After spending four long days building the physical structure, Ben and I were thrilled to get back to the bigger picture and move on to the next phase of the project. Now that the building was finished, it was time to meet the women chosen by the village elders to run the business and begin installing the system itself.
First we wanted to get the actual solar panels positioned behind the center. We designed a metal frame and had a welder put together several metal poles using the perfect stick welding machine for the job! This was to elevate the panels off the ground and make sure they were secure. The panels are made of glass, so we wanted to make sure there was no risk of them falling and breaking, while placing them out of reach of kids and animals. Attaching the panels felt like an SAT problem gone wrong. At this moment in time, I did secretly wish that we could put these panels on the roofs, as a solar installer would’ve been able to help make this process a lot easier to carry out. But we somehow found a way. We had holes drilled in the metal frame for the screws to fit in, but for some reason, it wasn’t lining up and we spent the better part of an hour figuring out how to attach it all. Shak suggested we work from the ground up and were able to overcome our temporary brain freeze to secure the panels and cement the metal frame into the ground.
The community was in awe of the high-tech equipment and we had a constant group of about fifteen people just standing around us watching the whole time. Once we finished they started to lick the wires coming from the panels to see if they were live and feeding electricity…luckily for them that’s not quite how it works or else they might have been in for quite a shock.
Once we installed the panels, we wanted to begin training the women. Upon our initial arrival in Wambong we had asked the village chief and his council of elders to select two women who were well respected within the community and would have the time and ability to ensure the success of the new solar center. Choosing to work with women in the community is a very intentional decision. Women’s empowerment is a cornerstone of Community Water Solutions’ and InnovaSun’s missions. Providing women with economic opportunities and elevating their role in society has proven to spur development all across the world. Many believe that women are the world’s most underutilized resource.
Still, we were nervous requesting to work with women because working with electronics and appliances is usually considered “man’s work” and we weren’t sure the community would be receptive to women running the business or even believing in their ability to do so. Luckily, the village did not hesitate to choose two exceptional women, assigning, Salima and Chang Chang to run the center.
If anyone had doubts about the women’s ability to run the center, they were immediately put to rest. They quickly picked up the intricacies of positive and negative currents, they understood the circuit pathway from panel to socket, and began asking about expanding their business and charging people for television. We also coached the women on financial planning, stressing the importance of saving in the event of anything happening to any of the (very expensive) equipment. Finally, we had the women start working with a few of the materials until the battery connected to the socket. We plugged in a phone to show them that it had worked and when the picture of a charging battery popped up on the screen they both lit up and started clapping excitedly. It was so satisfying to see women with no formal education pick up something so quickly and show a strong desire to learn more.
The women were soon given the opportunity to show off their newfound knowledge when we began to install and wire the rest of the system in front of a crowd of curious onlookers. Shak kept joking about Ghana’s newest electricians and more than one person in the village commented on how easy the women made it look. We took a hands-off approach only giving direction and explanation while Salima and Chang Chang physically connected everything – cutting cables, striping wires, and screwing everything into place. You could tell the women were enjoying the work and I must say it felt pretty darn good to prove some of the naysayers wrong.
After wiring the panels together and feeding them it into the solar center, the women connected the charge controller, batteries, and inverter, feeding it all toward a wall socket. Once everything was connected we hit the on switch and voila! Let there be light! Immediately all the people who had been watching us assemble everything started materializing their cell phones out of nowhere asking us to try and charge it…all in good time.
With that our new Solar Center is ready for business. Tomorrow we will be distributing lanterns to all the households in the community and throwing a party to commemorate opening day of the center! Check back soon to hear all about it.