To anyone here in the U. S. where electricity is common, it is not unusual to see lights emitting from windows at night. In rural South Sudan, however, electricity is almost non-existent, so these lights coming from our multi-purpose community center in the village of Rhumathoi, Wunlang Payam, are the cause of much excitement for all of us at Village Help for South Sudan. We celebrate Earth Day 2013 with clean energy and the benefits this brings to Rhumathoi – and the environment!
With support from IEEE’s Community Solutions Initiative, the solar electric generating system at the center is now complete. This project not only provides lighting for the facility, but the system will be run as a small business by a community-elected energy entrepreneur who will sell electricity to rural homes at prices the local residents can afford. Proceeds pay the entrepreneur’s income as well as operations costs at the multi-purpose community center. Mou Riiny, our electrical engineer, and his team completed a market survey several months ago to determine the price rural customers can pay for electricity.
Residential electricity is provided in the form of take-home rechargeable battery packs and lighting kits (PBKs). The initial pilot will test a PBK from BBOXX which has similar operations in other countries in Africa. IEEE-CSI has developed an open-source design for another PBK (pictured here), however, and our goal is to set up an assembly plant in South Sudan to produce these units locally.
Our solar business pilot aims to help Mou Riiny establish his for-profit social enterprise to be called SunGate Solar. SunGate will be owned and operated by Mou, and will provide jobs and opportunity to many of his fellow South Sudanese citizens. Mou’s initial solar project is now operating in the village of Thiou at our primary school for that area.
*Social enterprises are businesses that:
See more pictures from the solar installation at the Rhumathoi community center here.
On World Water Day, it gives us some satisfaction to look back at our Pinterest board on our wells in South Sudan to see all we’ve accomplished. But there’s still so much to do. Some efforts haven’t worked out: we tried to affiliate with water.org, but Matt Damon’s group doesn’t work in South Sudan. And our wish list continues. We still need additional funding to complete the well at Malual-Chum; we’re still looking for affordable drillers for wells at our community center and clinic. Water is particularly time-critical for our community center, because our agricultural test plots will need irrigation, and the time to begin cultivation is soon.
But looking back in our archives, we found the photo of a boy drinking a bucket of muddy water that the people of Machartit could get only by lowering children into a pit. But not many weeks later, we had secured funding for a drill rig, and the jerrycans were lined up to collect the clean drinking water.
You, our donors, large and small, have made this happen. We’ll keep making this happen as we continue to work to bring education and opportunity, including the opportunity for health and well-being with a cool cup of water, in South Sudan.
Here’s our photo in honor of International Women’s Day: After she finished her literacy class at our community center, this woman gathered firewood to sell at the market.
Her daughter holds her mom’s schoolbag as they prepare for the walk home. Several women told us they have less time to gather firewood and prepare charcoal to sell at the market because they are going to class. Nevertheless, they keep coming to learn to read and write.
On this Women’s Day, let us remember our commitment to provide education and opportunity for women and men in South Sudan, and that education is the key to greater economic opportunity.
The teachers in Wunlang and Rhumathoi primary schools, although all from the area, have various backgrounds: some are secondary-school graduates, some are still in secondary school, and some are volunteers whose education is just barely ahead of their students. Teacher training is a continuing issue in South Sudan, even as the use of the South Sudan curriculum and syllabus grows. Teachers have to be prepared to teach it.
So our six-day teacher training was a refresher course in primary grammar. Teachers from both Wunlang and Rhumathoi attended, and ias Wunlang is a four-hour walk from Rhumathoi, we made accommodations available in our community center guest house.
We were all learning as we went along, and we have realized that one exercise book for the trainer and providing exercise books for the students to copy into, while traditional and workable, wastes a lot of time. However, Kush Air, the three-times-a-week airline to Aweil, has a very strict baggage allowance of one bag weighing 20 kilos. Their definition of a carry-on is very small.(At the airport your trainer had to choose between her bag of training supplies and her bag of clothes, and she yanked a set of clothes out of her bag and stuffed it into her handbag; the other suitcase remained in Juba the whole time.) We will be exploring ways to get workbooks too all trainees in the future.
Director Ron left for South Sudan late last week. He reports that he has taken a long, bumpy, crowded ride from Juba to Thiou, where he and a crew from the University of San Diego are inspecting the solar installation in Thiou Freedom School.
On the way, they saw a troop of baboons! This sighting, and the potential of our guesthouse in Rhumathoi to host ecotourists, has us jumping with delight.
Village Help for South Sudan is once again taking part in conversations on using cutting edge technology for the benefit of developing areas. The organization’s newest volunteer member, Alix Charles, based on the West coast, attended IEEE’s Global Humanitarian Technology Conference earlier this week in Seattle, WA. The conference brought together hundreds of individuals from over two dozen countries, and featured speakers from organizations such as the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) and UNESCO. Panel discussions topics included Water and Agriculture, Connectivity and Communication, Humanitarian Challenges & Opportunities, and Societal Impacts.
Through taking part in such panel discussions, Alix informed engineers, scientists, funders, industry and government representatives, and other attendees of Village Help for South Sudan’s work. Alix reported back with resources and contacts that could help us in current and future projects. “It was a great experience and a terrific opportunity to raise awareness of our projects and mission among the humanitarian community,” says Alix. “I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. It was inspiring to be among such accomplished individuals, and rewarding to see such enthusiasm and interest in our work.”
Here’s a link to the conference blog with posts about the various topics and presentations. Thank you, Alix, for joining Village Help for South Sudan and attending this conference for us!
We are now working on a sustainable solar energy solution for remote villages in South Sudan. We have the capacity to do this because of a new partnership and the talents of Mou Riiny. Mou is an electrical engineer educated in the U. S. but now living in South Sudan where he is managing our Thiou Freedom School project. His first solar installation will be a 6KW setup that will provide the energy for Thiou School.
Mou plans to start a for-profit energy business later this year to install solar for other schools, clinics and marketplace shops. The business will offer both “micro-grid” installations for marketplaces as well as a model for rural villages developed by IEEE’s Community Solutions Initiative and initially implemented in Haiti. CSI is making their solution available to several countries in Africa. VHSS will be their NGO partner for South Sudan. CSI’s goal is to deliver electricity to many energy-impoverished parts of the world. In South Sudan, as in other countries, we envision a 5 to 7 year plan that will eventually supply electricity to a million rural residents.
The CSI solution is a franchise operation that leases solar generators called Sunblazers to village operators. The operators then sell the electricity to customers in their territories who will use the electricity for such needs as lighting in their homes and recharging their cell phones.
Mou recently trained a group of candidate operators to prepare them to conduct market surveys to determine how much customers currently pay for lighting, cell phone recharging, and other energy consumption. The survey also asks how much customers would be willing to pay for energy service in their homes. The survey will provide necessary input for Mou’s business planning. We hope to start the initial deployment of the solution in early 2013. The new social enterprise will provide jobs as well as electricity to some of the poorest people on earth living in energy-impoverished areas of South Sudan.
Under Mou’s leadership, this will be another project to use the talented local villagers to help solve their own problems and participate in the development of their communities. Bravo to Mou and his team!