"Oregon Tech students volunteer to install solar panels at schools and hospitals in rural Tanzania"
BY: Ian Campbell
fire that killed the 13 girls in a Tanzanian dormitory started under a blanket.
One of them, reading by candlelight, had fallen asleep and the flame lit the
It wouldn't have happened if they had a light bulb.
Slobodan Petrovic heard of the tragedy on a trip to the country in 2009, and the associate professor at the Oregon Institute of Technology had an idea to prevent it from ever happening again.
The villages needed solar power.
Now, for the third year, students fromOregon Tech and Petrovic are packing their bags for rural Tanzania to install solar panels and bring light through an organization called Solar Hope.
Many villages there don't have electricity. No lights without fire, no water without labor and no medicine refrigeration for hospitals. Power mains run through the region, but connection costs are out of financial reach. In these areas, most people barter instead of spending cash, and what little money circulates goes toward staples like kerosene and rice.
People live in mud huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Most families farm for subsistence, although drought threatens parts of the country.
"This is the most extreme poverty you can think of," said John Grieser, a recent Oregon Tech graduate from Colorado who traveled to Tanzania with Solar Hope twice previously. "We're literally giving from the haves to the have-nots."
Grieser recalls how rewarding it was to see their efforts make a difference. At the end of a long day mounting solar panels at a school, he looked in one of the windows and saw students already studying after dark. "We're giving them more hours in their day," he said.
Hope isn't the first organization to install solar panels in Tanzania, but
during Petrovic's first visit, he saw numerous damaged panels. Without
maintenance, solar offers only temporary benefit.
Therefore, not only will the group install panels at 10 sites, but they will also maintain about 20 installations from previous trips at schools and hospitals. This year, they've added a new challenge: installing a water pumping system.
"That's exciting," said Forest Tanier-Gesner, a junior from Bloomington, IN who will be going for the first time next week. "It's larger than anything we've done so far."
Tanier-Gesner said most sites get panels to power 60 to 220 watts, enough for a few light bulbs. The water system will need about 4,500 watts to pump well water into a storage tank on a hill. This should provide water for a village of around 2,500 people, and the Oregon Tech students are doing it all -- even installing the pumping system.
For Jeremy Toews, a sophomore student from Spokane, Wash., on this year's trip, Solar Hope was one of the main reasons he decided to attend Oregon Tech.
Solar Hope, a nonprofit, gets its support from donations and volunteers. This year, SolarWorld in Hillsboro donated 30 panels -- and even shipped them to Tanzania. "That was huge," said Tanier-Gesner.
They also have donated panels waiting for them from TÜV Rheinland. Last year, the panels got caught up in customs and didn't arrive on time, so the group had to scramble to purchase replacements.
Students had to come up with $2,400 for the trip on their own. That doesn't include the cost of their plane ticket, vaccinations or class fees, either.
The students are just that: students.
"We've seen this in textbooks and read all the theory," said Billy Warlick, an Oregon Tech junior from Portland on this year's trip. Still, he said, "it's a little intimidating not having done this before."
Each of the students is enrolled in Oregon Tech's Renewable Energy Engineering program at its Clackamas campus. They receive course credit for their efforts, but they give up lots of free time. Regular meetings started in March, and this week, they're making final preparations for departure during final exams. They'll return just three days before the fall term starts.
The group won't only be giving solar power. Toews says they also plan to bring soccer balls and frisbees as well as eight donated laptops for schools.
At the advice of last year's group, the Solar Hope team is also packing a copy of The Lion King to show on a projector. It was a big hit last year.