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Solar Innovations Project in Tanzania – My inspiration comes from a favourite song written by the iconic Canadian singer and songwriter Neil Young called “Ordinary People”. Our project was to install a solar charging station at the VETA Hotel and Tourism Training Institute (VHTTI) located in Njoro a village on the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania. We were successful. The hotel now has a lovely shaded construction where guests of the hotel can sit, enjoy a beverage and charge their phones. But, the success of our project is not measured by the concrete and steel structure nor by the photo voltaic panels, wire and battery. The success of our project is measured by the ordinary people who came together to build it…. “the hard-working people. The patch of ground people.”

Three dedicated and adventurous NSCC engineering technology students journeyed to Tanzania with a singular focus to design and construct a solar charging station. Jean Marc dedicated many hours starting in December as part of his capstone engineering project. He modelled, analyzed scenarios, selected components and wrote code. Ben and Loic worked equally diligently starting in April. As a team, we ordered material and equipment; preassembled and tested systems before travelling; and sourced equipment to be delivered to Arusha. While in Arusha, we worked with a spirit of teamwork and with the common goal of a successful completion. Over the course of the two weeks these students, these ordinary people discovered that the project was about so much more. On our last day, after an evening spent with our new Tanzanian friends eating traditional barbeque, each one of them shared their awe at how touched they are by the experience. Like me, they struggled to put into words the emotions that they felt. We worked with extraordinary and ordinary people from Tanzania who changed our lives.

Elisha and Hanes, students of VETA and JJ their teacher were our guides the first evening for a tour of Njoro. They told us about plants, insects, and the river. Elisha told about his life growing up in a traditional Maasia village and about his ambition to be a tour guide and how one day he wants to own his own tour company. He taught us Maasia sign language for the numbers one to ten; actually, he taught us 1 to 99. 

Lucy, August and the other wait and housekeeping students and staff at the hotel worked from early in the morning until late at night. They always greeted us with a warm smile. Every day, Chef and the kitchen staff made us delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. They taught us to make traditional chapatti and soup. They slaughtered a chicken and made us soup for breakfast. 

Emanuel, our safari guide, drove us for two days. He showed us the lions, zebras, hyaenas, birds, baboons, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, elephants… He taught us Swahili words. Joseph and Chaz, our drivers for many outings, patiently put up with our non-stop chatter and shrieks of surprise. They taught us Swahili words. Mama Happiness, the namesake of “the Happiness Project” took time from her busy schedule to socialize. She made us laugh. She made me a birthday cake. She taught us Swahili words.

Chris Ayo, Principal for VHTTI, is a great leader who makes it happen. He gave us his time. He greeted us and took us to a local pub for barbequed chicken. He told us about his family, his trips to Canada, his education which includes a degree obtained while studying in Japan. He speaks many languages. He taught us Swahili words.

Stan, Deo and Isaac, managerial, IT and maintenance staff were assigned to our project. They generously spent many hours with us and went above and beyond the call of duty to make the project a success and to make our stay wonderful. They organized outings, drivers and went with us to make sure everything went smoothly. They hired a contractor. Together we developed and adapted a design for the structure. They went to stores to buy supplies. Without complaint, they went again when we forgot to order wire. They told us about their families and their education. Stan worked to support himself while completing a master’s degree in the UK.  Isaac introduced us to his son. Isaac and Deo are great singers who attend choir practice three times a week. As an engineering technologist, Isaac made fast friends with our NSCC students. He had a great appetite for learning. We showed him how to use the modeling software for solar projects. Stan, Deo and Isaac taught us Swahili words.

Our contractor, Festo and his apprentices fabricated and installed the steel structure, installed the roof, and mounted the solar panels and charge controller. They arrived early in the morning and worked tirelessly until after dark to get the job done. I did not see them take a break. The construction proceeded quickly and with superb craftsmanship. Festo took us to his shop where he is teaching three apprentices. He took us to his humble home to meet his beautiful wife and six children. The oldest is 14 and the youngest are three-year-old twins … Eric and Erica. The family is loving and spiritual. They fed us soda and peanuts. They gifted us with a chicken (the one that chef cooked). The family has so little and yet they have so much. In the words of Neil Young, Festo is “hard working people. Just don’t know what it means to give up people. Patch of ground people.” He is an ordinary man fighting to make a better life for his children.

Another important person, an ordinary person is Susan, my colleague, fellow engineer and intrepid partner for the past few years on NSCC International projects. The project would not have succeeded without her support and leadership. It was hard work and it was challenging but it is one of the most rewarding experiences that we will have in our careers. I am so grateful that she was with us. 

Now that Susan, Jean March, Ben and Loic are home, I wonder if they too experience inexplicable tears as waves of emotion from the experience filter through their thoughts… “Ordinary people. They’re going to bring the good things back. Hard working people.” 

Cynthia Rogers

Mechanical Engineering Technology Faculty

NSCC Ivany Campus

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