Saving lives in Uganda using the power of the sun
Shannon Fulton, ISEA Board President and Director of Illinois Business Development for StraightUp Solar, recently returned from SW Uganda where she served as a WE CARE Solar Ambassador training local health facility staff on the installation, use, and maintenance of the Solar Suitcase. WE CARE stands for Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity and provides an innovative solar solution in a little yellow suitcase of power called the Solar Suitcase, designed to provide lighting and enable communication to save the lives of mothers and babies during childbirth. Click here for more information about the Solar Suitcase and WE CARE Solar.
WE CARE’s recent project in SW Uganda is part of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) grant awarded by Grand Challenges Canada to support the Saving Lives and Birth (SLAB) initiative to improve maternal mortality outcomes in 4 districts in rural SW Uganda, specifically in the Districts of Kabale, Kisoro, Rukungiri, and Kanungu. The project includes 105 health centers of various sizes and 147 solar suitcase systems. Fulton’s role as a Solar Suitcase Ambassador is to co-train with three other Ambassadors and Co-Founder Hal Aronson approximately 30 local health inspectors and cold chain technicians, teaching them to install, use, and maintain the Solar Suitcase systems. The Solar Suitcase systems incorporated different components for this area of Uganda, including two 80 W modules and a 38Ah Victron battery to accomodate lower sun resource conditions than typically present at the equator, but that exist in SW Uganda due to the elevation and misty microclimate.
Following the two weeks of Solar Suitcase teaching and installation, the students are very well prepared to carry-out the remaining installations on their own and understand well how to teach health centers staff about the use and maintainance of the systems. “My favorite part of the training is watching and listening to the students speak in their native language as they practice teaching about the Suitcase” says Fulton. She is also proud that WE CARE recognizes technology transfer alone is not enough and reports “From the very beginning, health worker training of the type I am performing was an important focus of WE CARE Solar programs. Not only are installers and health center workers trained well to improve the health center conditions and ultimately reduce infant and mother mortality, but the children and community members are often at the same time receiving their very first electricity education. How wonderful that their first experience with electricity is a solar-powered one!”
Community leaders at one of the health centers accept the Solar Suitcase system as their own before WE CARE started construction. This presentation to the community happened at the beginning of each intallation and in one case at a larger facility, the community erupted in song and dance!
The children always appeared at every health center to watch and enjoy with excitement. They were such fun! One young beautiful grinning girl ran alongside our departing vehicle and shouted “You have loved us!”
Our team for the installations in Kabale District. Ugandans are such polite, patient, and loving people – full of life! Their engaging kindness and warmth effortlessly dissolves our communication and cultural boundaries.
Please feel free to read Shannon’s ISEA Facebook posts,which record her work in Uganda.