Born from the Ashes
Growing out of a collective of students interested in gaining hands-on experience in alternative energy technology, Grupo Fénix is founded at the National Engineering University of Nicaragua alternative energy projects the group worked on would be symbols of Nicaragua’s rebirth from the ashes years of conflict and privation.
Spreading the Word about Alternative Energy
Grupo Fénix and the UNI host the first of what become annual alternative energy fairs in Managua. The late Dr. Richard Komp, author of Practical Photovoltaics and founder of Skyheat Associates in the U.S., joins Grupo Fénix and the UNI as an instructor and guide to the theory and practice of photovoltaic design and implementation. With the support of Grupo Fénix, Richard offers the first courses in renewable energy at the UNI.
Alternative Energy Sources Project
The Alternative Energy Sources Program (PFAE) is founded by UNI, and Susan Kinne is named as its director. Grupo Fénix becomes a non-profit branch of PFAE. In the next several years Grupo Fenix will collaborate with rural communities around Nicaragua to build and install solar pumps, drip irrigation systems, PV battery charging centers, solar dryers, biogas digesters, solar water heating systems, a micro-hydroelectric system, and hundreds of PV systems in rural communities. Grupo Fenix will partner with women in rural Nicaragua to design, construct, and refine hundreds of solar cookers.
The New Energy Project
The Falls Brook Centre of New Brunswick, Canada, with assistance from Canadian International Development Agency, initiates the New Energy Project in Nicaragua to provide support and employment for land mine victims. Grupo Fénix becomes the on-the-ground partner for the solar panel construction aspect of the project. The project is based in Somoto, Madriz, and centers around training land mine victims to construct, install, and maintain solar panels in areas of northern Nicaragua without access to electricity from conventional sources. Marco Antonio Pérez and Mauro Antonio Pérez form the core of the team in northern Nicaragua. By the end of the year, Grupo Fénix has staff in Managua, Somoto, Unile, and Sabana Grande.
First Ecological Fair
Grupo Fénix hosts the first Ecological Fair in Somoto, highlighting the possibilities of all manner of solar powered technology, from ovens to photovoltaic panels to parabolic cookers.
Inspired by the possibilities of solar energy, a group of women in Sabana Grande begins to coalesce around the development and use of solar cookers. They take the name the Solar Women of Totogalpa, Las Mujeres Solares de Totogalpa in Spanish.
Suni Solar Is Founded
To better support the diffusion of solar energy technology, Suni Solar, a for profit company affiliated with Grupo Fénix is found with the technical and financial assistance from Richard and his NGO Skyheat Associates.
Sabana Grande Solar Panel Fabrication Workshop Established
A solar panel fabrication workshop is constructed on Marco Antonio’s property in the heart of Sabana Grande. Hundreds of panels are fabricated there in the years to come and installed all over northern Nicaragua.
The Beginnings of EduTourism
Wanting to connect people from around the world with Nicaragua scientists and students pioneering solar technology innovation, Grupo Fénix runs its first Solar Culture Course. In addition to conducting workshops in Managua, the first international group visits the north to learn from the people of Unile and Sabana Grande.
First Organized Visit of University Students from Abroad
University of New South Wales in Australia sends a group of students to collaborate with community members in Unile and with Grupo Fénix to improve the design of solar cookers and dryers.
Grupo Fénix Beyond Nicaragua
In November, the work of the solar workshop in Sabana Grande goes abroad, as Richard, Marco Antonio, and Rodolfo Raudes are invited to Haiti to give a 2 ½ week workshop on small-scale photovoltaic panel fabrication.
Expanding the Network of Collaboration
Groups from around the world participate in Solar Culture courses both in Managua and in Unile and Sabana Grande. Students from the University of New South Wales return, and other students visit from Cornell University and the University of Dayton in the United States. The first long-term volunteers arrive in Sabana Grande, staying for up to several months to share their skills and learn from the community. A system of hosting volunteers begins to develop among the Solar Women.
Developing a Solar Culture
Solar Culture Courses continue to grow, with three happening this year. Grupo Fénix receives two significant grants. The first from the Winds of Peace Foundation to support the work of the Solar Women in constructing and promoting solar cookers, and the second from the Noble Foundation of the United States to fund the construction of a solar technology workshop. After six years of working concurrently in both Unile and Sabana Grande, Nicaragua, Grupo Fénix shifts its focus exclusively to Sabana Grande, principally because the community in Sabana Grande has fully embraced the collaborative, participatory model of alternative energy technology development.
Outreach to Potential Partners
Our founder, Susan Kinne, spends nearly three weeks in the United States visiting with potential university partners for service-learning opportunities collaborating with solar technology users and designers in Sabana Grande.
With support from a The Body Shop Foundation Grant, Grupo Fénix provides materials and training for the women of Las Mujeres Solares to develop further their design and construction skills for solar driers and cookers.
Planting Hope on Solar Mountain
Susan purchases the property that will become Solar Mountain, an agro-ecological experimentation center for Sabana Grande. The land has been poorly managed for years and bears the scars of deforestation, overgrazing, and erosion from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Its transformation over the next decade is a physical reminder of the possibilities for different ways of managing the landscape.
The Solar Center Opens
December sees the inauguration of the Solar Center, a project that embodies the collaborative spirit of both the community and outside visitors. The Solar Women, especially, contributed a staggering amount of labor to the construction project, providing thousands of hours collectively in making the adobe bricks for the walls of the building.
Winning the United Nations SEED Prize
Grupo Fenix,thanks to the hard work of the Mujeres Solares, wins the UN-based SEED Award for promoting entrepreneurship for sustainable development. The SEED Award was a biannual (now an annual award) international competition, designed to support locally led, innovative, entrepreneurial partnerships in developing countries, which have the potential to make real improvements in poverty eradication and environmental sustainability. Grupo Fénix received this award for its Lighting Up Hope and Communities application.
Much of this year is dedicated to implementing the support provided as part of the SEED award which included:
- Organizing in-country SEED events: including partnership workshop, the seed award ceremony and a number of bilateral meetings with representatives from the SEED network.
- Legal assistance for writing up the statutes and laws so the Mujeres Solares can be a cooperative.
- Attaining legal status for the Mujeres Solares as a cooperative.
- A Master's Degree education in Business Administration for our Project Coordinator.
- Contracting a transition facilitator to coordinate planning, follow-up and evaluation for the transition of the Mujeres Solares from a group to a legal cooperative.
- Workshop in improved methods of production of solar oven design and solar food preparation.
Due to the fruitful partnership of working with SEED the Mujeres Solares were awarded a grant from the United Nations Development Program to build a clean-energy restaurant.
Building of the clean-energy restaurant: La Casita Solar
Building is started and completed on the clean-energy restaurant. A few difficulties are encountered along the way such as the rains starting uncharacteristically early in March and many of the adobe bricks made for the restaurant being destroyed in the rain and having to be made again.
The Solar Agroecological Promoters (PSAE) Form
A group of students from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden collaborate with Grupo Fénix to focus on developing a reforestation program. Its goals are to respond to two of the major sources of deforestation in the area; cutting firewood for cooking and expansion of the agricultural frontier. As part of this collaboration they provide a grant which enables a new local work group was formed, The Agroecological Solar Promoters (PSAE). Grupo Fénix is able to work with more members of the community and to compliment the already established work of the Solar Women of Totogalpa, and the PV workshop AceSol.
Meeting Future Partners
Liz Johndrow, a natural builder from Vermont, USA, volunteers with us wanting to study Spanish and find a way to share her skills. This is the start of Grupo Fenix venturing into natural building. Liz later founds The Pueblo Project who is now one of our partners.
A group of 33 people from The Pulsera Project visit to learn more about Grupo Fenix, what we do and have a meeting to exchange ideas and experiences with the Mujeres Solares and the youth group that is forming. Susan Kinne nurtures the relationship with The Pulsera Project and it will lead to a long-term partnership with them providing the majority of funding for the Youth Scholarship and Leadership program.
Edutourism expands and Young People Pedaling Towards the Future (JPHF) Form
Grupo Fénix receives its first high school group of 18 students and 3 chaperones. The focus of their visit is a technical exchange based on a bike blender with youth from the community of Sabana Grande. The success of the exchange motivates the young people who are involved to form their own group called Young People Pedaling Towards the Futures. Their initial focus are technologies based on pedal power and later they will expand into community-based tourism.
Natural Classroom is built
Liz Johndrow from The Pueblo Project leads a workshop to build a natural classroom at the Solar Mountain. This involves participants from three local women's groups. The classroom now provides an artistically beautiful and inspiring space for adult education classes, agricultural workshops, natural building education and meetings.
Youth Scholarship and Leadership Program begins
The program starts this year with a pilot project with three internships for university students from the community in the areas of health, education and environment. Each university intern works with community counterparts in their assigned area. The internship allows people from the community to continue their higher education while gaining work experience which will make them more employable in the future.
Tesoro del Sol
We christened the building El Tesoro del Sol, Treasure of the Sun, given its connection with the Solar Youth group. In and around the building, there are lots of places for the youth group and others to play, meet, and offer workshops and educational opportunities. There is even a little cob rock climbing wall with seats on top designed to be a bit like riding a horse.
150 Improved Rocket Stoves are Built
Funding is received from UNDP’s small donation program and CARE to build 150 rocket stoves. For 150 families this means that smoke is eliminated from their kitchens therefore reducing their exposure and susceptibility to respiratory illnesses. The families are trained on how to use and maintain their stoves and will also save collecting firewood as the stoves use is lower than traditional stoves. Beneficiaries plant two acres of bio-energetic forest at the Solar Mountain in return for receiving a stove.
Grupo Fenix Becomes
Almost twenty years after its founding Grupo Fénix becomes independent from the UNI and is reborn as an independent NGO, based exclusively in Sabana Grande.
Grupo Fenix Redefines Who It Is
Grupo Fénix faces the challenge of having to define a new mission, vision, steering committee and organizational chart. We work with an organizational development specialist from Interteam to achieve this. Grupo Fénix clearly defines itself as a non-profit association for and from the community with a new mission, vision, steering committee and organizational chart to reflect this. While the development of alternative energy technologies remains the spiritual core of Grupo Fénix’s work, the organization now begins to focus on community development through capacity building.
Dry Composting Latrine Pilot Project
PSAE takes on the huge undertaking of running a pilot project constructing six dry composting latrines in Sabana Grande. The latrines are built with the goal of increasing local familiarity with the technology and expanding the group’s capacity to execute construction projects in the future.