Collective effort brings light to African students

MONKS and students from Limerick have joined forces with a charity to bring free solar power to a remote African school and help connect it to the world.

Two volunteers from Cork-based not-for-profit organisation, Solar Without Frontiers, have just returned from Songea, in southern Tanzania, where they installed a solar power system to supply free electricity to an IT education facility at Hanga Abbey.

Hanga Abbey is a vibrant Benedictine community which is home to a 500-pupil secondary school which provides high-quality and affordable education.

In 2009, students and monks at Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick, worked with another Irish charity, Camara, to set up a computer room and provide IT courses at Hanga.

John O’Callaghan, the man at Glenstal Abbey behind the project, said it has allowed the African students to learn computing skills and to connect to world via the internet.

However, the power supply from diesel generators was too costly to make full use of the IT facility.

Mr O’Callaghan approached Macroom-based Solar Without Frontiers last year for help and they then began fundraising to buy a 3.5 kW solar power system, combining 20 large solar panels and a 1.2 tonne battery system to store the electricity produced.

The system, designed and sourced with the help of Solar Without Frontiers, finally arrived at Hanga, at the end of last year.

Then two Solar Without Frontiers volunteers, Tim Hehir, a commandant in the Defence Forces Engineering Corps, and Fritz Raake, managing director of Solaris, travelled to Tanzania last month to install it on the school grounds.

The computer room and a number of lights at the school are now being supplied reliably and at no fuel cost with solar electricity.

“It was a privilege to be able to apply my knowledge and training to such a worthy cause,” Mr Hehir said.

“Africa’s vast size and inadequate electrical infrastructure should be seen as an opportunity for them to bypass fossil fuels as a means of electricity generation and implement renewable energy technologies on a wide scale.”

Solar Without Frontiers is also supporting the uptake of portable solar lights in Kenya. The charity was set up by a group of volunteers and solar energy enthusiasts to bring solar power to disadvantaged communities in Africa and it would welcome donations.

* www.solarwithoutfrontiers.com.

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