Sunbridge Solar’s 2017 Humanitarian Project
This February Sunbridge Solar packed their bags and headed for a once in a lifetime trip to Colombia and the Amazon to work on two different solar projects. Before leaving, even contemplating a project in the Amazon invoked a mixed sense of concern and excitement. And Colombia itself still had many of us worried with visions of crime.
We arrived late at night greeted with Colombia hats and a giant Colombia flag by our ever-jubilant partners and guides, Natalia Gomez and Edwin Lasso, owners of the recently formed Solosolar. The streets after midnight in Bogota on a Sunday are completely deserted. Literally completely deserted, as in zero people…which is slightly unnerving for a city of 10 million.
1st Project - Solar Power for San Mauricio Orphanage.
We started our first project early the next morning, so much for recuperation time. We arrived at Foundacion San Mauricio, an orphanage that is home to 1,200 kids ranging in age from 2-18. There are very few solar arrays in Bogota so to install a 12-panel system is a pretty big deal. The roof was a challenge. It was made of some kind of reinforced papier mache/asbestos mix. In fact, while trying to retrieve a Frisbee for one of the kids, one of our guys stepped in the wrong place and fell straight through the roof. Luckily, he was okay although the poor kid who asked him to get the Frisbee felt pretty terrible (and his frisbee lost forever).
After some creative efforts and way too many hours spent visiting dozens of electrical supply houses in Bogota, we completed the job. Of course, the best part of the job had little to do with the actual installation work. Every lunch we got to eat with the kids and practice our terrible Spanish, and then run around and play with them afterward. This system cost about $5,000 in material cost which Sunbridge Solar donated along with all of the labor. The energy saved equates to around $1,200 per year which is enough to support two more kids at the orphanage.
2nd Project - Solar Power for Indigenous Amazonians
Our next project was in Colombian Amazonas. To get there, you take a direct flight from Bogota to Leticia and the hour and a half flight took us about a world away. From the mountains to the tropics, Leticia greeted us with its funky backpacker vibe and humidity. We stayed at Habitat Sur, an organization that wears many hats: non-profit supporting local indigenous communities, eco lodge, and jungle tour operator. The lodge was incredible. My brother, Doug, was the lucky one to stay in a tree house cottage perched in the rainforest canopy. The toilet was guarded by a giant tarantula.
The project site was a twenty-minute walk from the roadside through the jungle to the indigenous community cultural center. The communities in this part of the Amazon have more or less been absorbed by Western society, so the cultural center worked to protect the language, customs, and skills of the indigenous communities. They often meet at night with no light to conduct their meetings or classes.
It Takes a Village
We were requested by the community who is partnered with Habitat Sur to install a small-scale off-grid solar system comprised of three panels, four batteries, and a small inverter. The cost of the system was $3,000. Before leaving I started a Gofundme campaign to cover these material costs. We surpassed our goal and raised $3,300 in four days, thanks in part to the generous contributions of six Rotarians who donated over $700 to the cause.
We completed the system and finished with just enough time to enjoy an Amazon river cruise, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. In a protected lake next to the Amazon we all jumped in the river as pink dolphins splashed around nearby. We celebrated our successful projects with our partners at Solosolar and know that this is just the beginning.