Volunteer's Solar Know-How Lights Up Learning In Rwanda

Electrical engineer Brian Dempsey helps people in America turn sunlight into electricity every day. But he says his most brilliant work was turning sun power into power learning for 400 orphaned children in Rwanda.

RealGoods Solar Consultant Brian Dempsey

A solar power consultant with Real Goods Solar, Dempsey volunteered through Engineers Without Borders to design a solar-powered lighting system for a boarding school that’s home to 400 children in the Rwandan town of Muramba.

“The school was burning diesel to power a run-down old generator,” says Dempsey. “They could only afford enough diesel to power handful of lights for three or four hours a week. And that was before the cost of diesel doubled. The students couldn’t study at night.”

Dempsey volunteered his free time to design a small solar electric system, then secured the system components through a donation by Gaiam. He also did extra legwork to locate a special component needed to work with the power outlets used in the school’s region.

EWB program coordinator Christie Chatterley’s team installed the system at the school, where it now provides enough power to light the school’s cafeteria for several hours every night.

Engineering students from the University of Colorado at Boulder were on-site for this and other Muramba projects to receive training and gain hands-on experience. EWB has worked with student and professional engineers in the area since 2003, installing rainwater catchment and water purification systems as well as a solar power system at a health clinic that was completely without electricity.

Students in Muramba show their appreciation

“Volunteering with EWB gives engineering students an opportunity to put their education into action in a context that’s becoming more and more important,” says Chatterley. “You hear about people who don't have access to electricity or clean water, but to witness it firsthand, get to know the people in these communities, and help them change things is the most rewarding work I've done. You see the world differently after working on these projects.”

“I was really glad to be a part of this,” agrees Dempsey. “It was a great inspiration to participate in connecting this need with the equipment I work with every day.”

Visit the Muramba Project page to make a contribution and find out more about the efforts by Engineers Without Borders in the Rwandan town.

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