Solar Power to the People! - Arusha, Tanzania

MessageFor Immediate Release:

Solar Power to the People!
September 10, 2005
Arusha, Tanzania

Pete and Charlotte O'Neal continue to epitomize the spirit and work of the Black Panther Party. Together with their comrade in arms, geronimo ji Jaga, the O'Neal's and the organization they founded, continue to struggle to empower communities. The United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) has joined with the Kuji Foundation in an ambitious project to bring solar energy to a rural village in northern Tanzania.

On Saturday, September 9, UAACC held a ceremony to officially launch the distribution phase of the project. Over the next couple of weeks a team of students and volunteers from Kuji and UAACC will deliver and install units to 85 households in the village. The ceremony was attended by local villagers who will be the recipients of the solar units, as well as local officials.

The community launch culminates over a years worth of work. Geronimo and Pete first envisioned the project in 2005. Geronimo returned to the states to raise money and set the project in motion and was immediately hampered by the devastation of hurricane Katrina to his community. Gaidi Faraj assisted geronimo in getting the solar units ordered and shipped to Tanzania before they both returned there to prepare for the arrival and distribution of the panels.

With the global rise in fuel prices, rural Tanzanians have been hit especially hard, as kerosene is a primary source of light fuel. The project aims to bring solar electricity to families that cannot afford electricity and often live off Tanzania's national power grid. Currently, only about ten percent of Tanzanians have electricity in the home. Many of the families who will receive solar units have lived their entire lives without electricity in the home. This makes it difficult for children to study and families to bond. Many families cannot afford kerosene or batteries to light their homes and simply go to bed shortly after the sun sets. In a country so close to the equator, solar power seems like an obvious alternative.

The UAACC is using some of its students from the electricity classes to form the core group of volunteers who are doing the installations. The project serves as an opportunity for students to get practical experience in wiring set ups, installing light fixtures and switches, and batteries and inverters. The students can also impart what they have learned to the villagers, epitomizing the maxim, "each one, teach one."

Each household will receive a twenty watt solar panel, a battery, a meter, and a 150 watt inverter. They will also have a light socket and switch installed by the volunteers. A village solar club is being formed so the recipients can share information and experiences and continue to learn about solar and other alternative technologies they might benefit from.

The project was privately funded by donors from the United States. Geronimo noted that Oscar winning Director Paul Haggis and Sean and Robin Penn were particularly helpful in making sure this project came to fruition. He noted that many others have donated along the way. George Sepellius, a local business owner, donated the wood to mount the panels on people's rooftops. "This has been a real community effort, involving everyone in the village," noted geronimo. "Not just Imbaseni Village, but the global village." He noted that this project involved the participation of people from across the United States, Europe, and Africa.

Although this project serves people who are currently not on Tanzania's national grid, the concept could not be more timely. Tanzania has been undergoing serious problems with its national power supply and most of the country has been suffering blackouts several times a week. Solar is not just a solution for rural villagers but for the nation. Effective use of solar energy would greatly reduce the burden on the struggling national grid.

The government has already taken positive steps in encouraging the use of solar energy by waiving the value added tax and duty on all imported solar panels and components. However more has to be done to make importing goods efficient and affordable. The launch of the distribution was delayed nearly two months because of problems clearing the solar panels through customs. Kuji representative Gaidi Faraj said that much of the delays were avoidable, and could only partly be blamed on the government. "Our clearing agents were only concerned with making money, not helping people. They didn't feel they could make a lot of money off of us so they ignored us and gave us the run around. Businesses like that dishonor the legacy of Mwalimu Nyerere and all he stood for."

The Kuji Foundation plans to continue to raise money so that more solar technology can be brought to Tanzania. The plan is to not only bring more panels, but to expand the program into addressing solar water heating and cooking, as those activities consume the largest amounts of fuel and are thus the greatest burdens on people's daily lives, as well as the natural environment. Firewood is the number one source of fuel for rural Tanzanian's and the demand for it is having a devastating impact on the local environment. Renewable energy is a vital component to maintaining Tanzania's ecological health and well-being.

The Kuji Foundation is a registered nonprofit organization based in Morgan City, Louisiana. It was founded by geronimo ji Jaga in 1999. The UAACC is a registered non-governmental organization based in Arusha, Tanzania. Pete and Charlotte O'Neal, who have been living in exile in Tanzania since 1972, founded the UAACC in 1992.

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