Changing Lives One LED Lightbulb at a Time

By: Jacqueline Herrera, Co-founder and Director

 

A while back, I wrote about how excited we were about our partnership with Engineers without Borders, an organization comprised of professional engineers who provide low cost or pro bono services to organizations doing development in the field.
Since we take on some really diverse, and often fascinating projects (aquaponics farms, greenhouses, water purification, etc.), I knew that we would immensely benefit from having an expert weigh in and give us feedback.

Photo: EWB Australia

Photo: EWB Australia

When you are dealing with different vendors across the world, jumping through language barriers, time zones, foreign currencies, and cultural practices, developing a project can get super complicated, super fast. One day we have to know everything about the life cycle of Tilapia, and the next day calculate how fast we can get six greenhouses to provide a daily serving of fruits and vegetables to over 200 children at a partner home. And let’s not even get started on calculating the energy use of a partner home in watts, and dividing that by the hours per day and multiplying it by the cost of kw/h…I lost myself there too!
This is where EWB comes in – we have a dedicated engineer who is able to provide us feedback and guidance on everything from the most trusted vendors in the field, to making sure we are considering all aspects of a project before we sign any contracts, to even helping us decide whether the project should exist at all.

Soweto Slums

Soweto Slums

Our latest foray in development was a solar panel installation at the Good Samaritan Children’s Home, located in the Soweto slums of Nairobi.  The home provides refuge to over 70 children, most whom are babies that were abandoned in the slums. With nowhere else to go, and not enough support from the government’s social services department, the home is crucial to these infants’ survival. Babies are expensive – as I learned recently when I became a mother to my 11-month old daughter – so we brainstormed a way to eliminate some costs for the home so that they would not be under financial strain and could divert what funding they have to hire a social worker, who could facilitate the adoption of some of the infants. Energy was a big cost in the home, so we immediately thought a solar panel installation would work. The home had a large open roof and we began the process of researching solar panel vendors and partners in Nairobi. The cost was upwards of $8,000, which seemed about the right price range. We then asked our engineer to look over the proposal and give us the OK or make suggestions. Instead, he told us something very different, and very exciting.

Our energy use calculations

Our energy use calculations

After looking at the energy use of the home, (which was done by compiling a table of all light bulbs, all appliances, their wattage, hours used per day, etc.), he realized that we could actually almost eliminate the energy cost of the home by simply switching to LED light bulbs – something that would cost about $500 USD. Replacing the bulbs will reduce an estimated 90% of the current energy bills, and save us over $7500 for a project that simply was not necessary.
Solar energy is important and it has its time and place, but the systems are also expensive, complex, and can be high maintenance, which is why we have moved ahead with replacing over 40 bulbs at the home, rewiring the electrical system to support this change, and providing backup bulbs for replacement. Now comes the monitoring part, which we’ll do for one year – monitoring the cost saved and how the home is able to use the funding saved to fund more important aspects of their mission – such as providing love, care, nutrition, and even reunification with families to their children.

With one of the infants at the Good Samaritan Home

With one of the infants at the Good Samaritan Home

We remain grateful and fascinated by all that we learn through our projects, and all the time and guidance that our pro-bono volunteers and partners are willing to give, to make the world a better place for all. Whether you are giving your time, your money, or your knowledge, there is so much you can do to be a part of our mission. Learn more here. And I highly recommend you replace your lightbulbs to LED!

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room

By: Jacqueline Herrera, Co-founder and Director

Last week, I received an email that included the following:

“Looking at the number of batteries, 8 at 12 volt, they could have designed this as 8 strings at 12 volts, 4 strings at 24 volt or 2 strings at 48 volt.  The last would be best, as three strings is generally the limit for good performance and 2 is better.  The 16 solar panels at 120 watts to stay within the 120 amp limit of the two 60 amp rated charge controllers mean the system is most likely designed to be 24 or 48 volt system.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 16.54.08
Source: Google Images

I stared at that paragraph and re-read it maybe around 8 times, trying to follow the numbers and volts and watts and see how they were actually related, but it was all Greek to me. One of the coolest parts of my job is the amazing knowledge I gain when researching and structuring our projects on the ground. One day I’m looking up the life cycle of a Tilapia, another day I’m researching virus and disease in tomatoes, and the next could be propagation of water born illnesses in unmaintained wells. Some of the stuff is random, but it’s all fascinating and challenging.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 16.59.32
Kitechild Co-Founder assessing the situation for a potential project in Bapatla, India

Books, Google, and research papers aren’t enough though. After we had a setback in one of our solar projects in Liberia, due to our lack of understanding the principles of such an installation when it came down to troubleshooting, I knew we needed to be more prepared for the next time. So I called in the big guns: Engineers Without Borders. You may have heard of a similar organization, the prestigious Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers. Engineers Without Borders works in the same way – expert, knowledgeable leaders in the engineering field volunteer their time and expertise to underdeveloped communities and small NGOs needing assistance with technical projects. With our new partnership, they have so far provided much needed insight on our issues in Liberia, and expert guidance on a new solar installation in Kenya.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 17.01.23
Source: Engineers Without Borders USA

There is a saying that states “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. At Kitechild, we are always learning about new ways to help communities care for their vulnerable children. The work itself is rewarding, but we can always learn more from others. It is amazing to see how other people are doing their part to do good in the world by sharing their knowledge, time, and expertise to others. Whether that is engineering, medicine, teaching, etc. you never know how your job could one day do so much to improve the lives of others. There is always something more to learn, and keeping that door open and welcoming the insight of others is a crucial savvy move for any company or organization. We are very excited about this partnership and look forward to it benefitting the outcomes of our projects. Check out www.ewb-usa.org for more information.

X