It was a dream more than 10 years ago by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) to bring solar panels to Africa to create electricity, provide internet communication and access to clean water. That dream has since become a reality in several parts of the continent, and now, the Sisters are training to become experts in how to repair solar panels used overseas. Two senior capstone groups are hoping they can assist the Sisters with their goal as part of their senior capstone projects.
On Wednesday, January 6, Marco Espino, Stephen Hoendorf, Rachel Marx, Jake Murray, Kate Quinttus, Sal Schwendeman, Ian Simon and Joey Zavacky, went to the SNDdeN campus in Reading, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. The group was joined by their mentors, John Marshall '86, CJ principal and Meg Draeger, CJ STEMM Coordinator.
"There was a vision of how our school's curriculum would impact world problems in a hands-on manner," shared Marshall. "After several years of developing our STEMM program, and addressing real-world problems in a partnership with the senior capstone, we are engaging with the SNDdeN on environmental issues like the need for electricity and clean water."
The Sisters of Notre Dame can be found spreading God's word and helping those in need in five continents - North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. In Africa, the Sisters were looking for ways to provide electricity to the poor and help purify their water supply. Then in 2005, the SNDdeN created the Photovoltaic Project, with the first solar panel overseas constructed in Fugar, Nigeria.
"I thought it was really neat to hear the Sister's stories and to hear how the Photovoltaic systems help people in Africa," reflected Simon.
"What really stuck with me was the involvement of the Sisters with these systems," added Espino. "They install them and maintain them to the best of their capabilities without having any experience in that general field of technology. It is outstanding."
Since 2005, five other solar panel sites have been installed in African countries. The SNDdeN not only want to expand this project, but hope to improve the current systems in place. That's one reason why the SNDdeN approved and support the development of a Photovoltaic Learning Lab on a garage/maintenance building on the south side of their campus. Students from CJ and Mt. Notre Dame High School will be the first to use the lab.
"The components of the system are twelve 265 Watt solar panels, batteries, an inverter (to convert electricity from DC to AC,) and a controller," Draeger said. "We watched the two electricians work on the roof of the garage, measuring and prepping to install the aluminum rail system that could hold the panels. Weight load and wind load had to be considered in designing the rail system, as the panels will weigh approximately 700 pounds."
Once the Sisters are trained with how to operate and repair their solar panels, they will become the source for Sisters around the world who have questions about solar panels in other countries. To help the SNDdeN, Draeger's capstone group plans to write a manual about the systems that the Sisters can use as a reference. Marshall's capstone group hopes to communicate the Sisters' mission to those who are unaware of their Photovoltaic project.
Another highlight of the trip for the students was getting to talk to the Sisters and hear stories about their previous missions.
"The best part about the whole trip was seeing how much these women have affected the world," reflected Marx. "One of the Sisters had started a school in Africa about 40 years ago. They described that back then the school had a simple one floor building. Recently, one of the Sisters went back to the school and showed us some pictures about how far the school has come. There were big schools with multiple stories and 900 girls attend the school. The fact that this Sister has changed so many people's lives amazes me."
Quinttus added, "I really enjoyed speaking with all of the Sisters and hearing about the different mission work they did in other countries. One of the Sisters talked to me about her time in Alaska working with Native Americans and how there was little to no electricity in any of the buildings or homes. I also enjoyed seeing the solar panels and hearing about how they effected the people in African countries."
Installation of the Learning Lab is expected to be completed within a week.
Pictures courtesy: Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur – Ohio Province, Development Office and John Marshall.