In August, Fort Collins photographer Darren Mahuron made a trip that changed his life forever. Now he’s hoping to change others’ lives.
Along with Trees, Water & People (TWP), Mahuron traveled to Honduras to photograph families who have benefited from the nonprofit group’s clean cookstove and solar light project. The photos are on display as part of the “Illuminating Opportunity” exhibit/fundraiser at the Creative Community Center. On Sunday it will be packed up and sent to the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C., where it will be on display for the next three months.
Seeing the daily struggle of people there just to do something as basic as cook or light their homes was a truly “eye-opening” experience for Mahuron and he hopes that it also will be for the people who see his photos.
“I wish it was (an experience) that every American could go through because I think we get very spoiled here,” he said. “I’ll never complain about road construction in Fort Collins again. All of these things that drive us crazy here — you realize the importance of it.
Throughout the world, three billion people are still cooking over an open fire, said Megan Maiolo-Heath, TWP marketing manager. And in Central America alone there are 7 million people without access to electricity.
Most of the towns Mahuron visited did not have access to electricity and those that did, provided it “inconsistently” and at a very high price. People use inefficient wood-burning stoves that pollute their homes and flashlights that require a constant supply of cheaply made, but expensive to buy, D-cell batteries.
“You find used D-cell batteries everywhere,” Mahuron said. “They end up in the ground and then in the soil and then in the water supply. It’s awful.”
Mahuron met children who previously had done their homework with one hand while holding a stick of lit “pitch pine” in the other. They had to hold it in front of their faces for light and the smoke would go right into their faces, he recalled. Using these solar lights is making a huge difference in their lives.
Among the many people he met were two women who had recently been robbed. They didn’t have much to begin with, but losing their pots, pans and radio to burglars was a disaster. Yet they were happy.
“They didn’t take their solar light and they were so happy that the light hadn’t been taken because to them, it was the most valuable thing they owned,” Mahuron said.
“Ninety-nine percent of our donors are never going to be able to visit these projects so we wanted to see how we could bring it to this community and connect them with the people in Honduras,” Maiolo-Heath said.
Using his signature “hyper-realistic style,” Mahuron said he aimed to truly take viewers into these homes and capture the feeling, “as if you’re actually standing there.”
Since 1998, TWP has been installing clean cookstoves in homes in developing countries, TWP International Director Sebastian Africano said.
“We were founded by foresters and our initial goal was to reduce people’s firewood consumption,” Africano said.
But their efforts have also brought other benefits including cutting down on pollution, fuel costs and the daily expenditure of human energy just to make it through the day.
The clean cookstoves they’ve installed use half as much wood, meaning a trip to the forest to gather wood (usually a half-day effort) is only required maybe twice a week, rather than four times, he said.
“The amount of energy consumed to gather firewood to cook on a stove to consume more energy is unbelievable,” Maiolo-Heath said. “And this is something that they are doing every day — 8-year-old little kids and mothers and fathers. It affects everyone in a community.”
The cookstoves cost about $75 to $100 apiece to purchase and install through the program. The solar lights cost about $50 to $200.
The solar lights are used to do everything from lighting entire homes to charging cellphones, something people previously had to travel into town and pay someone with a generator to do. One of Mahuron’s favorite uses was a man who used his solar light to illuminate his way while riding his bicycle.
The two-year solar pilot project has been so successful that TWP is now bringing it to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, Africano said.