SOS Founder Lauded as Unsung Hero
By Roxanne Van Duzee Furlong
Martha Port, who co-founded the Solar Oven Society (SOS) in 1990, will receive the Unsung Hero award at Women Venture’s ninth annual conference on November 5. The award recognizes behind-the-scenes work done by those who have dedicated themselves to promoting or providing economic opportunities to other women. Since 1988, Port has envisioned helping women in developing countries provide food for their families in an easy, economical way with her SOS oven. It is by way of the sun that Port has become a hero in the hearts and minds of many.
Sixteen years ago Port and her husband, Michael, prayed for something on which they could work together as a couple. She then read an article citing United Nations statistics stating that 2.4 billion people in the world don’t have adequate fuel to cook their meals; that each year one billion children suffer and 7,000 die from the effects of drinking impure water; that women spend up to seven hours each day seeking and gathering firewood; and that many families spend as much as half their monthly salaries on fuel oil. The article showed a microbiologist demonstrating how to cook an entire meal out of a cardboard box using solar energy. The Ports had their shared mission.
“We went with the cardboard cookers to Haiti, Jamaica, and Costa Rica,” Port said. “We saw an obvious need and a definite desire for them but wanted to improve on the design and build a more durable but economical oven.”
It took several years while working in the private sector for the Ports to design, develop, and create interest for their own portable solar oven called SOS (SPORT). Capital for SOS was initially provided by Persons Helping People, a Minneapolis non-profit corporation. Additional funding has been received from state and national grants and entities such as Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, local Rotaries, and churches. In a pilot project, 400 ovens were sent to Afghanistan, where SOS representatives sold 30 ovens within the first few hours – before food was cooked or tasted. To date, thousands more have been sent to Nicaragua, Cameroon, and Afghanistan.
The ovens are made from post-consumer soft-drink bottles, a metal reflector; and a clear lid through which the sun’s rays cook food. Other organizations or foundations purchase them for $60, which covers materials and shipping and handling; they then sell the ovens to recipients for $15.
“Sponsorships (and consumer sales) help subsidize the cost,” Port said. “But I have a very strong preference for people to have the dignity to purchase the ovens themselves.” Port has worked for micro enterprises—such as agencies supported by the World Bank—to provide credit to the women purchasing the ovens.
Other volunteers include 3M retirees who helped design the ovens and the plant where they are assembled. Though the couple began SOS as a sideline, they have dedicated themselves to it as full-time volunteers for the past year and a half. Port dreams of production runs of 50,000 or 100,000 and lower material costs to offer the ovens at a lower price to the women who need them.
“Martha dedicates herself to a project,” says Bette Borman, president, GBA Productions, who wrote a letter of reference for Port’s nomination. “And once she’s decided that she will do it, you can just stamp ‘paid’ to it.”
Says Port. “It’s very affirming to me and gives me hope that we can do a lot to help women around the world. To be able to send their children to school, or to have more food for their family to eat, or to be able to spend less effort gathering fuel to cook their meals; that’s the essence of what this (award) means to me.”
Martha Port, Unsung Hero Award
aid developing nations
Founder Lauded as Unsung Hero
Oven Society hopes to make a difference
Oven Society Harnessing
creation's energy to feed the hungry
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