And then there was light. Solar, that is. Rotifunk’s new Community Computer Center is nearly ready to open with power from a nearby solar system. Sherbro Foundation just funded wiring to bring the solar power to the new center.
The pieces are falling into place for Rotifunk’s first computer center, a project over four years in the making. When we first identified a proposal to teach computer literacy in 2011, we had no computers, no building and no power. Nor did we know where we’d get any of these. No one in town had a computer, and only three teachers had any PC skills.
And we never imagined Ebola would throw us a big curve for over a year.
But the need was compelling – to introduce computer literacy as a way of giving job skills to students and adults in rural Bumpeh Chiefdom. So, you just get started.
With an unexpected and generous donation of fifty laptop computers late in 2013, we actually did start the project.
Our local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation, CCET, started teaching adults in the living room of a borrowed house. There was only room for ten students at a time, but it was a start. Then Ebola hit in mid-2014 and all public gatherings were banned. Classes stopped.
Paramount Chief Caulker made good use of the Ebola period when all travel in and out of the chiefdom halted to build the new computer center building. He donated land that had the shell of an old building burned by rebels during the war. It was in the center of town with a good concrete slab. The transformation was no less than amazing. Built with mud bricks and local lumber and labor, then stuccoed and painted inside and out – and voila, a new 40×60 foot computer center.
But there still was no power. Operating with a generator would be costly, noisy, unreliable and spewing pollution. Estimates for a limited solar system for this building were $30,000+.
As luck would have it, a nearby community solar system had been installed and had excess capacity. It was feasible to wire power over. Last month wire was laid in conduit between the two buildings and buried in the ground.
I did a dance last week when I got word it’s connected and we finally have power!
Lest you think we’re now all set, well, not quite. I’ve learned a lot about solar systems and their capacity. The parent system we’re drawing from, shown here, is considered large at 5000 Watts. We’ll be able to use 3000 – 4000 Watts on most days. But this will just cover basic operation of the computer center running 25 laptops at a time, a twenty 11 W LED lights, six small ceiling fans and a desktop printer.
Running larger printers for the printing service we plan to start will still require a generator for the excess power needed.
I learned my lesson on power use when I tried to use a standard women’s hairdryer in a house with a generator. I asked first if it was OK, and then proceeded to shut down the generator. No wonder. Our hair dryers are 1875 W – for one hair dryer! As Westerners, we take for granted having all the power we want.
The computer center’s solar power is based on having sunny days. In the rainy season, we may use power faster than the solar batteries can recharge. A back-up generator is still a necessity.
But today, I’ll put those things aside. I’m celebrating. The building is built. And the lights are on.