A special shoutout to the 7th grade at West Middle School for participating in our fundraising efforts! To donate money, click HERE.
Thank you for all of your support and go West!
A special shoutout to the 7th grade at West Middle School for participating in our fundraising efforts! To donate money, click HERE.
Thank you for all of your support and go West!
Standing there with a line attached to my back and an harness that was too tight in the wrong places, I watched as a man I had just met demonstrated pulling up shingles and sliding in a metal plate with a silver rectangle with a hole in the top into the shingles. The metal plate, called flashing, would be bolted into the rafters and serve as a reliable mount for the solar panels.
My first thought was “oh please don’t make me do that I won’t be able to.”
But then I realized they needed help measuring out the area of the array. I volunteered to help measure out 48 inches between each chalk dot and 24 inches for the last distance. I nailed it, measuring perfectly and handling the tape measure with such elegance that it made the birds stop and stare.
But ruining my “on Top of the world” feeling we were called to lunch. Furiously I swallowed my mustard, ham and cheese sandwich and soon enough was standing back at the top of the ladder waiting to be clipped into my child safety leash.
We spent the next hours pulling up shingles and flashing them, once that was done, we’d install the brackets and bolt it into place and put on a washer and rubber stopper on top. Next I descended from my perch up above and began to help assemble rails that the solar panels would rest on. We then took the rails and carried them up to the roof. We then bolted in the rails and began to attach the inverters. First we wired up the rails by placing a cord and nailing it to the metal. Then we took inverters and screwed them in above the cord, and then at last we plugged them into the wire. Once that was done we looked around and saw that two arrays had been completed, this startled me because I was in such a trance of work. After feeling successful with being able to do the task I drove us back to camp – where we all slept gloriously.
Hey again! It’s Riley (If you don’t know who I am, check out my other blog posts towards the bottom of this page)! As I write this, I am sitting in the car with the door open and the breeze blowing through, listening to the sounds of cranking wrenches and steady drills on the roof of Mr.Conquering Bear’s and his family’s home. So far (its only 12:39 as a write this), it has been an awe-inspiring, productive work-day, which sounds far-fetched, but is honestly the truth! Let me back up though, I am getting ahead of myself. Yesterday, after our cultural meeting with Mr.Doyle, we drove down, following Mr. Boyce’s incredibly green and hippie-screaming Westfalia van, to the property where we were to spend the next three days installing solar panels. Honestly, I was clueless. Not just about the difference between AC disconnect and junction boxes, or where and how to saw conduit, but also what the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation was like and how the community works together to find solutions to energy issues.
But, in both these fields, I was learning, and fast. I was not expecting to do much work on the first day, as we didn’t start until 11:30ish after our cultural training. However, I figured out that we would be doing a lot. There was work to do just on the ground, not even related to the solar modules on the roof. I volunteered to drill holes, screw bolts, place conduit, and even go underneath the house in the crawl space to ensure that all of the wiring that we would eventually complete would have a secure place to go without the risk damage to the wires through water runoff or friction from other things near it. At the beginning of the day, I was afraid to ask questions of the trained professionals I was working with through GRID Alternatives. I figured they had a lot on their plates, worrying about where and when to place the solar panels as well as all of the other components to make the system work. But, I eventually understood that these trained professionals wanted to teach us about what they were doing, and wanted us to be as hands on as possible. It was incredible to be able to ask all the questions I wanted and after a while, I was able to really understand what we were doing throughout the day, and what the end result was bound to look like. When the sun had just begun to sink over the rolling hills in the distance of the Reservation, the only clear work that I had completed was a metal pole on the side of the house, with a box sticking out the end of it. To some, it might have been just that: a box on a pole, but to me, it signified the beginning of an amazing solar install to help an amazing veteran and his family live in their home with reliable, sustainable, and affordable electricity. For me, Day One on the ground was a job well done.
Monday May 29, 2017 Allan
My name is Allan Chen. I am a recent graduate of Cherry Creek High School and a proud member of the Pine Ridge Eco Action Solar Panel install team! We met in the morning at the King Soopers with Boyce, Conley, Stella, and Claire driving in Boyce’s hippie van and Abbie driving Robin’s “Blueberry” with Robin, Lina, Riley, and me. We took the fast route and lost them a little which resulted in a quick “what part of follow me don’t you understand.”
With our journey under way it became time for stories and sing-a-longs. Catchphrase and Disney songs made the supposedly 5 hour drive fly by until we stopped at a gas station near the first, but not last, world famous Taco John’s. When we finally arrived at our campsite in Hot Springs, South Dakota, we discovered that the week’s campground would cost us nearly $200, simply outrageous! We then drove around for hours to RV parks and open fields, trying to find a nice, affordable campsite. Just when all hope seemed lost we stumbled upon the beautiful but quaint Walgren Lake, which happened to be a few cranky hours away in Nebraska.
The lake shore was nice and sandy, but had some questionable foam and dead fish parts. We were excited to set up camp and quickly got to work setting up our two tents and Boyce’s portable camping kitchen. We collected firewood, played Frisbee in the fields, lounged in the hammock, and enjoyed the peacefulness of the location.
Dinner was cooked to perfection by Chef Allan, who some might call a culinary master. The platters arranged with remarkably exquisite quesadillas and an elegant but simple side of chips and salsa filled the stomachs of all our hungry campers.
We spent the rest of the night by the campfire, telling jokes, stories, and relaxing, knowing that we had a hard day’s work ahead of us in the morning. This tranquility was only interrupted by the sun making its descent over the lake, casting glowing red, orange, and purple hues all over the sky. We later made S’mores, and many of us had some more later, until the stars emerged. Using Abbie and Robin’s “sky scanners” we named all the stars and constellations. Finally, as the fire died down we headed to our tent; each snuggled in our own warm sleeping bags, and prepared ourselves for the chilly night and early morning ahead of us.
I have been back in the United States for two weeks now and have had time to reflect upon our whirlwind journey in Uganda.
First, I feel deep gratitude for the hundreds of people who have somehow been involved in this near year long process, from EcologicalAction’s first meeting of the 2015-2016 school year to the moment our plane’s wheels touched back on U.S. soil.
I never would have imagined that the club I started Sophomore year would find its way to Nyakagezi, Uganda. Believe me, I understand that if the universe were a tapestry, our project to install solar panels on two buildings of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project would be just a single, tiny thread. Yet that thread is interwoven with the lives and experiences and guidance of so many organizations and individuals: Nyaka staff both in Kampala and in the field, every student and teacher at Nyaka Secondary Vocational School, Cherry Creek High School Administration, attendees and musicians at our benefit concert, 7th Grade teachers and students at West Middle School who participated in the Nyaka Walk, my supportive teacher and mentor Mr. Dufford, our families, 9News, EcoTech Institute, The Villager, and airport personnel as mentioned in a previous blog post. We are just a fragment of life’s greater tapestry, but we span continents.
Environmental Activism has slowly grown to engulf and inform my life. This experience, however, challenged my preconceived notions. My awe and wonder has always lain with the natural world and I deeply feel a desire, no responsibility, as a citizen of Earth, to halt and reverse our species’ degradation of our ecosystems and biodiversity.
Additionally, as a species we have an obligation to each other: to ensure the human rights of all are fulfilled. “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Sustainability and Human Rights are not disconnected entities.
My two passions, ecological sustainability and human rights advocacy, intersect in beautiful harmony; each has the potential to promote the fulfillment of the other. For instance, as the abundance of natural resources decreases, it is in the benefit of local communities to adopt sustainable practices which will ensure that they may continue to pave a livelihood. In seaside communities this may mean preventing overfishing by interspersing the diet with plants that thrive in the local climate. In Uganda, the introduction of solar panels directly benefits both the planet and people. Solar energy effectively and sustainably harnesses our greatest renewable resource: the sun. Simultaneously, solar panels installed at the Nyaka schools unlock the potential of an education by powering the computers and lights, all at a lower cost than the unreliable hydroelectric grid which runs much of Uganda.
Uganda and the United States seemingly fall on distant positions on the spectrum of country development. Indeed, driving through the outskirts of Kampala and the rural southwest portions of Uganda, economic disparity and meager living conditions abound. Subsistence farming remains a common occupation and clean water, reliable health care, and public education are elusive “luxuries”. In contrast, the United States has a highly developed service economy and private sector along with a strong public education system. Every nation faces societal ills: disease, violence and poverty. In Uganda, however, such issues were impossible to overlook or hide. I was overwhelmed and, frankly, initially disheartened when I contemplated the plausibility of a process which would help every single citizen achieve a high quality of life.
How would our photovoltaic system on the roof of one school in one village leave more than a superficial scratch on the epidermis of systematic poverty? What about the family in Mbarara who unwittingly drinks giardia infested water each day, the man I saw outside Kampala who struggles to find food each day, the farmers who toil each day to feed their families?
Driving back to Entebbe after our time at Nyaka, I dug through my mind for the root of poverty and brainstormed fundamental solutions. Uganda is a developing nation. The basic and most effective ways of improving quality of life are healthcare and education. Health care increases body strength and lifespan. Equally importantly, education gives people a tool with which to understand and solve any challenges their communities face. An educated populace is well-equipped to elect representatives and officials and fundamentally alter the economic and social system through political channels. An educated populace may communicate and reflect the needs of the country. Furthermore, education is one path to self-discovery and internal contentment. My education has allowed me to uncover who I am. What a luxury it is for me to have the time, the resources, to chase my passions when for many education is out of reach.
Change trudges along through movements. I will not preach that this experience in Uganda will completely revolutionize Uganda’s education system or stop climate change. Fundamental forces such as capitalism, government and the will to survive will drag this country of 37 million into the upcoming decades. Yet now our solar panels are threads, too, woven into life’s tapestry. May the lights and computers spark a child’s fervor and add kindling to a greater movement of uninhibited joy and freedom in this world.
I learned a lot about myself this trip. I thrive in situations requiring problem solving and under intense stress. I like matooke but not nearly as much as g-nut sauce. But more importantly, adopting a defeatist attitude because a problem seems too overwhelming is direct neglect of our responsibility to nurture our neighbors, no matter how many time zones stand between us. Through environmental and humanitarian action, each of us can improve our piece of the world.
Reader, I cannot thank you enough. May you have found or keeping searching to find a purpose you dare to follow. The world needs more of you.
All the best wishes and all my gratitude,
Last night the rain, thunder, and lightning besieged the house like nothing I had never experienced before. One lightning bolt flashed with such intensity the entirety of the living room turned a soft pink. All I could think of as I listened to the storm was of the solar panels and the school roof they were mounted upon. I prayed that against all logic this storm wouldn’t reach the school 2km away. In order to mount the solar panels, we wove metal bailing wire around the mounting brackets and through the roof into the attic. Thus, small holes the diameter of a screwdriver are in the roof underneath the panels. We have not yet caulked them to form a waterproof seal.
This morning we held our breath as we anticipated the severity of the water damage. Luckily, however, minimal water got into the roof. We opened the windows in the science lab and by lunch, any residual water had evaporated. As an extra precaution, Lauren, Albert (the student) and I duct taped over the brackets and placed leftover shipping box cardboard scraps (thank you Deline Box and Display) above the holes. After lunch we placed a tarp over the entire array.
Amy Weeks and Amy Boyce created a mounting platform out of the cardboard shipping boxes (thank you, AGAIN! Deline Box and Display) for the solar array batteries to keep them up and off of the conductive cement. Lauren and I wired the charge controllers while Jeff connected the batteries.
Here’s to another successful day!
Thank you for your support!
The Nyaka Primary School opened in January 2003 in founder Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri’s childhood home, the village of Nyakagyezi in Kanungu District. Today the Nyaka Primary School serves students from “nursery class” through Primary 7. Nyaka students do not have to pay any school fees and are also provided “textbooks, uniforms, shoes, two meals every school day, medicine, and scholastic materials for free”. (https://www.nyakaschool.org/students/primary.php)
The guesthouse where our team from Colorado is staying is directly adjacent to this precious school.
It is a joy to awaken each morning before making our trek to the Secondary School and sip coffee on our front patio watching as students make their way by foot from surrounding homes and villages. For some, arriving to school on time meant leaving their homes by 5:00 am. But arrive they did, with smiles on their faces and a glorious energy for the morning assembly, breakfast and classes.
Students line up for the daily morning assembly by assigned classroom where they are welcomed by teachers and fellow student leaders to join in songs and a flag raising ceremony. The experience is one that draws students into their learning community and affirms relationships within their Nyaka family. I am inspired to find a way to bring something similar on a smaller scale to my sixth grade science classroom. Perhaps an extension to my weekly “Monday Motivational!” video clips and discussions? Always learning, always brainstorming…
I filmed a portion of a morning assembly at the Nyaka Primary School on June 17, 2016. Watch for the motivating and powerful young man who leads his classmates in song. Is there any doubt that Nyaka nurtures future community leaders?! It was a privilege to be in the presence of such young talent and charisma!
Before leaving Colorado, my friend and teaching colleague Liz Healy made a very generous donation of books for us to bring and to deliver to the Nyaka Primary School. It was my pleasure to personally travel with Liz’s books across three continents to be certain students received these brand new texts. I was escorted by head teacher Ahumuza Annet to three classrooms after she carefully sorted the books by appropriate reading level.
As we entered each classroom students rose to greet us by saying hello and sharing a song unique to their particular grade level classroom. The beauty of these voices!
In unison: “Education is the key!”
In Karuru Alice’s classroom I briefly introduced myself, complimented the students’ attention and dedication to their studies, and expressed my gratitude at their delightful hospitality.
Annet and I passed out Liz’s donated books together and it was a delight to see and hear students begin to read them out loud. There is something beautifully universal about opening up a brand new book and letting the stories unfold.
Primary 7 classroom with their new books.
I was fortunate to leave a little piece of my family with the Primary 3 classroom. These two books were in my daughters’ reading collection growing up and I hope Nyaka students will enjoying having these science resources in their own library.
Thank you so much for all of your support of ecologicalAction!
Amy Weeks (aka Abbie’s proud mom)