Students from Girls Inc. demonstrate how to use a solar suitcase for emergency lighting. The suitcases will be delivered to Ecuador this spring.
SOLEDAD — Out of the 2,000 California youth who built clean energy kits as part of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Solar Suitcase program this year, two students from Girls Inc. in Monterey County have been selected to deliver solar suitcases to energy-scarce communities in rural Ecuador this spring.
Roxanna Javier from Alisal High School in Salinas and Rosaisela Barroso from Soledad High School in Soledad will gain valuable leadership skills on a 12-day service-learning trip to Ecuador, where they will deliver We Share Solar suitcases built by students from across California.
A total of six students and three teachers will install the suitcases with partner schools, women’s empowerment organizations and community groups in Ecuador in collaboration with WE Charity.
The students will share sustainable energy tips and advance their own understanding of the technology by teaching their peers in Ecuador how to build, install and maintain the kits.
“These students have proven that they are energy-smart environmental leaders and have earned a rare opportunity to apply their classroom education to solve real-world sustainability challenges. Although this trip might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the impact will be felt over the years as they return home. This program confirms PG&E’s focus on expanding STEM education and cultivating 21st century job skills, particularly for youth from underserved communities in our service area,” said Travis Kiyota, PG&E vice president of California External Affairs.
Selection for the suitcase installation trip was competitive and required video submissions about student-led local environmental sustainability projects. Examples of local sustainability projects included park cleanups, water and energy conservation drives and composting campaigns.
“We are very excited for the opportunity to partner with PG&E and We Share Solar on this amazing project to help aid others across the world. Opportunities like these allow our girls to expand their minds and hearts. We are proud of each one of our participants for their commitment and leadership. We cannot wait to hear about their amazing journey to Ecuador,” said Patty Fernandez-Torres, executive director of Girls Inc. of the Central Coast.
Javier and Barroso were part of a team of five students led by Girls Inc. of the Central Coast. The students took an unusual approach to the project, linking climate change with the need to enhance disaster resilience in their own community.
The team updated the emergency plan at Girls Inc., built emergency supply kits and designed pamphlets with information about how to safely respond to hazards. They built solar suitcases and incorporated them into the plan for use as emergency lighting and charging stations in the event of a major disaster. The youth went a step further, sharing their knowledge and supplies with other tenants in their building and participating in a three-day teen CERT training, qualifying them to serve as emergency response volunteers in their community.
“These young people are demonstrating their commitment to learning about the environment and sharing what they have learned across the world,” stated Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter. “This opportunity allows them to shine even brighter as ambassadors of clean energy and sustainable practices with other youths in Ecuador. PG&E should be thanked for this amazing opportunity and learning experience.”
We Care Solar, a Berkeley-based nonprofit, designed the suitcases and provided trainings on how to assemble them so that students learned the basic principles of clean energy technical education. Nearly 4,000 California students have been engaged in the program since it began in 2015.
PG&E has provided more than 200 We Share Solar suitcase kits to nearly 50 high schools and nonprofit organizations throughout Northern and Central California. Those suitcases now help light the community spaces of more than 28,000 students in Kenya, where students traveled during the first two years of the program, as well as other energy-scarce regions of the world. It is part of the company’s $400,000 sponsorship to provide sustainable energy project opportunities for local youth.
The PG&E Solar Suitcase collaboration adds a new global dimension to PG&E’s commitment to STEM education and renewable energy. PG&E will cover all expenses for the 12-day trip, including airfare, meals, accommodations, special excursions and passport/visa fees for students and chaperones.