Rationale and Beginnings: African Photovoltaic Project
In 2005, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) initiated a Solar Energy Program in Africa. The program, named “The African Photovoltaic Project,” was first only a dream in 2003. Sr. Lorraine Connell, General Treasurer of the Congregation, conceived an energy brainchild to improve the lives of our sisters and the people they serve in places deprived of life’s necessities. Without electricity, without clean water and without any viable means for communication, life can be not only difficult but at times impossible. Sr. Lorraine spent countless hours in searching for a means of improving electricity, water purification and communications in African countries where SNDdeN are serving. Her discoveries found their center around the sun! Her research led her to experts in the field of harnessing solar energy. She spent the time intervening between her idea and the project’s actualization in consultation, design, site visits and fund-raising.
Realization of a Dream
The creative idea was tested in the summer of 2005 in a prototype built on the campus of Cuvilly Arts and Earth Center, a farm and school in Ipswich, MA. Sr. Lorraine worked assiduously with engineers, Louis Casey and Babs Marquis, to move forward the prototype, before opening in October 2005 the first African site in Fugar, Nigeria. Training sessions for the African sisters with co-workers preceded any construction or installation of systems. The project began by bringing electricity and pure water to three sites: first to Fugar, second to Ngidinga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in February 2008, and third to Awkunanaw, Nigeria in October 2008. Work on the sites moved relatively slowly due to delays caused by funding issues and in shipping materials.
The Dream Continues to Evolve
More photovoltaic projects have been installed recently in Kitenda, Lemfu, and Pelende in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to provide electricity and clean water to the hospitals, clinics, schools, communities in these villages.
The Power of the Sun
Harnessing the power of the Sun with solar energy panels and storing the energy in batteries has proven to be an effective means for producing electricity. The sisters work daily with women, men, children and entire families in schools and hospitals in six countries in Africa. In some countries, electricity is a scarce commodity and clean water is non-existent. People can live without electricity, but life without clean water is impossible. Water-borne illness and other diseases devastate some populations. The mandatory daily task of collecting, purifying and filtering water for consumption is very labor intensive.
Another ministry goal of this photovoltaic project was to improve communications through internet access. A wireless satellite which allows for the monitoring of the system has not yet been perfected but is under review for improvement. While originally intended for better communication with the sisters for congregational business, this internet access has potential to expand educational opportunities for students in the schools and for staff in hospitals and clinics.
Resulting Wonders in Nigeria and the Congo
These energy projects provide continuous, reliable electrical power and clean water in providing dependable energy to each site, twentyfour hours a day, and in attacking disease and persistent health care problems, caused by the lack of potable water. This is now being accomplished in the three sites. Focus on one site shows the progress.
The photovoltaic system in Ngidinga is now moving forward positively. Overcoming the major problems caused by impassable roads and data configuration difficulties, the sisters have already experienced what this project has done for the community. At Ngidinga, an x-ray machine has been installed. The doctor, faculty, staff and students are now learning how to use the internet. Future dreams include links between clinics and specialists in Europe. Ongoing research continues into these possibilities.
Sr. Dorothée sees a dream coming true.
New Life in Lemfu
Planning for Kitenda
Envisioning Changes Reality in Ngidinga
Sr. Dorothée Moya sees the system working for the community, clinic and school in Ngidinga. The people have clean water. Electricity enables doctors and nurses to operate at night, to sterilize equipment regularly and to store medicine with 24 hour access to refrigeration. Emergency medical procedures are no longer dreaded;stored electricity (not kerosene or generators) gives confidence in care. Sr. Dorothée says that community access is encouraging community projects in development. Teachers and school leaders are able to raise the level of education for all students because the children are able to read after 6 p.m. with electrical light in their dormitories. Links to schools and libraries give new resources to teachers and students. A cyber-café provides internet access for schools and communities. Technology, a dream of the people, is bringing adult education to the wider community.
Future Projects for Health Care in the DRC
Through the gifts of generous donors, our Congregation has erected these three projects. All three photovoltaic sites have raised the level of safety in each place, especially in the clinics, maternity wards and schools. Life is more livable for the sisters and the people.
The sisters hope to bring solar power to three more villages in the Congo: Kitenda, Lemfu and Pelende. Each site includes a health care facility and a school, with about 1500 students (primary and secondary) being served at these missions. The SNDs offer health care programs for pre-natal and maternity care, with failure-to-thrive services as well as general health care treatments. On a daily basis at each site, the sisters treat about 50 men, women and children who have no access to health care. An alternative-energy project will provide a continuous and reliablesupply of utility-grade electrical power. All related infrastructures, such as water pumping/purification, refrigeration, communications and lighting, need electrical power. The maternity clinics in Congo rely on kerosene lamps for light in most night emergencies and birthing procedures. Generators that are costly, loud and pollution producing are powered by diesel fuel, brought in barrels by truck. For refrigeration, the source of electrical power must be continuous. The satellite secures an internet connection allowing doctor/nurse consultation options, already happening in Ngidinga. If the SNDs are able to extend the project, the same wonders can happen in the three more villages in the Congo.
Saving Lives through Education
In the Congo since 1894, the sisters have taught the people many means of survival. Today, the sisters search with the people for new ways to enable them to survive in a country which confronts daily the effects of war and poverty. This African Photovoltaic Project has potential to save lives through education and medical care.
Miriam helps measure.
Often, the only escape from poverty comes through education. Today, primary and secondary educational programs operate with scarce materials for teachers and students. Most education programs rely on rote procedures, some visual materials and the common tools of pencils and paper. Textbooks are old, outdated and difficult to replace. Today, technology is the new way to provide updated and effective materials. The satellite provides an internet connection which allows teachers and students to network with wider educational resources.
Using the power of the sun saves lives. It can provide health for the body, mind and soul for thousands of Congolese people. This project has the potential to reach innumerable undereducated, undernourished, underprivileged each day and to extend life possibilities and expectancy into the future for countless people.
The fundraising goal for these projects is one million dollars ($1,000,000).
Click here to donate to these projects.