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June 25th, 2013 by Aaron Segura

To whom it may concern,

This is our first blog post – it has been a very long time coming.  Before I introduce my partner, myself, and our project, I want to present a quick two part question. Although this question is a bit generic, it is one that has surrounded my thoughts lately and is much in part the drive behind this project for me : How/why was I was born into such a fortunate situation? How can I take advantage of my fortunate reality, where nearly anything is possible, and use it to make the reality of someone who is less fortunate just a little bit better? This question is one that I will undoubtedly be striving to answer for the rest of my life and one that will come in the form of many different answers.

My most recent answer to this question is the LEEP program, an orphanage in Ethiopia, Sarah Brinson, and solar technology. Sarah is my partner on this project and a fellow Clarkie. I couldn’t be happier to be working with her as she is a dear friend and a major reason this project is at all possible. Together we will be working with the executive director of the Selamta Family Project to install used solar panels on at least one – but ideally several – of their homes in order to cut over-head energy costs and allow for the orphanage to house more children. To make sure you, the dear reader, has an all encompassing idea of what this project looks like, I will write a bit on Selmata, how the project came about, and the work we will be doing this summer.

Selamta is a non-profit that operates out of Norwich, VT and conducts its work in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The organization was started by my good friend’s parents, Mike and Carol Foster (some of the most fantastic people I have come to meet) as an outlet to offer the multitudes of orphaned children that exist in Ethiopia an immediate, stable home. Because they are a non-profit, Selamta relies solely on donations and grants for funding. This means the number of children they can house is contingent upon the amount of money they collect in donations each year. This is where Sarah and myself will hopefully come in.

This project has loosely been in the making for a number of years and is finally coming to fruition this summer – thanks most in part to the LEEP program. The basis for our project is the brain child of Sarah’s father, Ashley Brinson, who worked as a chemical engineer for the majority of his career. Throughout his career, Ashley noticed that the company he worked for – which specializes in producing silicone for solar cells – would periodically replace their company solar panels leaving a stockpile of old panels essentially up for grabs. His idea was to work with his company to find a new home for the unused panels; a home that would directly benefit an underdevelopment community. This idea was passed onto Sarah and then to myself in the winter of 2011 where the brainstorming began. Although we loved the idea for this project, Sarah and I truly did not know how or when we could take on such a large task – especially being poor college students with busy schedules. Once we realized this project had a platform to take from – aka the LEEP program – champagne bottles popped and confetti flew everywhere – basically, we were incredibly pumped. Despite the champagne bottles and confetti however, we are still a very long way away from making a tangible impact. Our largest obstacle is figuring out the solar panel side of project and ultimately, acquiring panels – something Ashley has agreed to give us guidance with.

Because we do not expect to have solar panels in Ethiopia anytime in the immediate future, this summer our work has and will continue to mostly revolve around research. The second phase of our project is the implementation phase which will not take place until next summer (at the earliest). The majority of our research this summer will be geared towards learning how solar technology is used throughout Africa (specifically Ethiopia) and what regulations exist for shipping and installing solar panels abroad. We will also be trying to network with as many interested and knowledgeable people in the area as possible, in hope of Yoda-like guidance,  as well as refining the overall mission of our project to ensure that our work is truly effective and lasting.

I realize one blog post is not nearly enough to explain the work that we want to do with this project – and considering I have already bogged you all down with approximately 808 words - so I will be adding posts entailing our dreams/aspirations for this project as well as the progress we make throughout the rest of the summer.

Before I close I also want to give a big thanks and shout out to our faculty adviser, Professor Michael Butler, who has been incredibly supportive of our project from the beginning; Carol Foster for agreeing to work with Sarah and I; and Michele Bata for helping us make this a feasible project.

- Aaron

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