Thursday, May 26, 2016

Building Solar Charging Station in Gicaca, Kigali

This year we have fine tuned our solar power project.  AEE helped us selected 4 areas in the Gicaca cell Gikomero sector in Gazebo district of Kigali city, with a total of 120 household to whom we will provide electrical power.  We will install a solar charging station in each of the 4 areas.  We will put 12 20-watt solar panels on the roof of the house chosen as the charging station.  Each station can when charge 5 batteries at the same time.  

We will wire up the 120 households with 4 LED lights and phone chargers, powered by a solar battery.  These households can then bring their batteries to the charging stations to be charged, and then take them home to power their LED lights and phone chargers.  This way 30 households can share the same set of solar panels efficiently, enabling us to provide as many households with electricity as possible. 

We brought the almost-completed assembled solar panels to the station, performed final assembly, and then proceeded to hoist them up on to the roof.  The solar panels were heavy.  We positioned a crew on the roof, a crew at the top of the ladders, and a crew at the foot of the ladders.  With coordinated movement, we managed to secure the solar panels on the roof quickly.  

Our students then proceed to teach the local youths to wire up the station, install charge controllers, and install the LED lights.  

It is exciting to see the system gradually coming into shape.   At the end, we hope to see 120 household with electricity for lighting and phone charging, and a team of local youths with the technical skills to install and maintain the systems. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Half Marathon in Kigali

It just happened that the Kigali International Peace Marathon is run while I am here.  It is too good an opportunity to pass over.  There are, however, a number of factors that make it a daunting challenge.  The elevation in Kigali is around 1,500 meters, making the air thinner, hence rendering it harder to run for people like us living on sea level.  Kigali is also the city of a thousand hills, hence the race course has a lot of steep uphill climbs.  And it is right on the equator, hence the sun is very bright, making it very hot to run.  

Despite all that, I was determined to run.  I was helped when I met my new friend Vincent as I entered the stadium.  He was very kind to stay with me for the first 10 kilometers.  Then we somehow get separated.  Fortunately, he found me again at the end, and even treated me to a cup of black coffee. 

I completed 21 kilometers, a half-marathon.  Given the conditions, I knew there is no way that I can compete the full marathon.  So I stopped after making one loop of the race course (the full marathon consists of 2 loops).  My legs were threatening to cramp around the 19th kilometre.  As soon as I stopped, both legs started to cramp and it was very painful.  I could barely stand.  Fortunately, some of the medical workers noticed that.  3 eventually came over to support me, and ended up carrying me to the treatment room.  

Someone took off my shoes and socks to make me more comfortable.  They also put ice on my legs and massaged them.  When I felt better I tried to put on my socks and shoes.  But to do that I had to bend my legs and the cramps would start again.   Eventually, after perhaps 20 minutes, I felt good enough to get up.  

Oh, there was, naturally, a gorilla in the race - this being Rwanda. 

After taking a shower and taking lunch, I feel much better.  Then we got back to work.  The leaders of our team met with the University of Maryland team leaders to sort out the project arrangements for the coming week.  And our students got busy making preparations.  At 4:30 we have a lecture on community assessment. 

This is a Sunday.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

SL in Rwanda - Gashora

A propeller plane made by Bombardier of Canada, operated by Rwanda Air, taking off from Entebbe in Uganda, to take me - a Hong Konger, to Kigali in Rwanda, flying over Lake Victoria and Tanzania, to our 2016 service-learning projects in Rwanda.  

We have a new project in Gashora this year, 1.5 hours south of Kigali, in collaboration with University of Pennsylvania.  Gashora Girls Academy is a top high school in Rwanda, recruiting the best girls from across the country, teaching them science and sending many of them to top universities overseas.  One of the girls, in the second cohort, graduated from GGS in 2015, completed her first year at University of Pennsylvania, and is back with the Penn team this summer.  One of the projects this year is to improve the computer network at GGS.  

Nearby is a primary school endowed with 100+ OLPCs (One Laptop Per Child).  We will install a file server with lots of e-learning material, connected to a wireless router linked to the Internet with a SIM card.  It gives the school the option to connect to the Internet for a fee, or to operate it as a self-contained Internet-in-a-box without actually connecting to the “Internet”.  

In a nearby clinic, there is a water collection and filtration system installed by Emory University.  Water is collected from gutters on the roof and stored in a tank underground.  It is then filtered and chlorinated for use.  Unfortunately, it does not work when it does not rain, which lasts more than half of the year.   U Penn plans to install a pipe and a solar-powered pump to bring water from the lake, 1.5 kilometre away, to the storage tank.  

One of the pitfalls of this kind of system is the variation in the water level in the like.  A similar, but much smaller system installed by Penn last year is now partially submerged by the unexpectedly high water level this year. 

There is much work to do. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Educating the youth of Uganda

77% of the 38 million people in Uganda are under 30.  The unemployment rate for young people aged  15-24 is 83%.  That’s part of the reason that AEE Uganda puts so much effort into education, as investment for the future of the country.   Most of the 1,000 students are not on campus at Nile Vocational Institute.  (By the way, it is situated at the point where the water in Lake Victoria flows into the Nile.  6,853 kilometres later, the Nile discharges into the Mediterranean Sea. How long is the Nile?  It is more than 3 times the distance from Hong Kong to Beijing.)  

Nevertheless, some of the youths remained.  Some are practicing hairstyling skills on each other.  I was told it takes 3 hours to do this one.  Yet when I asked them whether it is hard to do this, they giggled and said “no”.  

Three students cooked our lunch.  

Some were preparing for a public examination in Accounting. 

Some were taking a test on basic Computing Science.  How can you study computer science with 18 ancient computers for 1,000 students?  Much is done “in theory”, I suppose. 

It is an enormous task educating the youth in Uganda.  But there is no other choice.  Not investing in it would be suicidal.  For AEE Uganda, this is the "deed" part of their mission - to serve in both word and deed.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nile Vocational Institute

Today I visited the Nile Vocational Institute in Njeru, ~70 kilometres east of Kampala, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria.  It is one of the 3 vocational schools run by AEE Uganda.  The school compound is green and tidy, with a huge soccer field. 

It has some wonderful old Singer sewing machines.  

They actually still teach their students to use hand planers.

They have a made-in-Shanghai vernier calliper in its original box, in their automobile shop. 

Three students in the hospitality program made us a very nice lunch of fried chicken, potatoes and vegetables. I like the potatoes particularly. 

I met many of the teachers.  They seem shy, but sincere and caring.  The school used to receive major financial sponsorship from a German organization, which enabled them to take in a lot of orphans and street children for free.  But the Germans stopped supporting.  Now they have to charge at least partial school fees.  But how much can the orphans and street children pay?  The roofs of some of the buildings are debilitated and leak when it rains.  

They have 18 ancient computers for 1,000 students.  There is no network, and no Internet. 

They do have Internet access for the teachers, room and administrative offices. They want to extend Internet access to the students, but found it prohibitively expensive.  They ask for help.  Can we?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Overflowing church in Kampala

I am in Uganda to meet with African Evangelical Enterprise Uganda to explore possibilities for service-learning projects.  Soon after setting things down, at around 6 PM, I went out for a walk before dinner.  This is the centre of the city, but there are not too many people on the streets, perhaps because it is Sunday.  

The streets are not as clean as those in Rwanda, but it is not too bad.  I was conscious that I was the only non-black face on the street.  Two little kids followed me for quite some time, begging.  I was not too worried, but I was too conspicuous.  Many minibuses and even more motorbike taxis approached me to solicit patronage.  

Suddenly I heard some people singing what seemed like hymns.  Soon I traced the sound to a church.  There are more than a hundred people attending outside the church, many standing on the side walk.  Evidently there were too many people who wanted to attend mass there.  

Many were quite young.  In particular, there were many young men.  That’s quit different from the situation in China, where they seems to be more older folks in the church.  

An overflowing church with many young people is a good thing. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

The people of UAE

The United Arab Emirates, similar to many other Gulf States, has many more expatriates (7.8 million) than citizens (1.4 million, 15% of the population).  
When I was running on the streets, I met 4 young people from Pakistan taking their lunch break from work on the side walk.  They were very friendly, and invited me to share their lunch. 

A very kind security guard from Kashmir showed me the way to get to the Ai Ain Oasis. 

At the conference itself, there were many delegates from the Gulf States.  Among them, many came originally from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand, …   There is this big guy working at the Petroleum Institute of the UAE.  Most of their students are UAE citizens who will end up working for the petroleum industry.  But he himself was from Syria.  He has been working at the UAE for more than 20 years, but he has no chance of becoming an UAE citizen.  Fortunately he can review his passport at the embassy.  

At the Dubai airport, there seems to be a lot of people from the Philippines.  One of them told me that 90% of the workers at the airport are from the Philippines.  Another said they are the best.  

If a well-educated Syrian professional, like most expatriates, has no hope of becoming a citizen despite working there for decades, what chance is there for Syrian refugees to move here?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Al Ain Oasis

I am in Al Ain, in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  I am here to make a presentation about international collaboration on service-learning at a conference on education. Al Ain is an hour east of the city of Abu Dhabi, and an equal distance south of the city of Dubai. Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai together form an equilateral triangle.  I took advantage of a lull in the conference to run through the oasis.  

The oasis is the reason that there is a city of 650,000 people here in the middle of the desert.  I don’t think I have ever been at a real-life oasis.  So I was curious.  I found that the oasis is fenced in all around.  It took me some time to find an entrance.  Subsequently I found that there are many more.  Outside one of the entrances, I found a strange structure.  

It is criss-crossed by many paths, some of them paved and wide enough for cars to drive through.  Others, however, are little more than narrow, winding dirt paths.  

It is dotted by many mosques.  But the one thing that is plentiful is palm trees.  Specifically date palms.  

I could’t find the source of the river.  But I did find water flowing through some of the water channels.  

Outside the oasis, on the street, it was 40 degrees Celsius. But inside the oasis, under the palm trees, it was almost cool.  Even though it was 40 degrees outside, it felt more comfortable than summer in Hong Kong because it is dry here.  

Monday, May 09, 2016

Hong Kong Families

Government reports can be interesting.  The 2014/15 Household Expenditure Survey reports that the average Hong Kong household has 3 persons, and it has barely changed in the past 10 years.  This matches the common perception that, for a long time, a couple typically has one child.  
Those of us who like fish know that fresh-water fish is generally less expensive than salt-water fish.  Lo and behold, the poor eat more fresh-water fish than the rich (109 : 81).  But they eat less salt-water fish than the rich (167 : 298).  

A poor family spends $2,430 on rent each month.  The rich?  $18,107, 7.5 times more.  That’s a big discrepancy in the living environment. 

The poor spends $128 each month on seeing the doctor, while the rich spends $1,796, 14 times more.  That certainly does not mean that the poor are healthier.  If anything, they are probably in worse health.  But they simply cannot afford to spend much to take care of their health.  

Even more worrying is education.  A poor family spends $165 per month on school fees.  A rich family spends $2,822, 17.1 times more.   It is easy to project whose children gets a better education, and a better prospect in life.   That’s part of the reason that the rich gets richer, and the poor remains poor.  

Is this the kind of society we want?