Solar Install: Final Post and Pics


We arrived in the village at about 10am, after purchasing some additional supplies in Chipata. A slight bit of anxiety crept over me as this was the real deal. What if it didn’t work? What if there was a problem we didn’t foresee? Well, worrying wasn’t going to accomplish anything.

We made an immediate assessment of the buildings we’d be working in. There was a classroom that shared a common wall with the head-master’s room. We decided that the batteries would be stored in the headmaster’s room and we’d run a wire through the wall to the lights in the classroom. We then looked at the rafters where we would hang the lights. There were joists running laterally across the room, and we decided to put 6 lights in the room: 2 lights on each joist. The wiring looked like a big “U” starting at the switch on one end, and working around the room with the last light on the other end of the “U.”

Once the hole was made and we had a “hot” wire coming down into our room, we got going. Well, we got going after we had to flush out a

few wasps from their nest with some branches we set on fire. The size of these buggers was a bit intimidating so making sure they wouldn’t sting us was priority number one. The next step was to assemble our makeshift work platform, which consisted of two rather shoddy desks underneath a rusted out 55 gallon oil drum. What made this even better was that the height of our work station was just tall enough that we had to keep a slight bend in our knees every time we were on top of it, lest our heads hit the scorching aluminum roof above. With the temperature and slight squat position we had to maintain, we were essentially doing Bikram Yoga, African village-style.

So that was the bulk of our work: wiring a junction box, bringing a wire down to the bottom and attaching the light socket. Only one person could be on the oil drum at a time, so Erik and I alternated from light to light. In the meantime, Moses had been wiring 2 lights in the headmaster’s room on the same “hot” wire but on a different switch, as well as wiring a second AC system for the laptop(s) to be charged. We both finished around the same time. It was long work, but rewarding, and when the lights came on at the end of the day and the computer ran off the batteries, it was all worth it.

The next day, Moses and a few of the people from the village spent most of the morning securing the panels to the racking equipment. He was concerned about theft, so he chained and welded the panels to the racks. I’m glad this precaution was taken. He then made some holes in the roof, with a hand-powered auger no less, and secured the panels. While this was happening, Erik and I wired another room where the teachers would do their prep work. No wasps, better desks to stand on, and at least one day of experience under our belt meant this work went a bit faster. A little crowd of kids had assembled to watch us, and I let a few of the more eager ones help us out. It was fun watching them become familiar with screwdrivers and junction boxes, and secretly I hoped I was inspiring some kid to become an engineer one day.When we were finished with the wiring, we installed the panel on the roof and all was good.

This is was my third project abroad with Beyond Solar, and every time I’ve completed one, I’ve had to ask myself who was gained more: the villagers or myself? I know that when I made the final connection, saw that the panels were charging the batteries and that the lights worked (and later, the laptop was charging), it was beyond rewarding. Moses had purchased a USB cellular modem and for the first time, this school would have access to the internet. The teachers would have time to prepare lessons outside of school hours. The kids could read at night. And the parents, many of whom are skeptical of education to begin with, would now have access to adult literacy classes.

I only spent 3 days in the village but I saw the potential. On the trip out of Dwankhozi, I spoke to Moses about future projects and how solar power can help them. We spoke of building and lighting a “study room” in each village. This would allow the kids that cannot return to school in the evening (many walk more than 3 miles per day, one way, to attend classes) to study at night. We discussed a solar system that could power a refrigerator for medical supplies that require refrigeration, and a solar powered irrigation system that could support an income producing cotton field. All noble pursuits and I believe we can accomplish them all. Lighting the schools was only the first step.

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