Interview: A Woman of Light and Hope

Lori Pottinger

Laurie Stone
Laurie Stone
Laurie Guevara-Stone is the International Program Manager for Solar Energy International, a Colorado-based group that provides hands-on training in renewable energy around the globe. She shared her insights from her more than 20 years' experience in the field of clean, decentralized energy.

WRR: Describe what you do. What motivated you to enter the field of clean energy?

LGS: I coordinate all of our international workshops and trainings. We have five different workshops in Latin America each year, and we also train in-country organizations and technicians in renewable energy around the world. I first became interested in renewables when I was living in Nicaragua back in the 1980s. I saw so many people living without access to basic services that I realized that renewable energy technologies could make a huge difference in these people's lives. I decided to return to the US to learn about renewable energy, which eventually led me to SEI, and then to return to Central America to bring this information to places where it could help improve people's lives.

WRR: In your experience, what are key "energy challenges" for women in the developing world?

LGS: In the developing world, women are the main educators, health care providers, and food providers. They perform many chores that are made even more difficult by lack of access to modern energy services. For example, in rural areas of developing countries it's almost always the women who gather firewood, collect water, harvest crops, grind the grain and cook the food. In some areas women spend up to eight hours gathering firewood to cook with, and respiratory diseases are among the biggest killers of women in developing countries, from standing over smoky cooking fires all day. By teaching women how to incorporate renewable energy technologies into their lives, such as solar cookers or fuel-efficient stoves, solar water pumping systems, solar, wind or water-powered rural electrification projects, these can all help alleviate some of the difficulties women face.

WRR: How can electricity change the lives of women particularly? How can having, say, a solar panel change a woman's life?

LGS: Access to electricity can dramatically improve the lives of women in the developing world. One small solar panel can provide enough electricity to run some lights and a small appliance. Having electric light means not having to breathe the toxic fumes from kerosene lanterns, and not having to strain their eyes under poor quality light to get work done. It means women who have never had a chance to study can go to school at night, and their children can study at night. It means safely being able to walk to meetings at night due to solar powered street lights. Access to electricity also means access to new information from radio, television, and computers. It is also a way to help women start micro-enterprises and earn a much-needed income. Energy from one small solar panel is enough to run a small "licuado" stand, jewelry workshop, weaving workshop, video center, and many other small enterprises.

WRR: Can you give an example of how women you know have been able to use solar in creative ways to improve the lives of their families or communities?

LGS: There is a group of women that we work with in Nicaragua, called the Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa, who have used solar energy technologies to drastically improve their lives. They live in a rural area of northern Nicaragua, in a small community of about 200 homes. They all cooked over fires, and when introduced to solar cookers by a Nicaraguan NGO, Grupo Fenix, realized the potential that solar cookers had in their community. They now construct, use, and sell solar cookers, and they built their own solar center out of adobe blocks that they made themselves. They sell solar products such as solar roasted coffee, solar dried fruits, and solar baked goods, and are about to open a solar restaurant. They also have an alternative currency system which is based on the volunteer hours they work, and through that program have almost all installed solar lighting systems in their homes.

WRR: What women particularly inspire you?

LGS: There are so many women around the world who are doing amazing work for their communities. The ones who inspire me the most, are the ones who are not afraid to fight for their rights and beliefs, under very harsh circumstances, such as Meena, the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Aghanistan. All of the women who refuse to sit back and accept the unjust fate life has dealt them, but who stand up and fight their way out of poverty, whether through legal rights, renewable energy, education, or governmental change - all are an inspiration to me to keep doing my small piece.

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