, it looks like he will.

When he walked through the gates of Haiti Communitere at 7:45am on December 15 2014, he was wearing his famous Mackenson grin. We embraced as he called out ‘my boss!’ I couldn’t have been happier. We caught up on the past 2 years and got down to the business of training him to be Haiti’s first GoSol.org technician. ‘The most important thing that can happen on this trip is that you learn how to calibrate this solar cooker, to create the focal point.’ I told him. ‘Ok boss, no problem.’ he replied. It was like taming a wild horse! ‘Start at one side of the machine, go mirror by mirror, be systematic.’ I don’t think Mackenson has ever been systematic for a day in his life. He kept finding other things to fix, mirrors to clean or dirt on the floor to sweep up. ‘Macken! Wrench in hand, set the mirrors!’. After the third time I showed him how to orient a mirror to the side of the focal point, set it, and then guide it into the focal point everything changed. He got it! He pushed me out of the way and said ‘go build the baking oven, I’ll take care of this!’ When Jonny got on the scene I didn’t even have to say a word, Mackenson trained him up quick.

Once the solar cooker was up and running, I could barely finish my sentences explaining how it works to passers-by before Mackenson would jump in and finish explaining for me. Monday through Wednesday we would calibrate/train while the sun was shining and build the oven when there were clouds. There were more clouds than I was comfortable with but from Thursday (SOLAR PIZZA DAY!!) to Monday (SOLAR COOKIES!), there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

You have to know that high fuel cost means baked goods are a luxury in Haiti. With free “solar fuel” this cost can be radically decreased and delicious food can be made cheaply, so a solar bakery is our target pioneering business model that could spread all over Haiti and pave the way for all sorts of new solar businesses. Apart from baking, other applications such as cooking, water purification, and food processing are possible with a little development and will create additional opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

So the future’s looking bright for Mackenson and GoSol.org in Haiti. Here I must say that I really can’t imagine working in Haiti without Haiti Communitere. HC is a bridge between the international community and the reality on the ground in Haiti; they are part hostel, part training center, part workshop and part showroom. For an individual or small organization there is no better place to launch a project.


Back in Haiti and Working with the Sun

Posted Monday 5 January 2015 by Lorin Symington.

The flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince is a lively one. A colourful mix of Haitians returning to their country, aid workers, missionaries and adventurers. I listen in on spontaneous Creole lessons, people swapping stories, describing their projects and chit chatting about travel and weather. I seem to be able to understand much more Creole than the last time I was in Haiti in 2012. I remain mostly silent, imagining the next 10 days and everything that I hope to accomplish, wondering how the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince is going, remembering the last time I took this flight and how at that time, Haiti was a patchwork of worrying impressions I had gathered from the internet: poverty, danger, chaos. This time, however, I know the situation and am confident… I know where I’m going and what I have to do.

The ride to Haiti Communitere is short, and just like I remember; little to nothing seems to have changed… except maybe that the tarps covering the roadside kiosks are more worn. There’s a little less rubble, more potholes and just as many smiling merchants selling handmade souvenirs. My eyes linger on the ‘manjekwits’ on the side of the street where women cook rice and beans and sauce over charcoal stoves. 98% of Haiti’s forests have disappeared because essentially everyone uses charcoal to cook.

Things at Haiti Communitere, on the other hand seem to have changed and improved: an ubuntu factory on the roof, an amazing new workshop, a new biogas toilet and some shiny new intereresting alternative structures. Joseph, the security guard on duty, and I greet each other by name. It feels really, really good to be back. By the time I leave there will be a solar bakery operating on the roof and the Solar Fire will have spread a little more.

I only know a few of the internationals ‘on base’ at HC but it still feels like coming back to my tribe. HC is filled with good people doing good work; everyone has a great story and the fact that they’re on the ground in Haiti is a good indication of their commitment.

“Oh that’s your solar cooker up on the roof? That thing is amazing!”

Darn right it is... wait till you see everything it can do. By weeks end we’ll be eating solar pizza, cakes, rice and beans, all without burning a single piece of a single tree.


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