*Photos taken by Ms.Caleb Leseine of the JKUAT Christian Union.

Education can improve the lives of entire communities – but that education should not be hampered by whether the sun is shining. At Kasiluni Primary School in the isolated rural town of Kasiluni, Kenya, the lack of connection to the national power grid not only limited the available hours of instruction but also completely prohibited electronic devices to aid learning. Teachers also could not plan lessons efficiently or help students prepare for grueling national examinations.

Kasiluni is the only primary school within 25 km, serving 600 pupils in six grade levels in this community 100 km from the capitol city of Nairobi. Without electricity, the school also struggled to provide security during the overnight hours, worried about potential losses from theft or vandalism.

Since 2009, members of the IEEE Kenya Section Student Branch, through the Society of Engineering Students at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) near Nairobi, have volunteered their time to improve the school’s infrastructure. In 2012, a group of IEEE Kenya Student Members used a $7,990 EPICS in IEEE grant to install solar photovoltaic panels and batteries. Their project dovetailed with other volunteer efforts of students from the Christian Union at JKUAT, including a $4,500 grant from the Constituency Development Fund of the Government of Kenya to construct new school buildings.

The Student Members also leveraged their association with Eco Technics, a leader in sustainable energy solutions in East Africa. In a three-day, hands-on workshop, Eco Technics trained 12 IEEE Student Members on solar technology and installation. The company also provided the solar equipment and accessories at a discount. Students then prepared engineering drawings and installed lights in the first classroom, staff room and the head teacher’s office.

Next, the engineering students conducted their own workshop on solar technology, systems and installation for about 100 youngsters from Kasiluni’s Ngomeni Secondary School. The workshop emphasized how technology and engineering can solve community problems – with an emphasis on electrical engineering.

After the workshop, the secondary school’s science club assisted in the final phase of installing the solar array. The IEEE Student Members also demonstrated to the community at large the importance of science and technology, highlighting the benefits of solar technology. The Kasiluni Primary School Parents Association provided security during the project, and took ownership of the system on its completion. The collaboration has done more than simply shine light in dark places:

  • Students can come to school earlier and stay later, teachers can prepare lesson plans and mentor students from their offices earlier in the morning and into the evening, improving the quality of education available to the students of Kasiluni Primary.
  • IEEE Student Members transferred their theoretical learning into practical experience installing solar technology.
  • Students in Ngomeni Secondary learned more about solar technology and electrical engineering, introducing them to the opportunities available in engineering as a career.
  • The village is now seeking further support for the school from the Kenyan Constituency Development Fund, as well as other initiatives like One-Laptop-Per-Child.

Light, it is said, is good from whatever lamp it shines. An entire community came together to illuminate educational opportunities in Kenya, harnessing the power of the sun to shine on the teachers and students of Kasiluni Primary School.