One of the goals of Switch Energy Alliance (SEA) is to increase awareness of the vast number of people who live with little or no electricity (called energy poverty) and how that impacts their lives. SEA not only wants to enlighten the public on the issue of lack of energy access, we want to make a difference at the individual level. In furtherance to those goals, SEA set out to install a 3,300-watt solar-powered system capable of providing power to seven communal buildings in the village of Gunchukwa, Colombia.
The project began in 2017 when SEA staff toured several villages located on Arhuaco indigenous lands in northeastern Colombia. The initial visit was guided by Bob Freling, Executive Director of Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), and Steve and Osi McCarney who lived in Colombia and worked for SELF. Several villages expressed interest in electrifying community buildings. The village of Gunchukwa contacted Steve in November of 2017 requesting assistance to power up seven community huts. The SEA board, chaired by Scott Tinker, voted that this mission would adequately meet the mission of SEA.
SEA employees Derek Tinker, Sarah Jane Todd, and Doug Ratcliff were assigned the non-trivial task of putting in place the logistics necessary for a successful trip. The project team included six interns who gained first-hand knowledge of the impact of deficient or nonexistent electricity on village life and health; of the power of a well-organized and well-run team; and the emotional experience of working hard to provide a positive result for those in need. The entire mission was filmed by Harry Lynch, Director of Arcos Films and his crew. The film footage will be used in the feature-length documentary Switch On, in SEA promotional and instructional material, and in web-based, educational film products.
The project was completed on February 16, 2018 when at 7:00 PM local time, the Arhuaco Mamo (village leader) “flipped the switch” and the newly installed 3 KW solar system lit up the central village gathering place, turned three ceiling fans in the thatched-roof community center, and turned on the refrigerator/freezer to provide the first “frozen food” many had ever seen. Gunchukwa would be seen for the first time by satellite that night. The villagers celebrated with a feast of barbecued lamb, traditional music, and dancing until 5:00 AM.
The Gunchukwa project was an extraordinary success on many fronts and will be remembered by all involved!
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