Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ozzie's Post

Ever since Peter's family has arrived at the school, progress has sped up. We now could split up into two teams; one devoted to getting the pump out of the well, and one to begin constructing the electrical system. I chose to be on the second team and found it very satisfying.

When the pump fell into the borehole in the beginning of our work, our experience took a dive into a desert of teeth grinding and desperation. For weeks we spent almost all of our time doing nothing but trying to devise and construct crazy methods for getting the pipe, then the skirt, out of the well. Despite Peter's many comedic comments on our expertise in dropping things down wells, it was incredibly frustrating to try so hard with so little progress to show for it. It wasn't until we came back from the safari when our luck started to change with the pump.

For example, this was one of the many hooks we made for the skirt that didn't work.

The electrical system has proved far more forgiving. At first we had a few delays as we waited for the "power house" to be constructed (Originally it was planned to be a closet, but Benson recommended expanding it because the room was available anyway.) This consisted of four brick walls and a large steel door being laid underneath the new tank. We planned and helped install the solar panels on the top of the tank, and seeing the entire structure come together by our design was quite an experience.

Here we are trying to help make concrete, which was one of the few (structural) things we did for the power house.

The students later helped us put the new tank on top of the power house.

A few days before the power house was structurally finished, we decided to hook up the battery (it was fully charged when we purchased it) to the television to watch the World Cup, replacing the noisy generator with a slightly less noisy inverter. Fortunately we were able to connect the solar panels to the battery shortly after to continue this tradition, while keeping the inverter now locked up in the power house, out of earshot. A few of us spent a good two days working day and night to install and connect the charge controller, pump controller, inverter, power strip, battery, solar panels, two switches, and one small light. While much of the pump effort was abstract brainstorming with few clear results, almost every hour with the electric system had something to show for it.

From left to right the order is switch to solar panels, pump controller, charge controller, and the blue inverter to 240V.

The first real impact from the solar system was the constant power to the lounge room. Previously the electric outlets and television set only received power when the noisy generator was powered by expensive gasoline, but now that was not an issue. So while before we all needed to be careful to charge our appliances when the power was on for soccer games, afterwards it wasn't an issue.

More exciting was the power to the school. A new solar panel and battery were purchased by the school to expand their current lighting system (two classrooms with about two working florescent light bulbs each and a staff room with one). After a few calculations we realized that a large portion of the power at that time was being lost in the cable transmission between classrooms, and that the problem would become much worse as the system expanded. We decided to help remedy this by purchasing a new inverter for this system and running it on 240 volt alternating current instead of 12 volt direct current, a change that greatly reduces the line losses.

At this point the plan was to wire two more classrooms to the existing light system, which we would get to use alternating current, and attach our previous pump power system to power the laboratory, the principal's office, and a power outlet for the staff office. This meant that a huge trench had to be dug across the soccer field and through most of the school for the cable to go through. Once again the local parents came to the rescue with shovels and pick axes, marching through the earth and finishing the entire trench within a day and half. Another trench was dug in order to connect cable from the power house to the lounge room, and a few more are still going to be dug between the class rooms.

One unintentional advantage in having both systems running on alternating current was that it meant that the either system could be used to power any of the loads up by the school. So when we found out that the new inverter we bought for the school was a piece of junk, we were able to still test the new lighting with the pump system battery. Then we decided to leave it this way for the night. At this point the two classrooms that had previously only had a few working light bulbs had all of them replaced with better ones, and the new lighting was installed in two more classrooms, as planned.

After finishing up some of the wiring for the laboratory at dusk we were exhausted and went down to get dinner. Like always we had a good tasting and relaxing meal together, but this time Principal Peter interrupted us. He came down from the school unexpected, and proclaimed that the new lighting made the place feel like a city. Somewhat surprised but very curious, we all got up to see what the difference was.

As soon as we left the room we could see the classrooms from across the field. All four of them were lit up, much brighter than before. We all walked up to the classes where several students were studying in each one. We knew that these light bulbs were rated to consume a bit more power than the ones that were there before, but there was no way we could have expected the difference it made.

Peter Saeta walked up to one of the classes to face the students, all beaming back to us. "Is this too bright?" he asked. "Yes, yes!" they shouted. "Really??" he asked, hinting on taking some of it away. "No! No!"

Normally the sun provides light into the classrooms through the windows, but now the light bulbs shine tons of light out of them. Through these windows the entire upper campus was dimly lit. Inside it seemed like the classes were brighter then than they were ever in the day. It was truly a fantastic sight, made truly magical by the realization that much of it had been the product of our labor.

I talked a bit to Principal Peter and teacher Samuel, who both expected great things to come from the new system. Today they told the children to be wary of the electricity because they weren't sure if it would last, so "only" about half of the students stayed late. With this addition that proportion is expected to rise dramatically. Some students may even show up to school now long before sunrise, at about five in the morning, Samuel said. The Clay school will be visible for miles.

We found out that the parents come at nine to pick up their children and walk them home, so we decided to come back to visit the school then. When we came a collection of elders were outside looking very, very excited. One of them soon burst into song and danced her way into a classroom, leading the teachers and students to cheer and move along. After some delighted discussion about the new lights, they thanked each one of us and then went home.

Similar things have happened to us in expectation, mainly in Kisii where musicians were brought in to celebrate us in hopes that we would do great projects with them in the future. But here we have finished most of the work, and the people are even more delighted. This night has been the highlight of our entire experience.


  1. What a fabulous thing you've done! We are all so proud of you and have truly enjoyed the excitement, enthusiasm & frustration you have all expressed. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  2. Congratulations!!!!! Safe travels back to the US.