For all of you reading this blog, asking me about the project, and supporting us in any way….THANK YOU. We are on the road to making a big difference.
Due to my schedule and obligations at home, I was the first to depart. The 10 days had gone by way too quickly. Here, I truly felt like I was with family. Keith and Sherol were excellent hosts; generous in spirit and quick to converse. Mark worked around the clock coordinating transportation, collaborating with others, following leads, obtaining solar jars and solar lanterns, looking for compatible cell phones, and tracking the paper trails. The most evident and universal characteristics in South Africans are their love for their country and their open and generous spirit. I had the fortune of meeting several dozen likeminded citizens who unite for the cause of alleviating energy poverty. There is plenty of change that needs to occur to help to secure cleaner and safer energy while providing employment for our South African youth. Today, I am assured that the wheels of change are in motion. In fact, today brought forth the final victory before the launch of the PAYG lanterns; the Angaza software finally uploaded onto the smart phone without an error message!! 🙂
It’s never easy saying goodbye to people who have welcomed me here like no other. There’s always a feeling that wants you to linger a little longer. But I also have a love for my own at home.
The pictures below my “Bon Voyage” Crew who saw me off at the airport.
Natalie and I
Mark and I
Phillip (Mark’s friend and Aspire Youth Associate) and I
It’s time for me to go, but the problem of unemployment and poverty still lives on. One of the greatest wishes for Aspire Youth is that they continue to find success in their social business enterprises. If I in some way have planted a seed of change, encouraged others to break free of the cycle of poverty, or have inspired others to pursue a career in science and technology, then my mission will be fulfilled. Only time will reveal the answer. And, with time, tenacity, and determination, maybe, just maybe there will be another chance to return back to Cape Town and witness their youth experiencing a brighter future.
On the morning of Tuesday July 28th, we listened in on an Angaza solar lantern training session. Angaza representatives described the details of the operation of the solar lanterns and the online payment system made possible through a sales agent’s smart phone. The system has a lot of potential when it comes to flexibility, monitoring sales, and scalability. But there still is one major issue left: getting the program to download on the business-issued smart phones. Getting the smart phones involved one set of hurdles. Getting the software up and running on the smart phones is still a pressing issue.
In the afternoon, had our second chance to conduct a solar lantern workshop. This time our audience was the Isibindi Youth in Grabouw. Sindisiwe (Cindy) met us there, and helped us set up the workshop. At first, we thought that we were more prepared with materials; we replenished our silicone sealant and electrical tape, and Natalie helped me to mentally run through all aspects of the presentation (including using a 220V to 120V converter so I don’t blow another fuse!). All materials were carefully spread throughout the room, and power cords, power strips, and adapters were in place. While we were setting up, there was an audience of about a dozen people. As I was starting the presentation (as Natalie warned me previously), more and more came through the door. We kept on trying to find enough seats and enough materials for everyone. And the rest was just a blur 🙂
This time, I realized the greater degree of uncertainties when working with a larger group. At first, we were trying to put the lantern together in a step by step basis. But typically youth work at different speeds, mistakes are made, and others just need help getting the confidence to start. The largest issue were the youth who worked ahead, not really knowing what was to do next. Some students soldered on the solar panel without leading the wires through the lid of the jar. Others soldered in the LEDs backwards. Others didn’t have good connections, and some had low battery power. With the solar jars, it is easier to proactively tell them the right and wrong way to build them instead of going back and trying to fix their mistakes. This time, we had about 8 ‘botched’ jar lanterns. Each of them take about 10 minutes to fix, and that seriously ran us overtime.
The lessons that we learned from this trip are: 1) We need to make up step by step picture cards showing youth how to make the lanterns to overcome the language barrier, 2) We need to cut out more of the ‘beginning’ part of the presentation (about how this project came to be), and 3) we need to consider possibly setting up an ‘assembly line’ method of doing the solar jars. The third idea would involve having students moving from one table to another, only after completing a specific task. The only downfall of this is that it would require 4 or 5 trained staff total, which is a luxury which may not be available.
This is what happens when I get too busy during a workshop and the youth ‘take over’ my camera 🙂
Ed, Natalie, Mark, and I debriefed the day during our last outing together at a wonderful seafood restaurant called the Codfather. I had octopus and calamari, and others shared their sushi with me. The one thing that I will truly miss will be the fresh seafood here. It’s marvelous.
Siphelewe (“Sphesh”) was one of the most influential South Africans I had the pleasure to meet on my first trip here in 2011. She arose from Soweto, an impoverished township outside of Johannesburg. She was determined to break free of the cycle of poverty, tell her story to others, and have a successful career. She has since managed to do all of the above; currently, she is a forerunner of Educo Africa, a nonprofit that targets youth in poverty.
Below is a picture of the Educo Africa headquarters. We visited Sphesh there on July 27th.
It was wonderful to see her again. Our pictures together say a thousand words.
Today we had a stakeholder meeting at the Novalis Ubuntu Institute, an educational non-profit organization which encompasses a holistic approach which recognizes and nurtures individual gifts and talents. Many individuals came to the group with their own talents and specialties, from artists, to likeminded friends, to representatives for underprivileged or minority groups, to service organization representatives, to associates for social entrepreneurship to small business development.
My outtake on the meeting was very positive. There were several leads and contacts shared for the development of the Aspire Youth program. With some luck, we can further our outreach in both education and in disadvantaged communities.
We continued with sharing a lunch with Aspire Youth partners. We had a mixture of partners supporting Siyakula Direct Sales, which markets upcycled clothing and sim cards, to PACE (Parking Area Cleaning Exercise), to those who assist with Kwelanga Solar, our two tier solar energy program.
Today was my ‘recreational’ day in South Africa. So I chose to do something that I missed on my first trip to South Africa back in 2011: shark cage diving in Simon’s Town, South Africa (diving was by Seal Island). From the boat, I saw a southern right whale while cruising to Seal Island, and then 6 different great white sharks from the boat while cage diving. I put on my wetsuit, and then hoped for the best to see one underwater. The water was chilling, but I was determined to stay in the cage as long as I could. I was only 5 meters away from the great whites when I was in the cage. But the only setback was that the underwater visibility was only 2 meters, so all my pictures are from the boat. Regardless, it was an exhilarating experience!!
After a wonderful time on the boat and some close encounters with the great whites, Keith and Sherol decided to take us out to dinner. I ordered the kingklip, which was a very light and flaky local fish. I cleaned my plate, and then progressed on to helping Natalie finish her prawns, calamari. The diving and the sea air gave me quite an appetite, but also made me quite tired. I will have no problems getting to sleep tonight.
Today was our second day of working with Feminique, a group of young women in Mfuleni. Our goal was to make solar jars (which we couldn’t do yesterday due to a power outage). This time, I blew a fuse as I was setting up by plugging in a 120V power strip into a 220V outlet (I guess that I still have a lot to learn about compatibility!). It blew the power strip, but thankfully I didn’t plug in my school’s projector yet! The breaker box was locked, so there was no power in the room. So we wound up moving everything over to another room that had power. Despite our limited outlets, adapters, and space, we still had a successful workshop – everyone got a chance to take home an operational lantern. We got a chance to test the solar output with a multimeter, troubleshoot a few problems, and then use those teachable moments to explain how electricity, circuits, transistors, and solar energy works.
I still can’t help but mention the nature of these women again. They are so vibrant and full of energy. They especially love to get their picture taken 🙂
This morning started with an early morning stakeholder meeting in an administrative building in Cape Town. Andre, a representative from the Cape Town Lions and an economist. Benna, a representative from Old Mutual, a marketing executive, and Kate, a former teacher passionate about rural economic development. We went around the table in order to share our personal talents and objectives, then Ed and Mark went on to explain the Kwelanga Solar business plan. The meeting was quite productive: the input was positive, collaboration was constructive, and contacts were shared for those most likely to provide support. We all left lighthearted, with a task list of follow-throughs, some of whom Mark may have already reached out to by lunchtime.
The most notable part of the day was my first presentation/workshop. We were scheduled to do a solar lantern presentation with Feminique, a group 20 young women in Mfuleni township. We were prepared to have them build solar jars. Natalie checked her South African gridwatch phone app as we were approaching the township…LOAD SHED: 3 HRS. Forget about all that planning on the powerpoint and teaching them how to solder. The room was already full of women, ready to go. I didn’t have much to work with, and I had to think fast.
So I went to plan B: Icebreakers, teambuilding, women’s issues, and intro to the science of solar energy. First, I tried to help to overcome a bit of the cultural and language barrier by playing an icebreaker game I know entitled: “That Ain’t Me Babe.” It’s a game where you pair off and then silently act or mime some of the things that you like to do. Then we did a couple other ‘no prop’ teambuilding games that I’ve used in the past. I have my summers as a camper and camp counselor to thank for all these: they are designed to get the group interacting in a nonthreatening but a fun way (Thanks Bear Creek Camp :)). But then we talked for a short time on women’s issues, in an attempt to bridge cultural gaps. I introduced the soldering equipment in another game I know, called “A What?”. At the end of the two hour session, I verbally explained how to use the soldering equipment (in anticipation of a follow-up workshop scheduled for tomorrow), and then finished with a final ‘feel good’ type teambuilding exercise.
It was one of the most well received workshops I’ve had the pleasure to run. Once we started the first icebreaker, you saw the group evolve from being somewhat reserved to becoming full of energy. The giggles climbed to full belly laughs as the games progressed. That shared laughter transcended boundaries very quickly. When it was time to settle into more serious topics, the group was more receptive and collected. Of course, we also took time out to share some snacks, and we didn’t leave a crumb behind.
I have a feeling that once I come back tomorrow morning, they’ll already be waiting to start just as I am arriving. Another note: I’m going to need more snacks. WAY more snacks.
These ladies are unbelievably fun.
While Natalie and I spent the morning at Sherol and Keith’s house, Ed and Mark set out at 9 AM to pick up the solar lanterns at the South African Airlines Cargo service. Their experience was nothing short of harrowing: from getting lost finding it, then getting turned to Customs after finding it, to being asked if the package was for personal use. It was for business use, so then they got directed to a Clearing Agent (which was described to me as ‘someone who is trained to do the complicated paperwork’). The Clearing Agent asked for a commercial invoice, so they needed to contact Angaza in order to get an invoice ASAP. After the commercial invoice was forwarded, there was still a hefty customs fee and other additional charges. Regardless, the fees were lower than expected.
Natalie and I were picked up for lunch with Gary Fisher, Advisor to the Premier Western Cape (similar to a senator in the U.S.). We got a chance to cover all aspects in his work, from sustainable development to education to solar power as a solution to load sheds and energy poverty. His time was limited, so I plan to follow up with an email, in support of instilling more photovoltaic education in South African schools.
The afternoon and evening were spent searching for jars for the solar jar workshop and practicing the presentation and construction of the solar jar kits. We went to a store called Plastics for Africa, where by sheer fortune we found the right type of jars – they have the right type of opaqueness to refract the light, are the right size, and are at a price cheaper than the original jars.
We took the jars back to Ed’s apartment, and started showing Natalie how to solder the lanterns together. We were making progress when we had our first time experiencing a “load shed” in South Africa. Suddenly, without warning, the power goes out. It’s very local, and lasts for hours.
Good thing we had our solar lanterns charged.
Later that evening, after supper at Sherol and Kieth’s, we worked on setting up for our first solar lantern workshop. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking to the youth at Mfuleni, a township of 50,000 people in extreme poverty. We are scheduled to have 20 – 25 residents coming (age 16 – 25). Natalie warned me that many more may be coming – it’s happened to her before. Tomorrow will be the day that I can first teach the project to South Africans. I’m excited, but I’m a bit concerned – resources may be short (they may not have enough outlets for the soldering irons) and our numbers may be high. But Natalie and I are teachers. And teachers need to be flexible; it’s a survival skill.
Lekker Slaap (which means ‘have a good night’)
After a morning run and breakfast, it was time to collaborate and develop our business plans for both the solar jar project and the PAYG solar lantern project. We went round table to discuss our strengths and contributions to the team, and then really picked through each facet of the plan. Seed funding is still necessary for purchasing the second round of PAYG solar lanterns. Marketing tactics were developed (I offered to make a Kwelanga Solar Facebook page). We were developing the solar jar products into novelties/souvenirs that would target the South African tourist industry. Then on to more brainstorming and polishing the sales plan, down to the nitty gritty rand (for example, a packet of 6 candles in the townships typically costs 17 rand, 75 cents). Not only do our solar lights accommodate those without electricity, but they also work as supplemental light during countrywide “load-shedding” periods (times with the power is purposefully blacked out).
Yonela, Sindisiwe (Cindy), and Roslin (Roz) during our planning time
Everyone has their own task list in the plan. Natalie and I are going to polish our solar lantern presentation so that it is friendly to South African schools. I need to help to create a survey for the teachers regarding whether or not they find this activity purposeful, appropriate, and aligned to South African standards. Natalie is going to help me and also look into getting our next round of funding. Ed and Mark need to go out and FIND the solar lanterns (in customs) and find enough jars to make solar jars. Things might get problematic if they don’t succeed.