Drive to Nyaka (Abbie Weeks)

We rose early this morning to strap the panels to the roof of our van. Nyaka recommended working with BicTours, run by Samuel Mugisha, one of the most cheerful and helpful persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Our driver was Michael and he weathered the full 12 hour drive with us. We passed the equator, two zebras (which apparently weren’t real since I was the only one who didn’t see them), red crested cranes, and hundreds of ente (cows).

 

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All of us at the Equator! Amy Weeks, Amy Boyce, Jeff Boyce, Abigail Weeks, Lauren McMillen (from left to right)

We arrived at the Nyaka Vocational and Secondary School at dusk. The students were still near the school building and at least 10 young men helped us unload the van. It was amazing to see a sea of hands easily carry the boxes we had been dragging across three continents. Now that we are finally here and the solar panels are safe, my stress is gone. Now the installation of the solar array can begin!

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Unloading the solar panels at the Nyaka Vocational and Secondary School

We are staying at the guest house on the primary school campus. There we ate dinner around 7:30, which is a typical Ugandan dinner time. Also staying at the guest house is Madeline Moore. Maddy has been here with Nyaka since last July as a Health Program Associate and Global Health Corps Fellow. She also was a Community Health Development Volunteer in the Peace Corps for two years in Zambia. I cannot wait to hear more of her stories. She was a fantastic resource for all of our questions. She told us that 2/3s of the students attending the Nyaka schools are orphans (one or both parents are deceased). In order to attend a Nyaka school, students and families go through an interview process and home visit. Nyaka staff select children from the families with the  most demonstrated need for whom an education will impact the lives’ of the entire family.

 

Tomorrow the real work begins.  I will sleep well tonight.

Best,

Abbie Weeks

Day One in Kampala (Abbie Weeks)

Today we drove on the left hand side of the road amongst swerving boda-bodas (taxi motorcycles) past lake Victoria and through markets to arrive in Kampala, the capital of Uganda and home to 1.2 million people.

Our first stop was the Nyaka Headquarters where we met with Jennifer Nantale, an extremely inspiring woman who, before joining Nyaka’s staff, worked with refugees and internally displaced persons in South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda. She was the camp manager of the Gihembe Camp in Rwanada with over 19,000 refugees as a member of the American Refugee Committee within the United Nations Refugee Agency.  She is extremely adept at her work and an excellent leader for Nyaka. She reaffirmed my faith in Nyaka as an organization willing and capable of ending systematic poverty through their “holistic approach to community development, education, and healthcare.” At Nyaka headquarters we also met Kaweesa Robert, the Finance and Administration assistant. He joined us on our visit to the solar store to purchase batteries.  

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Abigail Weeks, Jennifer Nantale, and Lauren McMillen outside the Nyaka Office in Kampala

Photovoltaic System components can be purchased in Uganda. However, besides the gross inefficiency and limited wattage available for panels, the market is rife with counterfeit panels. The solar panels we brought are 300 watts and fall under 25 year warranty. We found nothing comparable in Uganda. We purchased four lead acid batteries from Yingli Solar. The density and pure weight of an authentic lead acid battery is hard to fabricate. The four, 12 volt batteries we purchased were under 2 year warranty and we were confident in their authenticity.

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Purity’s Storefront

At the solar store we met Purity, the store manager. Purity is a wonderfully knowledgable woman. In addition to discussing the advantages of different battery voltages for our photovoltaic (PV) system We spoke with her about politics, both in the U.S and Uganda. I was surprised by her in-depth knowledge and opinions on US politics. She seemed more informed than some US voters on our political affairs. Wherever we went the US presidential race and candidates followed. Of course our discussion exposed my ignorance of Ugandan politics past the reign of Idi Amin. Uganda hosts elections yet the last presidential result is still in dispute and the opposition to the incumbent is now imprisoned. So often we take our democracy for granted. As flawed and slow as it may be today, change is always possible through fraudless elections.

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Jeff, Robert, and Purity discuss battery cables

At times I forgot how impoverished Uganda is. In the city, the bustle of traffic and storefronts disguised the truth: In Uganda the average life expectancy  is 58.5, 7.5% of adults (aged 15-49) are living with HIV/AIDS, and the per capita income is under US $170. The depth and scope of inequality and poverty in our world is overwhelming. I felt wildly insufficient and incapable of solving such systematic issues. But on reflection, change starts with single step. Nyaka has already run a marathon in that regard. They have built a health clinic, community library, and three schools.  I hope that our solar panels will provide the additional  energy resources for teachers and students to succeed. 

After a late lunch of Matooke (a steamed and mashed banana dish) and g-nut sauce, we retired to the Entebbe Backpackers Hostel for one more night. Tomorrow we will sleep at Nyaka!

Abbie Weeks

At the airport… (Abbie Weeks)

No journey is completed in isolation. To think that one person can change the world without help is sheer folly.  This morning demonstrated that.   We arrived at the airport with 3 boxes containing 6 330-watt solar panels , 2 boxes of racking materials (used to mount the solar panels) and 5 duffel bags containing inverters, charge controllers, tools , wires and the kitchen sink.  Total weight….800 pounds of checked baggage. Over weight, over sized and the folks at United Airlines took care of everything!  Special thanks to Holly, Patty and Jerry Martinez who is the ramp supervisor.   He made sure the solar panels would fit through the doors of the plane and said that he would personally load them. Like I said, journeys like this don’t happen in isolation!

Next stop? TSA. These folks have been getting a lot of bad press of late, but the crew at DIA went above and beyond today.  The boxes that the panels are in are too big too be scanned and had to examined by hand. These folks opened the boxes and made sure they were safe. They were so excited about our trip and really helped make what could have been a challenge a great interaction!

On the plane and off to Washington D.C. for a short layover and then on to Brussels!   I have some anxiety about the solar panels making the connection with us, but we have built in some extra hours in Belgium so they can catch up to us if we miss them. I will keep you posted!

Leaving Belgium (Abbie Weeks) 

We are all at the gate about to leave for Uganda!

Simply maneuvering the panels and equipment across time zones and oceans has already been a learning experience. We would not have been able to bring our solar panels and packs to this point, overcoming various obstacles and challenges, without the help of a few wonderfully giving human beings.

Leaving Denver International Airport, our oversized and severely overweight boxes were tagged and shipped with the help of Holly A and Patty C at United Additional Services Counter along with Jerry Martinez, the ramp supervisor.  

Upon arrival in Belgium two days ago, the solar panels were left up against a wall near lost luggage. Unfortunately, the panels are bulky and heavy or else we would have easily taken them outside and found a locker. Instead, we scrambled unsuccessfully to find a luggage cart. We were told there was nowhere to put the panels even if we could move them somewhere else. After an hour or so of confusion, a security guard, now hero, at customs, Dirk, selflessly provided skilled help. Dirk is an extremely kind and dedicated man. He quite literally sprinted around the airport finding a luggage cart, translating between French and English, checking flights, and manually lifting panels around.  We thank him from the bottom of our hearts. Eventually Dirk found where we could store the solar panels at the Brussels airport. This, especially in light of terrorist attacks there a few months before, was no easy feat.

After a 48 hour layover in Brussels, we came with a resolute attitude back to the airport. We easily collected the panels but then were met with the same dilemma of being unable to move them. Using a two-leveled luggage rack we maneuvered the panels to an elevator, unloaded them, reloaded them, put them on another elevator, and reloaded. Then they wouldn’t fit through the door into the first security checkpoint we so rolled one across on a makeshift rack of 2 small carts on top of another box which was extremely unbalanced. I am sure that at one point Mr. Boyce had a panel supported upon his back alone.

We again were incredibly lucky to meet wonderful people at check-in willing to help. Miriam at Brussels Airlines checked our baggage and tickets and was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She quickly called her supervisor to ensure that our baggage would be checked to Entebbe even though they were outside of European size regulations. Cedric, a Brussels Air supervisor, could not have been more accommodating. “The U.S., they send me goats and solar panels. Goat I sent back. [sic]” Luckily, he didn’t send back the solar panels! As I write our six solar panels and PV supplies are (hopefully) being loaded onto our plane. We have an 8 hour flight and a host trip of experiences ahead of us. I am infinitely grateful to the people whom we have encountered for working to make this journey possible.

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Miriam, Abbie, Cedric, and Lauren ready to send off the panels to the plane to Uganda

More adventures to come,

Abbie Weeks

How did EcologicalAction come to be? (Jeff Boyce)

EcologicalAction began because of the commitment of one individual to making the world a better and more sustainable place. That young person is Abbie Weeks. She wanted to start  an after school environmental club because our school cafeteria used styrofoam trays. I taught Abbie how to calculate the cost of the styrofoam trays and then compare those costs with the initial cost of the plastic trays and the cost of cleaning the trays on a daily basis. It turns out (as is often the case) that the plastic trays were the less expensive option in less than a year. (You can look at our calculations here if you are interested.) After a presentation to the principal and the cafeteria manager, the decision was made and our school now uses plastic trays!

So what next?

After that initial success, we decided to embrace that old environmental adage… Think Locally, Act Globally.  Enter into the picture Mr. Jackson Kaguri and the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (NAOP).  Jackson is one of the most inspirational individuals that I have ever met. And it turns out that an ecologicalAction founding member, Lauren McMillen, felt the same way. Lauren has been fundraising for NAOP since she was in the 7th grade. When I told her that I wanted to install solar panels at Nyaka, she was ON IT.

So here we are…

Abbie, her mother Amy, an amazing science teacher and Lauren, are leaving on Monday (6/6) with the Boyces (Jeff & Amy) for Nyaka. The bags are packed. We have 6 pv-panels that are 330-watts. We will be installing almost 2kW of capacity in a week. We have inverters. We have charge controllers. We have power disconnects. We are going to buy batteries in Kampala on Friday (6/10). We leave Kampala on Saturday and will begin the install on Sunday.

So what about you?

We have been fundraising for almost 8 months and while much of our costs are covered, there is still so much to do! If you feel compelled to give, please give. Here is the link to our fundraising platform. Thank you for taking the time to read about our trip. Thank you for caring!

Cheers!

Jeff Boyce