JPHF (Young People Pedalling Towards the Future)

JPHF is a group of young people that focuses on the development of social activities that benefit the community and whose primary purpose is the protection and care of natural resources within the community of Sabana Grande and its surroundings.

The Youth group, besides being involved with bicycle technologies (mechanical energy), has also been enthusiastic indeveloping rural community tourism as a means of promoting places that have potential for tourism in the community and the Municipality of Totogalpa. Currently JPHF is undertaking a new initiative to promote camp outs with national and international visitors to the community to be able to share experiences.

The idea behind the camp outs is to make the most of the important tourist places in the community and at the same time to create cultural exchanges with the different people who we welcome to the camp outs. In the mountains you can appreciate the view of the community of Sabana Grande, make campfires, and it is also a good place to reflect and take in some fresh air. It is a great opportunity to leave behind your daily routine and get in touch with nature.

We have also given tours outside the community which highlight the natural beauties of our municipality. Totogalpa in Nahuatl means "Town in a bird’s nest." Here you can visit different places like: the parish St. Mary Magdalene which is part of our national heritage, the archaeological museum of petroglyphs, ancient crafts, and weapons of war among other things. You can also go to the workshop where they make artisan crafts by painting gourds, or see how they make dolls out of corn husks or climb up the hill of the cross.

Rocket Stoves and Ecological Ovens

2015 has been the year of rocket stoves and ecological ovens for the Cooperative of Solar Women of Totolgapa.

In March, seven ecological ovens and 25 rocket stoves were built with funds from the dry corridor, CARE. The ecological ovens and rocket stoves were built in four communities in Sabana Grande (Tinajia, Coyolito, El Fraile y La Palmera), the beneficiaries were chosen by CARE.

In April, Acción Contra el Hambre asked us to build ecological stoves and rocket stoves in the community of Cuje, Totogalpa and six communities in Macuelizo, Nueva Segovia. In Cuje they asked us to build 16 ovens and 40 rocket stoves. The builders travelled daily to Cuje leaving at dawn and returning home late due to the fact that the houses where they were installing the ovens and stoves were about a two hour walk from where the local bus (in fact a truck due to the steep hills on dirt tracks) dropped them.  Approximately 50% of the beneficiaries are using their stoves or ovens.  This low level of acceptance is generally contributed to the high presence of NGOs in Cuje.  In the communities in Macuelizo we had to build 12 ovens and 25 stoves.  We divided into three teams (Glenda and Adelina, Kenia and Milser, Yelba and Gilber) and the goal was to build two ovens and four stoves per day. The houses where we built the stoves and ovens were far apart and eh had to climb up and down many hills in the midday sun to get from one house to another. The houses in this area are completely natural made from earth which comes in a range of colours from the rainbow. These different coloured earths are abundant in this area.  Electricity from the gird has not been installed in these communities and the majority of the houses have PV panels. After a hard days works we would stay in the houses of the beneficiaries where we were treated with kindness and have made long lasting friendships.  After finishing the project we returned to carry out a survey to see how the stoves and ovens were working. The project was a success because the beneficiaries quickly adapted to this new technology. 

Local Intern Programme - Solar Community

The local Interns in 2015 have worked on various projects and activities in order to increase their experience which helps with their professional training. Some of the projects and activities that they have worked on are:

Vegetable garden using Good Agricultural Practices (GAP):

The demonstration vegetable garden was implemented in the Solar Centre in a particular part of the land where we sowed a variety of types of vegetable seeds. We organized ourselves to implement a range of GAP including different methods for planting, pest control and disease monitoring. We were therefore able to protect our vegetable garden using repellents, exfoliating organic fungicides and weeding by hand. We have also gained experience with different plantvarieties. One advantage of working in this manner is that you acquire a healthy product with high nutritional value as it is organic.

Support to the Early Learning Circle in the sector El Fraile:

This program began with the idea of helping children affiliated with Plan Nicaragua and other children who wanted to partake in the circle. The idea behind the initiative was to create an environment for recreation for the children and a means of instruction for mothers who receive talks on different topics. The children’s psychomotor development is monitored along with monthly controls for weight and height which are recorded.  This allows us to control the children’s advances and detect if they are having any difficulties.

Modifying the Bike Blender:

After a visit from Pulsera Project where they saw our bike blender they donated a stand for a bike blender which they had and did not use. They wanted us to adapt it to one of the bikes so that we could use the bike blender in fairs and public places as the donated stand has a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. We took a bike and a blender and added a rotating pin so that the blender would blend; the blender is located at the back of the bike. This demonstrates how appropriate technology can be used as an alternative when and where there is no electricity.

School Garden at San Miguel Arcangel Primary School:

In 2013 interns along with international volunteers took the initiative to develop a garden in an area of the school to help improve appearance and to recycle plastic bottles from the community along with international volunteers and parents of students. The project made good progress in the first year but after a lack of follow-up began to deteriorate. This year's group of interns reviewed the project and decided to start it up again and give it maintenance because this ecological project reduces the number of plastic bottles and at the same time uses the bike pump. This project was given the name “Patricia’s Memorial” in commemoration of a highly active members of the local interns who was also one of the founders of this initiative who sadly past away in April of this year.

Solar Mountain

The Solar Agroecological Promoters who work at the Solar Mountain have as part of their mission focus on the restoration of the earth through ecological practices. To comply with this we produce our own natural insecticide and natural fertilizers. In this effort in 2015 we have made 420 litres of natural insecticide from the leaves of madero negro and neem trees and in smaller quantities insecticides from Lime sulphur and papaya broth. We fumigate every Monday with these insecticides and we have produced 12 cubic meters of natural compost fertilizer which is incorporated into the soil to nourish it every time we plant seeds which also helps avoid people burning their dry leaves.

With these natural insecticides and fertilizers we have strengthened the growth of plants, some of which are already bearing fruit such as papaya, passion fruit, granadilla and coffee. To ensure the growth and health of these plants we make sure to give them proper care. We also take care of the bio-energetic forest as a future source of firewood.

Founder's Notes 2015: The Solar Community

Greetings friends of Fénix,

2015 marks ten years since Group Fénix made a fairly radical decision.  In 2005, the heart of Grupo Fénix was in the office of the Program of Alternative Energy Sources (PFAE) in the National Engineering University (UNI) in Managua.  That year, the staff of PFAE decided to focus on developing a model sustainable community that would be empowered (literally and socially) through gaining knowledge of Renewable Energy.  The community was Sabana Grande, Totogalpa, chosen because it had been the most proactive of all the communities in which we had worked.

This year, 2015, Sabana Grande achieved independence from the UNI, graduating from being a project to becoming a peer, and now calling itself ¨The Solar Community.¨   Are we now a model community?  I don´t know who has the best definition of a Model Community, but you, friend and reader, can measure our progress as you digest the articles written primarily by the members of this community and we would be more than interested in your feedback.

International statistics reveal that Totogalpa suffers some of the worst social, economic and ecological problems in all of the Americas.  In its third year of severe drought, Totogalpa´s citizens are living with the reality of climate change.  But we have organized to discover, learn, innovate and carry out practices that address previous social, economic and ecological imbalances . . . and have experienced tangible improvements.    We know we are far from finished working, far from perfect.  We are only beginning this work, but we are aware that we are growing and becoming ever more effective change agents.  Proactive agents with big hopes, big plans and LOTS of room to include people from all over the world and all walks of life in our efforts to create an example for others for building a sustainable lifestyle that is genuinely higher quality at all levels.

Accompanying the articles below, I will share with you some of the happenings and accomplishments of this year that are indicators to me that we are on the right path to becoming an inspiring example for others.

  • Over the years, numerous students from universities all over the world have done their thesis work in the Solar Community.  In 2015, three works are of special note.  First: an architecture student from our Alma Mater, the UNI, actively included members from all the groups in the Solar Community in the design of a building for a Renewable Energy Technological Innovation Center.  His thesis won first prize at the ¨Tenth Biannual Latin American Architecture Conference in the technical division" in the city of Arequipa - Peru, competing with projects from all Latin America.
  • Second, a Spanish intern, apprenticing with the United Nations Development Program in Nicaragua, completed her Master´s Thesis on the challenges of sustainable development noting the empowerment of the Solar Women. Her thesis ¨A Critical analysis of the experience of the Multisectoral Cooperative "Solar Women of Totogalpa” - COOMUSOT (Nicaragua) ¨ has generated so much interest that there are plans for it to be published as a book.
  • And finally, A German student doing her doctorate at Leeds University published two articles in journals of ELSEVIER ¨North–South partnerships for sustainable energy: Knowledge–power relations in development assistance for renewable energy ¨ and ¨Renewable energy partnerships in development cooperation: Towards a relational understanding of technical assistance¨ which won the White Rose Award - Best PhD Researcher for her work.
  • In a Nicaraguan Photo Contest for Gender and Energy, the First, Second, and Honorable Mention prizes went to photos of Solar Community Women in action.  The judges noted the sense of empowerment and the role of the women as agents of technology transfer.
  • As you will read in the articles, increasing numbers of university students both nationally and internationally are coming to the Solar Community to do internships and final research projects.
  • Besides our annual visits from international universities with groups of students, 2015 has brought us visits of Nicaraguan university professors with groups of students to construct solar cell phone chargers, and observe the work in renewable technologies at the Solar Center.
  • The Solar Center staff created a highly professional course for independent home PV system installations and offered it free to community members.  The course offered skill-building to international volunteers and developed new human resources within the community.
  • Members of the Earth Building Natural Construction committee shared their skills within the community and doubled the numbers of practitioner within the community as well as delivering their first courses to community groups in Nicaragua.
  • In 2008 PFAE and the Solar Women won the United Nations SEED Initiative Award: Promoting Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development.  At that point we were one of five winners out of 800 applicants from all over the globe.  Celebrating 10 years of operation in 2015, SEED did an assessment of their previous awardees and chose 10 winners from the 175 total winners over those ten years.  We were included in the top ten, and finished in third place among the ten in the final competition. 

Adelante con el Sol,

Susan Kinne

Founder and President of Grupo Fenix





International Volunteers 2015

Year after year we receive more and more volunteers of an ever increasing quality and from a range of backgrounds. In 2015 we have received 22 international volunteers from eight countries around the world (USA, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Scotland, Luxemburg, Hungary and Germany). The majority of the volunteers stayed in the Solar Community for two months. They worked on a range of different projects which included:

  • Design for a new storeroom
  • Composting latrine
  • Rain water collection
  • Business plan for the workshop AceSol
  • Workshops on heat transfer
  • Solar cooker stand
  • Repairing solar cookers
  • Solar water distiller for batteries
  • Study of the solar water pump systems
  • Solar water heater systems
  • Scientific organisation of the dry forest
  • Natural control of pests
  • Implementing a nursery and vegetable garden at the Solar Centre
  • Applying good environmental practises with COOMUSOT
  • EVA paper
  • Signs for the Solar Centre
  • Research into a bike mill
  • Maintenance to the PV structures at the Solar Centre
  • Rocket stoves and ecological ovens
  • Research into a PV charge station
  • Repairing and optimizing the irrigation system at the Solar Mountain

We want to thank you all for all your hard work, effort and willingness to help us develop the Solar Community. Thank you: Dan Buck, Trevor Langton, Laura Fidao, Julia Hawley, Emily Ferrando, Ruben Garza, Bridget Malone, Lucero Flores, Ewan Keddie, Greg Kurth, Matt Whisler, Charlotte D'Arcy, Andrew Berlin, Matthew Prestige, Sarah Paparo, Melida Alvarez, Mercedesz Kovacsics, Margaret Slattery, Erik Larrson, Dena Delia, Natalie Griffin, Lauren Barwise.

International Eduturism 2015

This year we held four international courses in conjunction with Cornell, CELL, University of Wisconsin - Platteville and the University of Dayton which brought 38 participants to the Solar Community. With these courses we were able to build five solar cookers, one solar dryer, 37 solar cell phone charges, repair two 60 watt PV systems, amplify a system by 60 watts and install three new PV systems.

Cornell visited us for the 9th time this year. Due to a clash between their spring break and Easter they visited us in January and meant that their group was a little smaller than usual with just two participants. The week long technical exchanged, based around the solar ovens, was still highly successful with the participants working with the solar cooker construction team to build a solar oven that is easily transported so that the Solar Women’s cooperative can easily take it to the many fairs they are asked to participate in.

In February we were visited by a group of 6 students and 1 faculty member from CELL Central American Semester Abroad Programme.  The focus of this programme is experiential learning.  During their stay in the solar community they repaired the 60 watt PV systems at Veronica’s and Adelina’s house, worked at the Solar Mountain, learnt how to build their own solar cell phone chargers and how to make charcoal from agricultural waste.


For the second year running we welcomed Professor Lynn Schlager from the University of Wisconsin – Platteville and his bunch of lively students to Nicaragua. We were lucky enough to visit the Momotombo Geothermal Power plant where we were warmly welcomed and given an in-depth tour of the facilities. Before heading up to the Solar Community we visited Masaya Volcano and its market. Upon arrival to the community they got down to work which included: construction of solar cookers, installations of PV systems, working in the Solar Mountain, building solar cell phone chargers and visiting Somoto Canyon.

Dayton ETHOS outbreak visited us in May and we were finally able to realize our dream of having their interns, who join us for ten weeks over the summer, participate in the outbreak course as means of their orientation.  This group pushed the boundaries helping the solar cooker construction team build a much desired solar dryer and also did one of their installations in the more rural community of Cuje. We all thoroughly enjoyed these new experiences.