Tag Archives: gap year programs

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.

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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.