Allart Ligtenberg saw a way for people in Nepal to lessen dependence on wood fuel through low-cost solar technology that could be used for cooking and water purification. Here, Lightenberg displays a portable solar cooker.
Things are cooking in Nepal. Allart Ligtenberg, a 28-year Los Altos resident, is helping the people of that mountainous nation by disseminating low-cost solar cooking technology as an alternative to burning wood fuel.
Ligtenberg, 62, spends four to five months each year traveling the globe to promote the use of solar cookers. He has traveled to Mongolia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile. But he returns to Nepal year after year, in spite of its grinding poverty, civil unrest and a violent Maoist insurgency. The country's beauty and its people captivated him on his first trip there 26 years ago.
In 1979, the United Nations asked Ligtenberg, who was there working for Hewlett-Packard, to consult on computer data acquisition and control systems in northern India. Upon completion of the assignment, he decided to do some trekking in Nepal before heading back to the United States.
"I always loved mountains," Ligtenberg said. He immediately fell in love with Nepal's mountains and its ethnic diversity. "This country is tremendous in terms of the people," he said.
Nepal is a country rich in culture and blessed with spectacular scenery, but poverty and political turmoil are taking their toll.
Wood burning as the primary source of energy for heating and cooking in Nepal causes a host of problems. Breathing the smoky air in cramped living spaces has lowered life expectancy, Ligtenberg explained. Children often suffer horrible burns from stumbling into cooking fires. And cutting down trees for fuel has increased erosion in the countryside.
Ligtenberg saw a way to lessen dependence on wood fuel through low-cost solar technology that could be used for cooking and water purification. He has developed different types of solar cooking devices - some for use by big families, and smaller portable models including a lightweight solar cooker that can be rolled up and put in a backpack.
With a solar cooker, Ligtenberg can cook a can of soup or tea in 20 minutes, rice in 35 to 40 minutes. Ligtenberg once had ice water boiling in 20 minutes on a mountainside at 8 a.m. so he and his fellow trekkers could enjoy hot showers.
Ligtenberg's goal is to get as many people using solar cookers as he can. When in Nepal, he sets out his solar cooker, cooks his food and lets people watch. "People are fascinated by it," he said. His goal is to disseminate the cookers through personal demonstrations and by helping locals set up shops to make and sell them.
Ligtenberg pays his expenses out of pocket. In Nepal, he lives simply, paying $3 a night for lodging. "But it has a shower and toilet," he added. "I feel I have to do something to help this country and that's why I'm doing it."
Ligtenberg joined the Los Altos Rotary Club two and a half years ago. The Rotary Club has supported his efforts and is helping to fund a project to train 100 to 200 Nepalese families on solar technologies.
What's next for Ligtenberg?
"I'm not sure where I'm going this year," he said. "Maybe Indonesia."