Power to the People

Paige Medley

Volunteering to impact the lives of disadvantaged people has always been my dream. This dream materialized in the summer of 2013 when I got the opportunity to work with the Power to the People organization, now a part of Grid Alternatives, on one of their trips to provide solar energy to a small rural community called Santa Ana in Nicaragua.

Approximately 30% of Nicaraguans do not have access to electricity due to poor infrastructure and high costs. Most of them live in rural areas that are not connected to the national energy grid. A large majority of such off-grid populations is left with no alternative but to use kerosene lamps, which create health and environmental hazards. Power to the People mobilizes volunteers to provide electricity to such rural communities by installing solar panels. By providing access to safe and renewable energy, the organization helps people to improve their quality of life. So far, they have installed thirteen solar projects across Nicaragua, ranging from 680 Watts to 1.38 Kilowatts.

Santa Ana, the village where I volunteered last summer, has a small elementary school and a community center with an adjoining kitchen. Until last summer, all village meetings and other gatherings had to be completed within the daylight hours. Installing solar panels on the roof of the school transformed the community in a big way, because students now have more study time and the community members has access to a larger number of productive hours.

One of the unique aspects of the Power to the People model is that the organization does more than just install the solar panels and leave (known as “drop and go” model). Before the solar panels arrive, the village forms an energy committee. Power to the People educates the committee members in maintenance and care of solar panels. They are actively involved in the installation and finally at the end of the installation they teach the other community members about solar energy and how it will help their community.

While volunteering in Santa Ana, I met a 17-year-old college boy named Lenny, who told me that he had only half as much study time as his peers because he was unable to study after sunset. Many times he could not even reach home after class until sun had already set. For people like Lenny around the world, installing a simple and now inexpensive solar panel system can transform not only their lives, but the lives of future generations. This simple mission can create entire generations who will grow up with access to electricity.

There are similar volunteer programs all over the world: Everybody Solar, Singularity Solar Energy, or the Himalayan Light Foundation, to name a few. Through these programs, volunteers can help install solar panels to provide electricity to unelectrified villages or help already electrified communities to generate electricity from clean and renewable resources. I would encourage every youth with an interest in solar energy or alternative energy volunteer work to look into these programs. Not only will you gain the valuable experience of installing solar panels, but you will be able to experience firsthand how access to electricity changes people’s lives.

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