When a loved one goes to prison, the emotional turmoil can be difficult for family members. But the children of incarcerated parents often carry the heaviest burden. While looking for an EPICS in IEEE project that would make a difference, leaders of the IEEE Student Branch of Xi’an Jiaotong University (XJTU) in Xi’an, China, learned about the Xi’an Children’s Village. For 20 years, its mission has been to shelter and care for children of incarcerated parents. Staff at the non-profit home look after about 80 youngsters, and ensure a warm, loving atmosphere. It helps to counter the children’s deep sense of loss, as well as the depression and shame felt by all but the very youngest.

Located in a mountainous area some distance from Xi’an, a major northwestern city of more than 5.5 million people, Xi’an Children’s Village had experienced problems with its power supply in recent summers. Frequent blackouts caused by power rationing in the region’s electrical grid create anxiety for everyone – especially the children. Their daily routine is disrupted, along with their already fragile sense of security and wellbeing.

In 2015, the IEEE Student Branch at XJTU submitted a project application to EPICS in IEEE for a low-power photovoltaic power system for the children’s home – enough for lighting and other basic electrical needs during the blackouts. An US$8,200 grant was approved for a two-year period. When completed, the Student Members hope the system will demonstrate the effectiveness of renewable energy generation
to a small town adjacent to Xi’an Children’s Village; if the town can obtain funding, the students want to eventually provide it with a grid-connected renewable power system.

Meanwhile, XJTU students have involved high school students from a university affiliated high school; they are helping to plan, design, build and install the system. This hands-on aspect is introducing them to engineering and renewable energy, while also establishing the value of an engineering career. Youngsters at the home also are being introduced to electrical engineering and renewable energy topics – and older children will be encouraged to take part in helping to build the power system.

Out of the darkness, there’s optimism for bright, positive futures for everyone.