Friday, June 24, 2016

Foreign AID or International Service-Learning?

There are millions and millions of people, in developing countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Rwanda, …, who are off the electrical power grid.  They cook and eat in darkness when the sun goes down, and then go to bed.  Some manage to buy candles, small electrical torches powered by expensive batteries or kerosene-fired lamps in order to cook and eat, study, and function in a minimal and difficult manner.  

One solution is to buy grandiosely-named “solar power generators” to give them.  A typical US$70 system buys you a <5 -="" a="" ampere-hour="" an="" and="" battery="" be="" charger.="" china="" containing="" estimated="" in="" lamp="" led="" manufactured="" many="" mobile="" nbsp="" package="" panel="" phone="" radio="" seem="" small="" solar="" span="" such="" systems="" to="" unsurprisingly.="" watt="">

An alternative, which we have adopted, is to use a similar amount of money to buy 40 watt solar panels, a 26 ampere-hour battery, a whole bunch of LED lights, and a phone charger.  We then teach our students to assemble the solar panels, assemble the LED lights into multiple LED lighting fixtures, wire up the houses, and teach local youths to do the same and to maintain the systems.  

The first is a case of foreign aid which enriches the manufacturer of the expensive “solar power generators”.   There is little service or learning in that process alone.  

In the second case, the villagers gain a system 4 times as powerful, for the same cost to us.  Our students and the local youths learn valuable lessons through real service.  However, it takes much more effort to organise and execute.  Perhaps that is why it is done much less often.  

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