Tag Archives: adventures cross country

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.


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.


Working in partnership with The Born Free Foundation

Check out this short video of Africa Expedition Support and The Born Free Foundation working in partnership to save lions in Kenya.  This program gives students a rare and unique opportunity to work side by side Masai and to be involved in a project that is effective and sustainable.


For more information about this project or how you can be involved contact Debs info@africaexpeditionsupport.com or have a look at http://www.africaexpeditionsupport.com


Teens taking on the World

taking some time to connect with some of the younger members of the community

taking some time to connect with some of the younger members of the community

When I was growing up the only travel I did as a teenager (apart from the odd family trip to country Victoria to collect or deliver brood mares!) was year 8 camp to the coast and year 11 geography camp!  How things have changed, how the World has opened for travel of all ages across the Globe!

Teen travel these days is far more sophisticated from when I was growing up.  These days schools take skiing trips to the snow, partake in adventure activities from abseiling to white water rafting to orienteering.  Travel abroad has also increased in popularity over the years.  It is not uncommon for schools to organise 1-2 overseas trips per year for students to Africa, South East Asia and India to name a few.  There is now an entire industry dedicated to teen travel specialising in providing teens with unique and totally different experiences.  These specialists range from companies offering summer camp and Gap travel like Adventures Cross Country based in San Francisco to on the ground operators like us at Africa Expedition Support who connect directly with communities to provide real life enriching experiences in a safe and supportive environment.  Other companies such as World Challenge link with local operators and encourage schools and students to fundraise to fund their trips.

Being introduced to some local delicacies by the Masai elders

Being introduced to some local delicacies by the Masai elders

There are a number of reasons why schools and parents encourage their teens to travel abroad.  One fundamental reason are the changes in how top schools and universities assess for entry.  In days gone by top schools and universities looked solely at top scoring, highly academic students; while academic performance still plays a large role in entry, these top institutions are now looking for something that makes potential entrants stand out from the rest.  Overseas service, volunteering at home, dedicating time to community service and bettering the lives of others all rate high.

Let’s face it prospects for young people these days are very competitive.  The competition to be accepted into the best institutions is incredibly tough.  Parents and schools are constantly looking at ways to enhance their teenagers’ prospects by involving them in activities that stand out from the norm.

taking some time out to from working on projects to enjoy some of Africa's wildlife

taking some time out to from working on projects to enjoy some of Africa’s wildlife

Future prospects are not the only reason parents and schools invest in overseas travel for teens; as the World has got smaller it has become easier to travel to other parts of the world and in particular developing countries.  This travel challenges teens to think about where they have come from, where they are going and how they can apply external non-academic experiences to everyday living and succeeding in a tough competitive world through challenging current values and belief systems.

An emerging popular reason to invest in teen travel is to remove students from peer pressure to partake in risk taking behaviour.  Activities like “schoolies” where teens celebrate the end of their high school by going to popular locations to party with other teens.  Unfortunately  “schoolies” not only attracts school leavers but also an older crowd who prey on school leavers taking advantage of the party atmosphere to sell drugs and alcohol resulting in devastating  effects on young lives.

Overseas travel for teens is a very serious business; parents are prepared to invest in overseas travel as long as their teenager is going to get something of value from it.  Often these overseas trips are more than just a holiday integrating cultural and community service elements.  These elements provide students with a very different learning experience to what is possible within the classroom.  Enabling students to immerse themselves in a cultural unfamiliar to their own, to see how other cultures live and experience other values and belief systems.

learning how to cook local food is all part of the cultural experience

learning how to cook local food is all part of the cultural experience

I have just returned from a few days on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Kenya overseeing a school project for a poor rural school.  The school project consists of putting in a library, and assisting teachers in class.  While you may think this has to be done by experts in the field, actually this project has been completed by a group of teens from Adventures Cross Country Africa Gap program with the assistance of the school librarian and several school kids.  This group of teens have had to decide on the best system which will be the most beneficial to the school, they have been in charge of indexing, cataloguing, coding, and covering almost 400 books.  Up until now Kongoni Primary School have not had books in their library; except for a handful of old torn text books.  In addition to physically putting in the library system the group are also responsible for teacher and student training in how to use and maintain the library.  This is quite a challenge for these teens, but one that has been fully embraced.

A project like this is not only rewarding for these teens but has a lasting impact on the school and community at large.  The teens are trusted to take on a very serious project, with very serious outcomes, that have the potential to truly impact on the lives and academic achievements of primary school students from a poor rural community in Kenya.  The teens have had to work with basic resources in basic conditions, very unlike what they are used to back home.  They have had to deal with the emotional impact of being in an environment where even very basic commodities we take for granted like books simply do not exist.  They have had to overcome cultural and language barriers in order to work in partnership with the school to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.  In short these teens have taken on an enormously responsible role in a mature and professional manner.

showcasing some of the books ready for the shelves

showcasing some of the books ready for the shelves

This is just one example of one project this group of teens have taken in their stride throughout their 3 month trip through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.  As this particular trip is 3 months long the group partake in a variety of projects ranging from animal conservation, education programs, public health assessment and development.

Majority of teen groups don’t have the luxury of 3 months to travel East Africa, most groups opt for 2-4 weeks.  Even this amount of time can have an incredible impact on the lives of these young minds.

Teen travel abroad is now being seen as an essential part of growing up and placing teens in a better position for a highly competitive world.

Deborah Thiele from Africa Expedition Support organises trips for schools and teen groups travelling through East Africa for more information email info@africaexpeditionsupport.com