CSI Project Manager visits Bamenda, Cameroon

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Posted On: 07.16.2014

The following excerpt is from an email from Michael Wilson, CSI Project Manager:

Wednesday last week was a full day of travel from Yaounde to Bamenda, followed by meetings related to Torch Bearer Foundation’s (TBF’s) missionary work with our team. CSI project worked picked up from Sunday afternoon with preparations for the Reliable Energy Department ramp-up and field visits of the present week.

We spent two full days in meetings and worked with nine candidates for the SunBlazer sol energy program. Following the outline of the $150k short form proposal, from preparations by the TBF team prior to our arrival, a series of meetings and introductions secured eight candidates from the Bamenda Polytechnic University, and one candidate who heard of the opportunity and asked to participate (he is a physics teacher who is working toward his degree in Renewable Energy via an Italian long-distance learning program).

We have a group of young, intelligent, eager to learn, electric engineering trained men, and one woman.

Our goal was to have a 50%/50% mix of men to women, but alas, with the ration of male to female students at the Polytechnic, the pool of potential female candidates was quite small. We are fortunate to have even one. Nevertheless, we are seeing the potential of women from the business school participating in the program to help bolster the business planning and franchise model aspects of the SunBlazer deployment. As in the $150K proposal, the goal of building entrepreneurship skills is paramount to the vision of the TBF scheme to successful power scheme deployment in the rural off-grid village.

A considerable amount of time was also spent in introducing the overall SunBlazer scheme of deployment, a white-board review of the hardware of the SunBlazer and PBK, and other introductions on the goals of the program as a whole were introduced. The first day’s homework was to take home the SunBlazer written instructions and to list all of the words in the documents that they did not understand.

The first hour of the second day included a vocabulary check…U-bolt, torxs bit, wheel chalk, rickshaw mode, etc., are a few of the words and terms that needed some illumination. As English language instruction here follows largely British terminology, what we call a wrench, they know as a spanner.

The nine candidates were broken into three teams of three each. Each team was given 45-minutes of hands-on assembly work, while the other two teams were given the responsibilities of documentation, photography, and reading instructions. This afforded each person in the team to have a substantial period of physical contact with the hardware, while others took a deep interest in “filling in the blanks” of the instructions. Overall goal for the teams is to not just learn how to assemble a SunBlazer, but to also capture the full essence of its construction with an eye toward local manufacturing as well as in-turn developing the knowledge and materials to allow the future teaching of others.

Initial inspection of the unwrapped SunBlazer in transport mode indicated that the hardware was intact. Upon first opening of the wooden end caps of the front ‘end’ of the SB-II, although it still had the full poly-wrap from Chicago, AND had an additional covering of 6-mil plastic sheeting, water had nevertheless migrated into one end of the SB-II. Three of the white buckets containing tools were full of water, and water had pooled on the cardboard boxes below. Fortunately the unit was sitting on a slope which allowed water to directly drain out, so other than the three buckets full of water, there was no pooled water in the base of the station box. Suffice it to say, a substantial amount of time was spent drying the tools, bolts, clamps, etc. from the buckets. Fortunately, the only tool loss was the tape measure, its internal spring did not tolerate being submerged in water more than a month.

The last hour of the day was dedicated to review of what was accomplished, more indoctrination on the overall goals of the SunBlazer program, where these candidates fit into the overall scheme of the goal to impact 1M Cameroonians within five years, etc.

Everyone was tremendously excited, motivated, and engaged. These graduates have not found employment in their chosen profession within Cameroon, and greatly doubt they ever will. Trained largely as power engineers and T & D technicians, without any type of expansion of the existing national grid or power generation, there is little likely hood of them finding work directly related to their dreams and training.

Every one of them poured their livelihood into their Polytechnic EE degrees. None of them come from wealthy families. Their families don’t own cars and can’t afford schooling. One of the psychological tests administered was a 12-question GRIT evaluation which gives an indication of a person’s “true grit” to stick to and work towards a goal despite obstacles . . . Their passion is reflected in their determination to succeed. I was quite surprised that every one of them nearly maxed out on the GRIT scale, indicating that once they decide what they want to do, they don’t back down and keep at it until they get there.


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