Volunteering at CEDESOL was one of the best things I have done so far in my life, and I've done quite a bit. I know you hear this on most volunteer websites but so few volunteer placements really give you the opportunity to make a difference.
My placement at CEDESOL was for 3 months and my personal role was to develop the design and construction method of the wood burning or "Rocket" Stove. Initially my brief was just to redesign the chimney unit to allow more units to be transported in the same space. This involved designing a joint that could be easily assembled in a remote area of Bolivia without tools. That was the start anyway, in the end I was able to do far more and use my new joint on the entire cooker meaning that it can now be built completely without screws.
Having designed the new cooker it was then necessary to produce a prototype to prove that the design would work and could be produced on a large scale. I produced the prototype with the help of the prisoners of El Abra prison, working in CEDESOL´s prisoner rehabilitation workshop. This was an incredible, eye opening experience for me in a place that confounded all of my preconceptions about Bolivian prisons.
But, I could not spend all my time working on this design alone. CEDESOL have so many projects going on that you could never spend a whole week devoted to just one thing, you're always being drafted in to building cookers or delivering cookers hundreds of kilometers out in the Bolivian outback and then demonstrating how to use them. As a side note solar cooked chicken is the best.
CEDESOL gave me everything I was hoping for when I left the UK. It allowed me to use my skills to help a cause I believe in, it gave me experience that will help me find a job when I get home and I gained a deeper insight into Bolivian culture. I would recommend that volunteers have an open mind, a strong work ethic, and be willing to tackle anything even if you don't have experience in it before, because everyone had a first time sometime.
Princeton University, USA
I worked at CEDESOL from June to August 2009. Throughout the summer, I participated in community outreach, data collection and processing, project development, grant writing and stove demonstrations. In a project that introduced solar cookers to families within the city, I helped interviewing project participants about their solar ovens to collect data on gas savings, frequency of use, and cooking habits before and after the introduction to solar.
I created a 30 page final report describing every stage of the project with graphs of carbon dioxide savings and benefits of the ovens. In late July I received funding from the Foundation for Sustainable Development through a competitive grant process to implement a project introducing several ecological cookers to a rural school. The project contained an educational component and engaged in community outreach to spread solar technologies into households that needed them. The final project donated a solar oven to a blind school in Cochabamba. Interning at CEDESOL and living in Cochabamba was an unforgettable experience - and provided excellent exposure to the inner-workings of an international non-profit organization.
Crescent Springs, Kentucky, USA
I worked with CEDESOL from May to July 2008. While I there, I worked on several projects: my major responsibility was preparing grant applications to major philanthropic foundations in order to secure grant funding for CEDESOL projects. My second task was to help with the industrialization process for the production of rocket stoves. I worked on CEDESOL's CNC plasma cutter in a troubleshooting, testing, and programming capacity, including testing programs and machine settings to prepare to cut out stove tops automatically. In addition to these projects, I went with CEDESOL personnel on numerous stove demonstrations in the countryside in a support role, which included setting up and taking down stoves, helping prepare food, and providing general help wherever needed.
Berkeley, California, USA
In 2006, I first traveled to work with CEDESOL and Sobre La Roca as part of the Bolivia Project. Myself and a host of other University of Dayton volunteers helped put on solar cooker courses to aid rural family members, mostly women, in constructiong their own solar cooker. As an environmentalist at heart, I was amazed at the opportunity to use clean energy to improve families´ lives and health. I fell in love with the Bolivian people, landscape, and Spanish language so I returned in the summer of 2007 to continue this work. I am currently a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley working on biofuels.