Pulling the string to a new life

Installing the actual solar panels was a skill the ARCC Gap group learned quickly. We began by assessing each house, which inevitably gave us all a very harsh but needed wake-up call as to what living in the dark is like – we began to feel immense pride in the work we would be doing.

Each house we went to was somewhat similar: a window-less kitchen with no ventilation and charcoal fumes that would take anyone out – especially me, a small bedroom, and a very small living room. For each family, we needed to install upwards of 3 light bulbs for the various locations they needed light in. For me, wires, cables, and electricity in general is a foreign concept, however, Thiemo made it very simple to understand, and in no time it all began to flow like clock-work for me.

Franny installing solar panels on the roof for Napenda Solar Community

Franny installing solar panels on the roof for Napenda Solar Community

After assessing each house, we placed the solar panel in the perfect place on the roof, an essential part of using panels in the most effective way. I was the first person to get on the roof, and I will not lie, it was a very scary experience. The roof, made out of thin corrugated steel, felt as though it would cave with every one of my fearful steps. Luckily, it did not; nonetheless a heart-racing experience.

After the solar panel was installed, the rest of the day was spent wiring cables into all the various locations that needed light. This was at first the hardest part for me seeing as this was a new skill, however, Thiemo’s teaching made it very simple for the whole group, but also the families; making it easy for them to understand how their new system worked. The wires took us a while on the first day but after getting used to the way things worked, we became very quick, installing the whole solar power system in under two hours on the second day!

Once everything was finished and the whole system was ready to go, all our hearts were racing as the families gathered around the light bulb ready to pull the string – a string that would in turn change their lives for the better. Thankfully, and solely due to Thiemo’s teaching, 3 out of 3 of the families had light at the first pull, smiles consuming their faces as they saw, like we did, how helpful this small light would be for them.

Napenda Solar Community is one of the service projects the Gap year program with Adventures Cross Country is involved.

Napenda Solar Community is one of the service projects the Gap year program with Adventures Cross Country is involved.

It was an incredibly rewarding community project, and knowing how much our days of hard work would help will have a lasting effect on me. When I asked Nancy, mother of 4, how light would help her, “This is going to change things for me so much. I am internally grateful. My children can study and we can live happily with light. I am so happy.” As am I, Nancy.

Francesca Eremeeva is with the ARCC Africa group who spent 10 days with Napenda Solar Community in Kajiado, Kenya learning about solar power, building and installing systems and she worked tirelessly on promoting the project on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Napenda Solar Community on facebook, twitter , linkedin, and google+ or peruse Africa Expedition Support website for more information.

Life without light – Napenda Solar Community

This blog entry was written by Sam Cary who is on the Adventures Cross Country Africa Gap year program.

Before we arrived at the locals’ houses we were told how poor their living conditions were, but nothing could have prepared us for the reality of their situations. On the first property we worked on were two toolshed-sized structures: one house and a kitchen. Living in these extremely small and poorly lit structures is a family of 9, named Nancy, Jane, Naomi, Gif, Faith, Abby, Tabi, Leah, and Rose, four of whom are small children.

Before the solar panels were installed, any and all housework, schoolwork, and cooking had to stop after sunset (in Kenya, that is around 6 PM). Without the solar powered electricity, the kids can’t even complete any school work because during the daytime hours, they have to help around the house, tend to animals, and get water from local wells for the families – these chores always take priority over school work. The first family we helped used Kerosene lamps, which are not only a very weak source of light, but are also extremely toxic and are a major cause of many lung issues within families who live in homes without electricity.

The kitchen is so poorly ventilated that the kerosene lamps make the inside look as though someone sprayed a thick layer of black spray paint over all the walls, cooking materials, and the beds. Yes, there are beds in the kitchen where the younger children sleep, every night. When I walked into this kitchen, my eyes immediately began burning and I couldn’t even take a full breath. These young kids spend hours upon hours in this kitchen, making food, sleeping, or simply spending time with their siblings. Many of these kids had coughs that were so severe it made the hazard of their living conditions on their health extremely clear. Unfortunately, the extremely low income these families make prevents the parents from getting any sort of medication for these children.

A young child sleeps in a smoke filled room due to the family using open fire for lighting.

A young child sleeps in a smoke filled room due to the family using open fire for lighting.

Providing clean solar powered electricity in their homes will remove the need for the kerosene lamps, which would in turn seriously reduce the lung issues that the people in this family have. Having light in the house and in the kitchen would also allow the kids to do their schoolwork during night hours, and would let the adults work on their professions and crafts — a major source of this families income. This experience has given me an unprecedented appreciation for growing up with electricity and the benefits it has on ones life, as well as opening my eyes to how clean and sustainable solar energy really is. Solar energy truly is the most practical method of creating electricity, with virtually no cost and absolutely no negative repercussions; solar is absolutely the way to power any house, anywhere.

Follow Napenda Solar Community on facebook, twitter , linkedin, and google+ or peruse Africa Expedition Support website for more information.

Cory Harris Jnr talks about his experience with Napenda Solar Community in Kenya

Cory Harris Jnr talks about his experience with Napenda Solar Community. 

The benefits of Solar Energy are astounding. Taking the first couple of days of this project to learn how Solar Power works and why it is so beneficial to the people of East Africa – and the world – really highlighted the importance of it all for me. Thiemo spent a day teaching us the ins and outs of solar energy. To start, he said that all you really need to run a solar system is: a panel, a converter, and a battery. After you have these key items, the rest is just a simple, step-by-step installation.

Solar is important to the people of East Africa because it is sustainable. The families that Thiemo is able to give this gift to have an energy source that will not run out and eliminates a monthly electricity bill – a financial burden that many families here cannot even deal with. In turn, this allows for an easier life at an affordable price. Thiemo is an innovative man who just wants to help people out, and I am more than honored to have a gotten the chance to help out with his amazing and life-changing cause.

Working on this project has made me conscious about my own electric bill each month, and even more so the benefits that Solar Power could have on my life. Thiemo gave my group an exercise that helped us calculate how we could integrate Solar Power into our lived back at home. I personally plan on furthering my solar research to seek out concrete ways to incorporate solar power into my life.

Follow Napenda Solar Community on facebook, twitter , linkedin, and google+ or peruse Africa Expedition Support website for more information.

Africa Expedition Support off-roading into making a real difference

Chief Mapengo comes to meet the Adventures Cross Country group at Napenda Solar Community HQ in Kajiado, Kenya

Chief Mapengo comes to meet the Adventures Cross Country group at Napenda Solar Community HQ in Kajiado, Kenya

Lee Erickson is one of the leaders of Adventures Cross Country Gap group currently in Kenya working with Napenda Solar Community.

Here is a blog entry from Lee

“The Adventures Cross-Country (ARCC) Africa Gap crew is currently 30 miles outside of Nairobi, in Kajiado County, Kenya, where we are working with the Napenda Solar Community assembling and installing solar power systems to the local communities to provide electricity and light in their homes for the first time!

I know you guys are probably thinking that that’s some pretty amazing stuff… and you are right! It has been one of the most rewarding service projects that I have ever been a part of, and is definitely a highlight for our group during our three month journey across East Africa.

Napenda Solar Community is a non-profit project that began in November 2013 in hope of improving the lives of many East African families by providing affordable, reliable and clean solar energy to their homes. Napenda is Swahili for “I love,” and in just two short years, Napenda Solar Community has installed solar power systems in 27 homes and have stolen the hearts of the communities that they have reached across East Africa thus far.

So who is behind Napenda Solar Community? Their names are Thiemo and Deborah. Thiemo grew up in Germany and is a master mechanic, car enthusiast and driver by trade. Deborah is originally from Australia and is a nurse, dog lover, and a crafty cook. They met in Africa while working with an overland company several years ago, and eventually started their own overland and guided Land Rover self-drive business called Africa Expedition Support (AES).

They started AES at a campsite near Nairobi with one overland truck and a couple Land Rover 4x4s. They quickly grew in popularity due to their work ethic, knowledge, and passion to create memorable and outstanding experiences for their customers. With currently four overland trucks and 12 Land Rover 4x4s in their fleet, they stay very busy running and organizing overland and self-drive guided trips for school groups and adventurous travelers that want to experience East Africa in a truly unique way. Coincidentally enough, our ARCC Africa Gap group is overlanding with AES for the majority of our journey!

As AES expanded, Debs and Thiemo moved further away from the capital city and built their dream home called The Castle in Kajiado. With no affordable way to acquire essential resources like electricity and water, Debs and Thiemo had to design their home in a way that they would be completely self-sustainable. By reading books and searching the internet, Thiemo taught himself how to make a proper solar power system and a wind turbine that powers all of their lights, washing machine, oven, stereo system, water heater, and many more amenities in their beautiful home. By making their dream home a reality, Debs and Thiemo have proven that solar energy is affordable, reliable, sustainable, and makes sense for any home where the sun shines.

It wasn’t long before a light bulb went off in their heads to design a smaller solar power system for the homes in their local community, which sparked the duo to launch the Napenda Solar Community project in order to make a positive impact for those families. ARCC has been an in-country partner with Debs and Thiemo for many years and we feel very fortunate to be able to volunteer on their Napenda Solar project for 10 days, and experience first-hand, how beneficial this project is to the many families it is directly impacting.

The reality here is that 50% of people living in Kenya do not have access to mains electricity in their homes. Most people use kerosene lanterns for lighting which is expensive and has adverse health effects. In Kenya, mains electricity costs $500 to get connected to the grid (plus monthly electricity bills) is simply inconceivable for the majority of the population that lives on less than $2 per day.

“The challenge was finding a good project that individuals can learn something from, is sustainable, accomplishes something big, and has a positive impact on people’s lives. We believe Napenda Solar Community does all of those things, and more” says Debs and Thiemo as we talk over a hot cup of tea. “This project provides poor rural households with efficient, clean and cost effective solar power as a positive step to eradicating poverty,” they state.

After installing three solar power systems in three nearby homes, the impact we made thanks to Napenda Solar Community could not be more evident for our group during our short time here. Each family has invested $50 of their money (which often times means selling a cow or goat) and with their new-found electricity, they understand how valuable this resource is to open opportunities to access information, education, and communication offering a tremendous platform for individual, community and nationwide development.

Debs and Thiemo’s goal for Napenda Solar Community is to install as many solar panel systems across East Africa as possible. “We believe it is our social responsibility to give back to our community to make people’s lives easier here,” Debs concludes. Napenda Solar Project largely relies on groups and travelers such as ARCC to fund the cost of the solar power systems and we couldn’t be more thankful to the two of them for allowing us to be a part of their inspiring and life-changing project.

Follow Napenda Solar Community on facebook, twitter , linkedin, and google+ or peruse Africa Expedition Support website for more information.

 

Why I love travelling and working in Africa

Amanda, one of our tour leaders talks about why she loves Africa and her job with Africa Expedition Support.

A cheese platter and sundowners looking out over the beautiful scenic view of the Great Rift Valley with a spectacular sunset on the horizon… what more can one ask for? I just realise how much I love living in Africa!!

My love affair with Africa started when I grew up on a game farm not very far from the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Being a very young girl my dad took me to work with him on the farm and taught me animal and bird names and to have a respect for nature. There was no doubt in my mind that I would never be living in a city.

Now, so many years later I still do what I love and that is travelling through some of Africa’s beautiful countries and passionately share it with our groups on our guided 4×4 self drive safaris with Africa Expedition Support.

When I think of what it is that made me so passionate about travelling in Africa it will be the diversity of each country we visit, friendly African people, lots of sunny days, breathtaking landscapes and the privilege to experience the most amazing game viewings you can think off! Nights around the campfire telling stories and looking up to the starry skies while listening to animal sounds in the background.

Amanda with a new found friend in Malawi

Amanda with a new found friend in Malawi

One of my favourite experiences is game driving after a good thunderstorm. Smelling the clean washed, fresh field and seeing gazelles running around, all silly with renewed energy. Elephants drinking from the water puddles and a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Rain in these countries is a glorious blessing since water is scarce in a lot of regents and regarded very precious. Animals migrate and people travel great distances after water sources.

Another unique experience is driving through villages and looking at the different styles in which each African tribe build their houses, set up their businesses and go about their daily living. Goats, sheep, cattle and other livestock casually walking through these villages are a very common scene and makes driving days much more interesting. Shop names can also be very funny. Anything from “God Bless You Barber Shop” to “ 2 Missed Calls Enterprises” can be found here and they are very proud of their businesses.

On our overland trips we have quite a few border crossings and here you learn that patience and humour is a virtue… Africa has its own time and to go with the flow is one thing I learned very early on my travels.

Meeting the people of each country with their different cultures and beliefs is so interesting and I have learned a lot from them. Some of these countries we visit are of the poorest in Africa but these people are living their lives to the fullest and are some of the most helpful and friendly human beings you will ever encounter.

There is nothing better for me than preparing for the next trip with such excitement of the idea of sharing my passionate love for Africa with a new group!!! My heart will always be in Africa!!

For more information about our safaris peruse Africa Expedition Support

Changing lives through Solar Power

Sam Cary, a student from the USA on an Adventures Cross Country Gap trip to East Africa talks about his experience working with Napenda Solar Community in Kenya.

Before going into these homes and seeing the situations that these families were in, my anticipation and excitement for installing the panels was almost unbearable. Knowing that I would be able to have an immediate impact on these families’ lives was the reason why I came to Kenya. Rafting on the Nile, a safari in the Masai Mara were both unbelievable adventures, however being able to improve the lives of people who live in the middle of such poverty, is what makes experiences like this as rewarding as they are.

When we arrived at the first house, I was shocked to see the conditions these families lived in. A family of 9, all cramped in to what seemed like no more than a 30 square foot structure with two beds, seemed impossible. Compared to the living situations of these families, extreme poverty in the western world seems luxurious. This house was crawling with all sorts of insects. They had chickens, stray cats and dogs, all running in and out of their home, bringing in all sorts of bacteria into their house.

The kitchen was unlike anything i have ever seen, I am amazed that anyone could think it would be okay to be in a kitchen like this for any amount of time. The second i walked in, I was hit with a blast of dense smoke and kerosene lamp fumes. My eyes felt like they were on fire, and I went to take a breath but my body didn’t let me, knowing that it would fill my lungs with toxic smoke. I was shocked to see that pushed up against the walls of this kitchen, were two beds where the younger kids slept. Even with all of the smoke and fumes, there were two infants sitting on the beds next to their mother who was cooking us a meal of chapati and vegetables, using no more than the light from a kerosene lamp to light her dark and smoke filled kitchen.

Before Sam and the rest of the gang installed solar power to this home kerosene lanterns were the only option for this family.

Before Sam and the rest of the gang installed solar power to this home kerosene lanterns were the only option for this family.

Once the panel was installed, and the lights and battery were all connected, we flicked the switch and pulled the light cords, lighting up what was once a dark house with an even darker kitchen. What I saw was unbelievable. In the darkness of the kitchen without the light, I couldn’t see the amount of flies that were swarming the food, and the babies’ faces.

Shortly after the light was flicked on, all of the flies started to swarm the light, getting them all close enough to the makeshift door for them to be wafted out, away from the food and the kids.

This one solar panel really did create a remarkable difference in the quality of this family’s life. Solar electricity removes the need for kerosene lamps and wood fires for light, giving the kids a chance to work on schoolwork, and for the parents to continue their crafts and professions at night. In turn, this would improve the kids performance at school, and increase the amount of money these parents will make, which will allow them to provide even more for their family.

Sam testing his handy work after installing a solar power system to a poor rural home in Kenya

Sam testing his handy work after installing a solar power system to a poor rural home in Kenya

Napenda Solar Community brings solar power to poor rural families in East Africa. An initiative that is supported by the local community, visiting tour and student groups and Africa Expedition Support.

On safari: Driving a 4×4 through the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Imagine driving a 4×4 through the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania on safari with Africa Expedition Support. Weaving your way through narrow tracks in search of African wildlife; without warning there is something moving through the grass in the distance. Thinking back to the wildlife documentaries about the Serengeti National Park you have watched over the years and remember the exhilaration as David Attenborough narrated in his deep calm voice “and ….in the distance ….… there she is …… oh how magnificent ……. Standing so tall and proud …..a lone lioness.” On safari in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is living up to all expectations.

Turning off the 4×4 engine you sit and wait, watching as she comes closer; this is nothing like a documentary. The Serengeti can only be truly experienced live, being there, being in the thick of animal activity. The lioness comes closer, she is totally undisturbed by your presence. After all, this is her territory, she is Queen. She wanders by, no less than 15m from the vehicle, crosses over the track and continues off into the distance. In the meantime you are trying to decide whether to sit and watch her or take hundreds of photos of this incredible human wildlife encounter. Deciding to watch her and take a few pictures as it is only early in the day and hopefully there will be more wildlife encounters to come.

A lone lioness

A lone lioness

 

Turning the 4×4 engine back on and driving slowly along the track through the Serengeti NP, alert and excited you immediately start looking for more wildlife. Around a corner you come across a watering hole complete with date palms reaching high into the clear bright blue sky. In the water there are a few hippos lazing in the cool water, a troop of Vervet monkeys play in the nearby trees and a herd of zebra nervously approach for a drink. With so much activity you don’t know where to look first. You sit and watch for 30 minutes or more, there is no hurry; in the meantime tourist vehicles arrive and leave allowing just enough time to take a picture. Realising you have made the right decision in booking a guided self drive safari and not opting for an organised tour being driven.

Eventually deciding to continue, it is not long before stumbling across a herd of elephants meandering across the plains with several newly born babies huddled in the middle of the herd, closely protected. A family of warthog run by, their little legs taking them at lightning speed as if they have an important mission to accomplish. Surrounded by herds of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra grazing peacefully complete the picture. A little later something flashes across the track and make its way up a tall tree. A leopard? Slowly making your way forward, hopes become a reality and there is a male leopard perched on a branch looking out across the plains. What a magnificent animal.

79-protecting-young

Feeling like the luckiest person in the World with so many animals and so much activity from unique birds, large and small, to countless plain animals, a lion and a leopard. On the lookout for more lions the decision is made to take a narrow 4×4 track toward a large rocky outcrop, as luck would have it you stumble upon several lions with cubs. The cubs play joyfully in the grass as mum and the other lionesses watch over them; noticing a bush move not far away and a large male lion rises from his well hidden spot. His mane is golden brown, flowing in the slight breeze, he moves a few metres and lies back down again; the cubs spot him and make a dash jumping on his mane and playfully trying to chew his paw. He is unperturbed and tries to sleep through the minor distraction. The cubs don’t give up, they desperately want daddy to play and continue trying to get his attention. Out of luck, the cubs bounce back to mum where she gently grooms them as they try to cheekily bite her leg and neck. You sit in awe of this family encounter and giggle as the cubs try desperately to get the adults to play with them, uncoordinated they fall off their mothers back and tumble to the ground only to bounce back up again. Before long 2 hours have past.

Lion cubs playing with mum

Lion cubs playing with mum

As it is getting late you decide to head back to camp to meet the rest of the group and share the day’s game driving experiences and stories. A couple of kilometres down the road there is a cheetah perched high on a rock overlooking the plains. By the looks of it he is looking for dinner! Gracefully he glides down from the rock and starts striding through the tall grass; not before taking several photos. He is not alone as he is joined by 2 more cheetahs and what looks like a cheetah cub. The four glide through the grass and then 3 drop to the ground out of sight. All that is visible is the little head of the cheetah cub. In the distance there are gazelles grazing and you soon realise the cheetahs are hunting. One of the cheetahs sits up and strikes the cheetah cub with her powerful paw and immediately the cheetah cub drops out of sight; mother is teaching the cub hunting techniques. The cheetahs are out of sight, all of a sudden the gazelle let out a cry and run in the opposite direction – they are aware of the cheetahs and that they are hungry. The cheetahs rise and continue on their way. Feeling a little disappointed for the cheetah but happy the gazelle got away!

This leopard looks rather comfortable from his position high in the tree.

This leopard looks rather comfortable from his position high in the tree.

Continuing back to the camp you spot impala, bushbuck, serval cat, dik dik and more.

Back at camp the crew greet with a cheese and fruit platter in hand and ask how the day was. Where to begin you ponder …… by now everyone in the group has returned to camp. Grazing away at the cheese and fruit platter the stories start to flow, everyone had an incredible day. The stories continue over a scrumptious dinner until it is time for bed. The crew smile ….. just another day in the Serengeti National Park.

For more information about Africa Expedition Support and this tour check out http://www.africaexpeditionsupport.com/africa-overland-adventure/ or email Debs at info@africaexpeditionsupport.com