By KATHY REMILLARD
Union Leader Correspondent
BEDFORD – Global community service is not a new concept to the Hughes family – in fact, they established their own foundation, Color My World, to support it.
“We started off as a means to distribute hygiene kits,” said Angela Hughes, director of Color My World, which included toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap and towels to donate to those stricken by disaster, both here at home and abroad.
The foundation began to branch out even further when Hughes’ son Chase introduced the concept of solar cooking on Color My World’s first mission trip to Costa Rica in 2011, which takes advantage of the sun’s rays to produce cooking heat.
The cooker is similar to a crock pot, Hughes said, and requires about 12 hours of sunlight to run effectively.
“We’ve traveled all over the world,” Hughes said. “One of the biggest problems people have is that they have to go search for their wood and chop down trees to cook every day.”
When the family went to Mexico in December, they again saw people hauling wood on bicycles to bring back to their villages, and remembering their solar cooker project, decided to take action.
Hughes did some research and chose Jiquilillo, Nicaragua as the location for the family’s next philanthropic adventure, and they spent a week there at the end of February.
“I took a risk,” Hughes said, knowing that they’d never traveled to the country before. “We headed out the door hoping to meet the right people, and we did.”
The family – Angela, husband Brian, and three of the couple’s four children, Chase, Noah and Elizabeth – ended up staying at a lodge owned by Gerry Caseres, president of the citizens conservation committee in the town, who offered to help them get set up.
“He helped us put together our audience and our Spanish translator, and facilitated the arrangements of our other projects,” Hughes said.
Caseras told Hughes that the project was more of a conservation effort than any health or medical project he could think of.
“We are cutting down more than 1 hector of trees a week (1,200 trees,)” he said. “My goal is to work with Color My World to bring in solar cookers to 2000 families in this community.”
Hughes said that while the cookers were successful, they knew they were also introducing a cultural shift, especially for women, who often spent all day cooking.
“We were cooking in a completely different way, and teaching a completely different way of life,” Hughes said.
The villagers also began to bake items, like brownies, and sell them to tourists.
“All of a sudden, people making 2-3 dollars a day were selling brownies at $1 apiece and making $20 a day,” Hughes said.
Villagers were left with templates and instructions on how to make their own solar cookers.
“You have to be sustainable,” Hughes said. “You can go and give people everything, but there is that ‘teach a man to fish’ principle.”
In a country where survival is a 24-hour mission, Hughes said such abject poverty made an impression on them.
“They don’t have anything,” she said. “It’s almost unimaginable for someone from Bedford to see those conditions.”
Still, the villagers were happy with what they had, Hughes said, and grateful for the assistance.
“You have to remember that people have dignity – they’re not just projects or photos,” she said.
The Hughes’ have committed to return trips to the area, and hope to track how many people continue to use the cookers.
The service work is a way of life for the family, and Hughes wants it to stay that way.
“Our kids have grown up with the foundation,” she said. “I want them to be humanitarians.”